Animation In New York: A Key To The City

American animated cartoons began with Winsor McCay Makes His Cartoons Move, released in 1911. That film introduced the world to the concept of someone sitting at a desk creating a sequence of drawings for the purpose of simulating motion. The scene was staged, probably at the Vitagraph studio in Brooklyn. Winsor McCay actually drew the cartoon portion of that movie at his home on Long Island, making New York City, with its five boroughs, the indisputable birthplace of American animated cartoons.

Winsor McCay’s romp into this new art form is exquisite (and I don’t use that word much). His hand-painted characters frolic about, displaying perfect perspective and proportion. It is a masterpiece decades ahead of those who followed the trail he blazed.

A year later McCay released his second animation THE STORY OF A MOSQUITO. Less ambitious than the first, this cartoon still has some intriguing elements. Before Winsor McCay could finish his third, and most famous, cartoon film, other artists were in the game. What they did, we now study.


My own path leading to my becoming an animation researcher started with the book Of Mice and Magic, as, I suspect, it did for many of you. My local library had a hardcover in the discard bin for fifty cents. While reading it I made some notes, thinking about how much more had happened since Leonard Maltin published the book in 1980.

Internet searches beefed up my notes until eventually I needed to fact check something and ended up calling J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, hoping to talk with someone who remembered. To my surprise J.J. Sedelmaier answered the phone. He was too busy to talk, but promised to call me back after hours. To my even bigger surprise he did. We spoke of Speedy Alka Seltzer and J.J. warmly recalled his departed friend Jan Svochak. That was my first contact with the New York animation community.

My notes continued to grow, swelling into an idea for a book, or rather a trilogy covering theatrical cartoons, television toons, and computer generated imagery. I decided to focus on 1913 to 2013, the industry’s first century of existence.

From that point on the problem developed about having something new to say. Endless hours of research followed. By chance Linkedin brought me to Santiago Cohen, who conducted me to R. O. Blechman. Contact with Phil Kimmelman followed. Phil told me great stories, and introduced me to Dante Barbetta, Arnie Levin, Carol Favata, Bill Peckmann, and since I’m on a name dropping spree, the invaluable Howard Beckerman.

Speaking with these talented people made me realize the rich history of New York’s animation scene. One fellow researcher turned me on to the Media History Digital Library:

https://mediahistoryproject.org/

This wonderful website houses a collection of old movie trade publications that can be word searched. One tip I can give is that when trying to decide between typing in ANIMATION, or typing ANIMATOR, or else ANIMATED, a simple ANIMAT will bring all three up.

Another useful website for NYC research stores digitalized phone books!

I began compiling a database of information on American animation studios, hundreds of them in the New York area. As it turns out, J.J. Sedelmaier had been working on his own file of New York studios. We bumped heads to gather an extensive list of some five hundred studios spanning from Winsor McCay’s groundbreaking efforts on Long Island up till modern day. Jerry Beck has encouraged me to convert that list into a series of articles, so here goes –


New York City consists of five boroughs. I’ve previously covered animation activity in the Bronx. Staten Island played no significant role. Brooklyn and Long Island did. The bulk of NYC animation studios were in Manhattan, an island running 13.4 miles longitudinally and 2.3 miles latitude wise. Manhattan is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Hudson River to the west. The property is valued at $24 in trinkets, according to the latest figures I’ve seen.

Streets run pretty much east and west, while Avenues are sort of south to north, The lower end of the Island developed without any singular design, but above 13th Street a planned grid emerges. That grid tilts rightward at about 29 degrees. First Avenue runs along the Atlantic Ocean. What is considered the more upper-crust “East Side” ends at Fifth Avenue. Over by Eleventh Avenue is the hard scrabble neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen, which gives us WEST SIDE STORY.

Early in animation’s history two major hubs emerged in New York City, both around the Times Square district.

From an addendum to the studio list:

1600 Broadway: Built 1902. 10 floors. Known as the Studebaker Building., or sometimes the Mecca Building. Completed 1902. Torn down 2008.

