Tom Carroll, of YouTube's Tom Explores Los Angeles, visited the famous Bronson Canyon for his latest episode, and filed this report.
When a rock quarry shuts down, sometimes the hole where rocks once were fills up with water and turns into a local swimming hole. Sometimes it becomes a nuisance, or an eyesore.
But in Los Angeles, an abandoned quarry can turn into the Bat Cave.
When the Los Angeles Stone Company built its Griffith Park quarry in 1903, Los Angeles was hungry for granite.
At the height of its production in 1926, the quarry produced 2,000 tons of crushed granite becoming parts of Wilshire, Sunset and more gravel beds to lay Pacific Electric rail lines on top of. It also became part of the concrete mix for the breakwater in San Pedro.
Literally, Los Angeles was built on top of the rock from the Los Angeles Stone Company quarry.
When the depression came, the quarry shuttered — and soon began its second life as the Bronson Canyon.
The quarry sat not more than a few miles from multiple film studios—just a short drive down Bronson Avenue. It didn’t take long to pop up on the radar of filmmakers. It’s craggy walls and desolate canyon provided a blank slate for narrative films.
Filmmakers always struggle to keep Los Angeles from looking like Los Angeles. The script may say New York, but an errant palm tree might make a cameo in some distant part of the shot.
Since Bronson caves and canyon are fully surrounded by craggy, naked rock, filmmakers could shoot however they pleased. Void of iconic Los Angeles buildings or trees, filmmakers avoided the pitfalls of location shooting.
The otherworldly nature of the Bronson Canyon was irresistible to directors. Constructing a set as large and intricate as the cave and canyon would have easily doubled the budget for most B-movies.
In 1953, the classic “Robot Monster” was shot there in four days for a budget of $16,000 — that's $142,000 in 2014 dollars.
We are lucky — as people who are interested in the history of Los Angeles — that movie makers utilized this space so frequently. We can watch films, starting in 1919 with “Lightning Bryce,” and see a de facto documentary of how the Bronson Canyon looked and evolved over time.
In total, over 90 movies and 32 T.V. shows have used either Bronson Canyon, or Bronson Caves, as a filming location since 1919.
It's the Bat Cave in the original Batman T.V. series, and John Wayne captures Natalie Wood there at the end of “The Searchers.” Woody Allen finds a 200-year-old VW Beetle there in “Sleeper.” The list goes on and on.
The Bronson Canyon is uniquely Los Angeles. We see a barren, naked landscape, one that would be useless in most other cities and towns, reactivated through the film industry. The space itself continues to give back to the city long after its conventional function has passed.