A Brief History of the ASC Clubhouse

Discover the story behind the longtime Hollywood home of the American Society of Cinematographers.

David E. Williams

If you ever have the opportunity to visit the ASC at their home in Hollywood, here’s some background on the historic Clubhouse that you might want to keep in mind.

The ASC was founded in Hollywood in 1919 with the dual purpose of advancing the art and science of cinematography and bringing cinematographers together to exchange ideas, discuss techniques and promote the motion picture as an art form — a mission that continues today. (You can learn much more about the Society here. And here’s the current membership roster.)

In the early 1920s, silent film star Conway Tearle purchased one of the first homes built on North Orange Drive right in the heart of Hollywood — which was then still largely agricultural and undeveloped. Here’s a selection of photos of the neighborhood and building from that time, which will give you some reference for how much things have changed since (note arrow):

A view from the Hollywood hills just north of the Clubhouse.

A street view on North Orange Dr.

The tropical central garden inside the building.

In 1936, the ASC — after occupying offices at two different locations on Hollywood Boulevard — bought and converted Tearle’s home into their Clubhouse that served as a focal point where cinematographers informally gathered at the end of work days at the studios in addition to formal meetings. The grand opening for the site was held February 28, 1937.

The first article from 1937.

Here’s an article from the January 1937 issue of AC magazine announcing the move to the new Clubhouse.

As noted in the piece:

We have moved into our new home. Still in the heart of Hollywood, but tucked in beneath the mountains with spacious grounds and a fine rambling house to accommodate all of the American Society of Cinematographers activities... The new home, located at 1782 N. Orange Drive, is only a few blocks from Hollywood Boulevard, and directly back of the famous Grumman's Chinese theater. It occupies the corner of North Orange Drive and Franklin Boulevard. The structure is a one-story building with a penthouse.

And here’s another article, from the April issue of that same year, chronicling the festivities that took place at the Clubhouse on February 28.

The follow-up article.

As detailed in the story:

But we started to tell you about the party. From 5 o’clock on that Sunday afternoon in the mansion at 1782 North Orange Drive, informality reigned. There were no speeches — that is, not the kind the average man mulls over for a week and of which in his memory as he stands on his feet at the zero second not a trace remains. But there was much speech in the form of conversation, of greetings to old friends and associates, or renewal of friendships and of repledging the bond that for nearly twenty years has held under one banner these masters of the camera. The only stipulation the [ASC] board had made was as to the starting hour. The closing hour was represented [on the invitation] by three dots. And of course there were to be cocktails...

As the decades passed, the ASC grew in membership and stature, and Hollywood grew up around the Clubhouse, as seen in this image from 1957 (again, note arrow):

Other than some minor modifications, the exterior of the Clubhouse remained virtually unchanged for all of these years. Here’s a shot, from another angle, taken in the 1980s:

On May 7, 2008, The ASC hosted a groundbreaking ceremony before launching a major renovation of the Clubhouse:

At the ceremony were (from left) ASC members Owen Roizman, Isidore Mankofsky, Victor J. Kemper, Richard Edlund, George Spiro Dibie, William A. Fraker, Michael Goi, Richard Crudo, John C. Flinn III and Robert Primes.

Daryn Okada, ASC

“This project is a continuation of our historic commitment to fellowship and progress in the art of filmmaking,” announced then ASC President Daryn Okada. “It will enable us to accommodate larger meetings and seminars for our members, collaborators and students, who are the future generation of filmmakers, while preserving the legacy of the original building, which is a treasure trove of early film history.” The renovation project added 1,500 square feet to the original Clubhouse.

“Every ASC member has been inspired by our heritage,” said Owen Roizman, ASC — chair of the Building Committee. “We all share an obligation to preserve and enhance that legacy for the next generation.

“Our plans call for making a number of improvements to the building, but everyone should know that first and foremost, we are steadfastly committed to preserving the character and charm of this place we love so much. There is a lot of history within these walls, and we will be very careful to not disturb the ghosts. Of course, no matter what, I’m sure that Stanley Cortez will still be haunting us in our new surroundings. I think our founding fathers would be proud that we are preserving and continuing their original vision.”

“It’s exciting that after 70 years of owning this historic house, the ASC is expanding and improving it,” said attending Los Angeles city council member Eric Garcetti, whose district included Hollywood. “I can only imagine the creativity and innovation that has resulted from conversations here, and I’m proud that the oldest operating motion picture society calls Hollywood its home.”

Here are some images of the extensive demolition and construction work, taken by Isidore Mankofsky, ASC:

The ASC Clubhouse renovation was completed in 2010, with a re-opening ceremony held on June 3. And the facility was soon back in use for activities including ASC dinner meetings, ASC Master Class sessions, Education & Outreach meetings between student groups and ASC members providing guidance, and such ambitious events as the International Cinematography Summit, among many others.

The 2016 International Cinematography Summit, held at the ASC Clubhouse, brought together representatives from cinematography societies from around the world to address the many technological and creative issues that affect their unique profession.

A summit entitled “Day of Inspiration” focused on the growing ranks of women working as cinematographers. From left, speakers included ASC members Nancy Schreiber, Judy Irola, Amy Vincent, Joan Churchill, Kira Kelly and Cynthia Pusheck.

During an Education & Outreach event, students from Loyola Marymount were met at the Clubhouse by ASC members (front row, from left) David Darby (standing), George Spiro Dibie, Mark Irwin, Chuck Minsky, Lisa Wiegand, Paul Maibaum, Dean Cundey and Don McCuaig.

Over the years, the ASC has collected cameras, lenses, and other artifacts of early motion picture history that have been donated by members and friends of the Society, some of which are on display at the Clubhouse on a rotating basis. A unique library of books, photos and other historical documentation and memorabilia are also housed at the site, curated by Steve Gainer, ASC.

Recently, ASC associate member Jim Jannard donated a rare Mitchell Standard camera — serial number 5 off the assembly line.

And Jim Mitchell (above, on left, with Gainer) — whose father George had been an ASC associate member — entrusted Arthur C. Miller, ASC’s classic Pathé Studio camera to the Society.

In 2018, the ASC unveiled another exceptional addition to the collection: MItchell BNC serial number 2, which was purchased new in 1935 by the Samuel Goldwyn Company for use by Gregg Toland, ASC. He used it to photograph numerous outstanding films, including Citizen Kane (1941).

Years later, the camera was purchased by J. Burgi Contner, ASC — who used No. 2 for many decades on motion pictures, TV series and commercials. It was later was donated to the ASC by his son, cinematographer-director James A. Contner, and restored by Gainer to factory-new working condition.

Roy H. Wagner, ASC and James A. Contner with BNC No. 2. Wagner helped coordinate the donation of the camera to the Society.

The ASC Clubhouse is open to the public by appointment on weekdays during normal business hours. Please call (323) 969-4333 or email [email protected] to make one.

Educators interested in having their student group take part in the ASC Education & Outreach program can email Patty Armacost.

Photo by Richard Crudo, ASC

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