Promo still of Lillian Gish and unknown actor, circa 1915-1917 (Bison Archives)
A mysterious promotional photo from early in Hollywood's silent movie era has had film historians stumped for a while, but just in the past few weeks some of the photo's biggest mysteries have been solved.
Zoomed-in shot of the background bluffs
This is what I was looking for, and it only took a couple of expeditions to the "edge of civilization" — along the perimeter of Chatsworth at the far west end of the San Fernando Valley — before it turned up.
The same bluffs as they appear today
The sandstone outcroppings were located on the side of an east-facing slope a short distance southwest of the Iverson Movie Ranch.
The Kestrel, west of Chatsworth
The formation with the mummy-like rock is part of a section of the Santa Susana Mountains known as "The Kestrel." The formation was recognized by the both the Native American inhabitants of the region and early Spanish settlers, and has also been called "Gavilan" or "the Hawk."
The real Bat Signal
My old research name "Bat Signal" came from the formation's similarity to the actual Bat Signal from the "Batman" TV show — not that "actual" or "real" are the right words to use when describing the Bat Signal.
An actual kestrel
The name "Kestrel" is an English translation from the Native Americans who were here for thousands of years. I'd say they got it right. Even though I came up with my own silly 21st century variation in the "Bat Signal," I feel a certain kinship with the region's early residents who also saw the rock formation's "head" and "wings."
The Kestrel in 1949
The Kestrel is visible across a wide swath of the northern San Fernando Valley. Here's a shot of it that someone posted online that was taken following a rare San Fernando Valley snowstorm on Jan. 11, 1949.
Promo still for "Three Word Brand," 1921 (Jerry England collection)
"Bat Masterson" episode "Garrison Finish" (premiered Dec. 10, 1959)
In this screen shot from, appropriately, the TV show "Bat Masterson," a partial version of the Kestrel appears at top left, helping to pinpoint the filming location as the Marwyck Ranch in Northridge.
The Oakridge Estate — former home of Barbara Stanwyck
The Friends of Oakridge have been working for years to help preserve Stanwyck's Northridge home. I recommend a visit to the website (click here) to learn more about the estate and its preservation.
It can be challenging to translate hill profiles to an aerial map, but here's a rough diagram. The tops of the Kestrel formation rise above Lilac Lane and Mesa Drive, east of Box Canyon Road.
"Search area" for the Lillian Gish rocks
With all the development that has taken place in the area since the 1910s, I felt it was likely that the rocks did not survive. And even if they had, there was still the pesky problem of finding them.
Ground Zero for the search
Thanks to getting a pretty good matching angle on the "Mummy Face" rock in the background, I was able to establish that Ground Zero for the search was somewhere near the Lassen-Andora intersection.
Survivors: the same rocks seen in the Lillian Gish photo
Now we can add another landmark to the list: The Lillian Gish Rocks. They survived development, and can be found along the west side of Baden Avenue, just below Lassen and the cemetery entrance.
The "Lillian Gish Rocks" in 2020 (photo by Jerry Condit)
If you're able to resolve the logistics of the fence you can get a much better look at the rocks — something my buddy Jerry Condit succeeded in doing in early 2020.
Zoomed-in shot of the background features
Specifically, I wondered whether the old house seen in the circa 1915 photo might, by some miracle, still be standing. And assuming the house was long gone, I could still search for that interesting clump of rocks.
Undated photo of the Miranda Adobe in modern times
To my amazement, I found out the house is in fact still standing. Known today as the Miranda Adobe, the building was once the home of Francisco Miranda, an early Chatsworth homesteader.
In recent years, the Miranda Adobe, now located behind the Oakwood offices and chapel, became a flower shop.
The Miranda Adobe, circa 1915-1917, as seen in the Lillian Gish photo
Photos of the Miranda Adobe as far back as the 1910s are extremely rare. The Lillian Gish photo provides an important view of the building in its early setting.
The rocks out behind the Miranda Adobe
Sure enough, the rocks have survived too. They can still be found on a rise just north of the house.