Long before Hollywood came into being, a photographer for motion picture pioneer Thomas Edison traveled the Southern Pacific railroad shooting the first movie footage of locales in the West. Snippets of his films, along with dozens of other Edison-copyrighted clips, can be downloaded off the Library of Congress website. Among them is 29 seconds recorded on South Spring Street in Los Angeles on December 31, 1897, showing horse-drawn coaches, a passing trolley car, a man on a bicycle and pedestrians.
The photographer, Frederick Blechynden, also shot rare footage of the long-gone coast railroad at Santa Monica. He mounted a camera on the front of a locomotive as it passed through the seaside bluffs and onto the beachfront through a tunnel (predecessor of today's McClure Tunnel that announces the end of Interstate 10 and the start of Pacific Coast Highway). The 53-second clip shows the bluffs before PCH was built and the train yards that were located about where the freeway is today. To see more early Santa Monica beach scenes, Ernest Marquez will be at Dawson's Book Shop on Larchmont next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. talking about his book, Santa Monica Beach: A Collector's Pictorial History, new from Angel City Press.
There is also a four-minute film from 1901 of workmen using a crane to drop boulders into the ocean to build the L.A. harbor at San Pedro. All the Edison clips are available in various formats. For me the Mpeg version played on Windows Media Player gave the clearest images.