Tenants include: UNIVERSAL ANIMATED WEEKLY (1915) * PAT POWERS PRODUCTIONS (1916) * THE MUTT AND JEFF CARTOON COMPANY (1916) * HARRY PALMER, INC. (1917) * TONY SARG (1923) * RED SEAL PICTURES (1923-1926) * OUT OF THE INKWELL FILMS/INKWELL STUDIOS (1923-1927) * L.B. CORNWALL, INC. (1925) * WARNER BROTHERS (1927) * FLEISCHER STUDIOS (1929-1938) * HOFFBERG PRODUCTIONS, INC. (1940-1943) * JOHN BRANSBY PRODUCTIONS (1940-1952) * VALENTINO MAJOR RECORDS (1942-1949) * CINEFFECTS (1945-1949) * TELENEWS PRODUCTIONS, INC. (1948-1950) * AMERICAN FILM PRODUCTIONS (1948-1966) * KNICKERBOCKER PRODUCTIONS (1948-1960) * NATIONAL SCREEN SERVICE CORP. (1950-1987) * ANIMATED PRODUCTIONS (1951-1995) * C&G FILM EFFECTS (1951-1966) * VAN PRAAG PRODUCTIONS (1951-1980) * AL STAHL PRODUCTIONS (1952-2001) * CHARLES E. SKINNER PRODUCTIONS (1952-1964) * WILLIS PYLE PRODUCTIONS (c.1953) * GEORGE BLAKE ENTERPRISES (1954-1961) * MICKEY SCHWARZ PRODUCTIONS (1956-1959) * CLAYTON W. COUSENS PRODUCTIONS (1957-1958) * WCD, INC. aka WONDSEL, CARLISLE & DUNPHY (1958-1969) * COUSENS-BLAIR & CO.(1959-1961) * KLAEGER FILM PRODUCTIONS (1959-1960) * MEL GOLD PRODUCTIONS (1961-1963) * BYRON RABBITT (1961-1963) * TOTAL GRAPHICS, INC.(1969) * VIKING FILMS (1980-1989)

729 Seventh Avenue: Known as the Godfrey Building. Completed 1915. Sixteen stories.

Tenants included: INTERNATIONAL FILM SERVICE (1915-1918) * A. KAY COMPANY (1917) * KEEN CARTOON CORP (1917) * EDUCATIONAL PICTURES (1917) * RED SEAL PICTURES EXCHANGE (1923-1926) * BRAY STUDIOS (c.1927-c.1968) * VAN BEUREN STUDIOS (1933-1936) * RUBY FILM COMPANY/RUBY CAMERA EXCHANGE (1934-1959) * HOFFBERG PRODUCTIONS, INC. (1937-1938) * VALENTINO MAJOR RECORDS (1938-1941) * TED NEMETH STUDIO (1946-1967) * SCREEN GEMS (1951) * UNITED ARTISTS TELEVISION, INC. (1969-1982) * MAGNO SOUND & VIDEO (1988-2018)

723 Seventh Avenue: Originally known as the Robertson-Cole Building (after the distributors of Charles Mintz’s KRAZY KAT) Completed 1920. 12 floors. By 1924 it was called the Powers Building (so named for Pat Powers). The Associated Recording Studio there from 1946 to 1985 was used by Woody Guthrie and Albert Einstein.

Tenants included: WILSON EXCHANGE (1925) * CELEBRITY PRODUCTIONS (1927-1947) * JACQUES KOPFSTEIN (1928) * WALT DISNEY STUDIOS (1930) * CINEMOTION STUDIOS (1932-1933) * POST PICTURE CORP (1938-1947) * METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER (1945) * C&G FILM EFFECTS (1947-1950) * MURPHY-LILLIS, INC. (1952) * OWEN MURPHY PRODUCTIONS (1952-1962) * BILL STURM STUDIOS (1955-1959) * COUSENS PRODUCTIONS (1960) * MAGNO SOUND & VIDEO (1963-1973) * COMMONWEALTH FILM & TELEVISION, INC (1969) * EFX UNLIMITED (1969)

Those odd shaped triangular blocks are caused by Broadway slicing through the grid at angles all its own. Aside from that, a typical Manhattan city block is 246 feet between streets, and 984 feet between avenues. Exactly four times long as they are wide. A network of alleys and arcade style buildings keep foot traffic flowing.

Manhattan’s other animation hub is Popeye Alley:

This strip of West 45th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues housed numerous studios involved in animation.

25 West 45th Street: Built 1913. 16 floors. Known as the Century Building. PATHE had offices there for a long time.

Tenants included: WINKLER PICTURES (1927-1929) * FAMOUS STUDIOS (1942-1956) * BASCH RADIO & TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS (1965-1972) * TELEVISION SCREEN PRODUCTIONS (1965-1972) * OPTICAL HOUSE (1968-1996) * CHARTMAKERS, INC. (1971) * HOWARD BECKERMAN ANIMATION (1987) * TRILOGY DESIGN at JSL, INC. (1988-1989) * JSL VIDEO SERVICES (1990-1991) * SUNFLOWER FILMS (1990-1991) * TRANS AMERICA VIDEO SERVICE (1993)

35 West 45th Street: Built 1921 with fireproof vaults by PATHE. 12 floors. It was known as the Pathé Exchange Building. It became the property of RKO in 1930 when RKO absorbed Pathé. Transfilm bought the building in 1946, rechristening it as the Transfilm Building. It became the property of Ohio’s Buckeye Corporation when they bought Transfilm in 1959.

