American's western company moved from La Mesa to Santa Barbara in July of 1912. Over the coming years the entire producing arm of the company would work in Santa Barbara although corporate headquarters and the printing laboratory would remain in Chicago.
Property was leased and a small stage was erected which the two shooting companies would share. This posed little problem since the majority of material was shot on location. However, Samuel Hutchinson, American's president, immediately began searching for property to purchase. Within a year the permanent studio had begun operations in the block between State and Chapala streets at Mission. A small portion of the studio still stands today.
The Mission Street studio was again expanded in 1915 and directly reflected the success of the company with facilities large enough to accomodate the numerous production companies and at one point seventeen shooting units were working at the studio. Films were flowing from Santa Barbara at a rate of nearly one per day! This output would continue in 1916 but then reduce the following year due to pressure from Mutual, American's distributor, to conscentrate on features. American's first feature, Damaged Goods, had been done in the summer of 1914 but the core of production was still two, three and four reelers - stories that served the audiences then much the same way televison does today. Once the shift was made exclusively to features the studio remained very busy but the number of day jobs and bit parts began to dry up. Feature production did not provide as many little jobs as the shorts had and personnel began to drift south to Los Angeles for steady work.
The World War, the great influenza epidemic of 1918-19 and the depression of 1921 all played a part in bringing an end to the American Film Company and it's Santa Barbara studio.Yet other film companies survived, primarily because they had chosen to invest in theaters, providing a built in consumer for their product. American lost its primary distributor when Mutual folded in 1918 and although the company's product continued to be well regarded, the Flying A found itself on the outside looking in with no direct link to the public. One additional factor played a key role in the company's demise, as it did for most all of the other film companies outside Los Angeles. The studio's Santa Barbara location was quite attractive but if the studio wasn't hiring there was no other movie work to turn to unless you left town.
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