Tenants include: TED ESHBAUGH STUDIO (1937-1950) * TECHNIFILM LABORATORIES, INC. (1938-1939) * TRANSFILM (1941-1960) * FAMOUS STUDIOS (1942-1966) * EMERSON YORKE STUDIOS (1943-1949) * LOUIS de ROCHEMONT ASSOCIATES (1949-1953) * ARCHER PRODUCTIONS (1949-1951) * ROBERT H. KLAEGER ASSOCIATES, INC. (1961-1964) * KAMENY FILM PRODUCTIONS (1962-1964) * CINE-METRIC (1966-1972) * CREATIVE OPTICAL (c.1969) * ACI PRODUCTIONS (1970-1976) * TRI-PIX FILM SERVICE (1979) * COMPUTER OPTICALS (1979) * IRV LEVINE ASSOCIATES (1979-1981) * ROWOHLT ANIMATION (1981) * RB/MAVERICKS (1985-1991)

45 West 45th Street: Known as the Hearn Building. Built 1923. 16 Floors. The ART FILM CO. was at that site in 1920 before this building went up.

Tenants included: WILLARD PICTURES, INC. (1945-1979) * EAST COAST PRODUCTIONS (1956-1963) * ANSEL FILM STUDIOS (1957-1958) * LARS CALONIUS PRODUCTIONS, INC. (1957-1966) * ANIME, INC. (1958-1959) * DISCOVERY PRODUCTIONS (1959) * JAMES SEAMAN (1959) * VIKING FILMS (1959-1966) * SCUDDER BOYD FILMS (1959-1960) * ANI-LIVE EDITING SERVICE (1960-1987) * WILLIAM NEMETH STUDIO (1963) * PABLO FERRO FILMS (1964-1977) * STANART STUDIOS (1964-1972) * PEN & BRUSH STUDIO (1966-1971) * SAVAGE-FRIEDMAN PRODUCTIONS (1965-1967) * COASTAL FILM SERVICE (1966-1975) * CHANNEL FILMS (1967-1990) * LEO & DICKSON OPTICS, INC. (1969) * SEL ANIMATION SERVICE (1969) * CINETRIX EFFECTS, LTD. * RAINBOW FILM EFFECTS (1969-1987) * KAP V FILMS (1970-1971) * HAL SEEGER PRODUCTIONS (1970-1994) * FILMART COMMUNICATIONS (1971) * SUNDRIWORKS (1975) * DAISIE ANIMATION (1975) * PHOS-CINE (1977) * 8th FRAME CAMERA (1979-1980) * LARRY QUE (1979-1981) * SCHIRANO CAMERA (1979) * OMNI-GRAPHICS (1981) * HOWARD BECKERMAN ANIMATION (1988-1989) * GIFFORD-KIM PRODUCTIONS (1988-1989)

71, 24, and 11 West 45th Street all had a couple of studios there. Elektra Films was at 33 West 46th Street. Richard Williams Raggedy Ann and Andy was produced out of the Berkeley Building at 19 West 44th Street (during 1975-1977). If we expanded this map out a few blocks in any direction there were studios scattered all over. I will try to put them in perspective as best as I am able.

Mistakes! Yes, I make them. I made one last article by placing John and Margaret Bray’s farm in Highland Falls, NY. It was actually in the town of Highland, some twenty-five miles up the Hudson River. I copied that mistake directly from Donald Crafton’s book Before Mickey: The Animated Film 1898-1928. Understand that I’m not knocking Crafton’s work. He did a fine job expanding our understanding of Bray Studios. We all make mistakes. I’m counting on the rest of you to correct me when I do.

For anyone interested in the early cartoons I recommend American Animated Films: The Silent Era 1897-1929 by Denis Gifford. I found a hardcover online for about nine bucks. And those guys, Maltin and Crafton, were kicking it old school – no computer databases. They’ve got the 1950 Census records out now, so we can learn more about guys like Mako Oike and Robert Tinfo. Then down the line we’ll start a game called Six Degrees of Fred Mogubgub.

I’m hoping the New York library posts 1950 phone books as it did for 1940. These links might be helpful to some of you.

1940 BRONX
https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/f38b4f90-97cc-0135-4973-6bf0654b7a93

1940 BROOKLYN
https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/49b631a0-97d9-0135-afb3-0c97ae709799

1940 QUEENS
https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/951f4d80-9a59-0135-78ce-596d2a137298

1940 STATEN ISLAND
https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/d4608e80-9ae9-0135-f057-3b2a31113b3a

1940 MANHATTAN
https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/76112f90-97e4-0135-b4a4-5b8e9092cb84

Los Angeles Phone Books
https://rescarta.lapl.org/ResCarta-Web/jsp/RcWebBrowseCollections.jsp