Skip to main content

Historic Niles District of Fremont, California

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

Historic Niles, the hidden gem of Fremont

Niles is a hidden gem southeast of San Francisco where two major historical events occurred.

In 1869 the Central Pacific Railroad came through Niles Canyon on its first transcontinental journey over its newly-built line. This connected the Atlantic to the Pacific coast and reduced trips to San Francisco from weeks to days. And in 1912, Niles became the home of one of the first West Coast motion picture companies, The Essanay Studios. Charlie Chaplin and Broncho Billy Anderson filmed some of their famous silent movies in Niles.

Where in the world is Niles District in Fremont, CA?

Prominent Niles Landmark - Pride of the community

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

You know you are almost there when you see these large letters on the Niles Canyon Hills.

These gargantuan concrete letters of the Niles landmark etched on the hills were reconstructed by Niles volunteers in 1990. Pilots still use this landmark to verify their location.

The original painted white letters were put up by the Niles Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1926 as part of the national trend to combine boosterism and navigational markers for the new field of aviation. The letters were later covered with dirt during World War II.

The Great Train Robbery (1903) - The film that started it all for Broncho Billy.

In 1903, an employee of Thomas Edison's motion picture company produced a movie with a story. It was called "The Great Train Robbery." It told a simple story of a group of western criminals who steal money from a train. Later they are killed by a group of police in a gun fight. The movie was extremely popular. "The Great Train Robbery" started the huge motion picture industry.

Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson played several bit roles: a bandit, a wounded passenger, and a tenderfoot dancer. This was the movie that will soon catapult him to fame and fortune.

The dawn of motion picture industry - A sleepy town wakes up

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

Photo Source: jennysh_who

The Essanay Studio of Chicago was formed in 1907 by George Spoor, who had developed one of the first movie projectors, and Gilbert M. Anderson. Anderson had worked as a janitor at the Thomas Edison Studio when he was chosen to play an outlaw in the first western ever made, The Great Train Robbery. The first characters of Spoor's and Anderson's surnames translated into "S" and "A.", hence the name Essanay.

In 1913, the Essanay Studios, a state-of-the-art studio was built in Niles at a cost of $50,000. A complete row of bungalows were constructed for the actors and the crew to live in. Two of the cottages still exist today.

Niles was selected by G.M. Anderson because of its mild climate, almost perpetual sunshine, and the unspoiled scenery of Niles Canyon (currently route 84 between Fremont and Interstate 680). Essanay made some 300 westerns in and around Niles. Charlie Chaplin made at least five silent movies in Niles, including The Tramp.

Charlie Chaplin lived in Niles for three months but accepted a more lucrative pay from Mutual in 1916. With the departure of a big star like Chaplin, Spoors bought G.M."Broncho Billy" Anderson out, Essanay's fortunes declined sharply and the studio eventually closed its doors in 1917.

Niles will always be remembered as the first Hollywood.

Must read this : Cinema was born in the Bay---East Bay, that is

type=text

type=text

Scroll to Continue

The world's first cowboy

Broncho Billy tears into town!

G.M. Anderson fell in love with the perpetual sunshine and rolling hills of Niles and moved his crew here to make his silent westerns in the scenic canyon.

For about four years, Anderson produced, directed and starred as his "Broncho Billy" character which was the mould for all future western characters to come. He was the western trendsetter for the cowboy studded chaps, terrorizing a town with his swaggering gait, an outlaw with a sympathetic heart who always managed to take the bad guys out.

Anderson became a very rich movie star, bought a legitimate theater, began promoting boxers, and was running the Niles baseball team. By 1915 he had hired the biggest movie star of them all -- Charlie Chaplin.

Gilbert M. Anderson - the world's first movie star

Gilbert M. Anderson - the world's first movie star

Gilbert M. Anderson - the world's first movie star

  • "Broncho Billy" Anderson born — History.com This Day in History — 3/21/1882
    Gilbert M. Anderson, the first western movie star, is born in Little Rock, Arkansas.Better known as "Broncho Billy," the name of the western hero he played in over 300 short films, Anderson was the first western movie star.
  • Broncho Billy
    GILBERT "BRONCHO BILLY" ANDERSONTHE WORLD'S FIRST MOVIE STARThis scary looking hombre is Broncho Billy, and at one time he was the number one movie star in the world. Of course he didn't have much competition because he was the only movie star in the

Best feature film of Broncho Billy - Well, son-of-a-gun!

Story of the silent films in Niles - The world's first western hero

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

Charlie Chaplin carved an image for himself as "The Tramp"

Filmed in Niles

In 1915, Essanay Film's co-owner Gilbert M."Broncho Billy" Anderson lured Charlie Chaplin to star in Essanay films shot in Niles, one of the most famous being "The Tramp," the film that clinched Chaplin's connection to Niles. Chaplin was making $150 a week at Keystone Studios when Anderson hired him away for $1250 a week plus a $10,000 signing bonus.

Charlie soon found himself a new leading lady in San Francisco who answered an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle for the "Prettiest Girl in California." Chaplin and Purviance were soon romantically involved onscreen and off and his relationship with Edna changed Chaplin's acting demeanor from the slapstick-happy to the kind-hearted and gentlemanly character.

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

Edna Purviance - Charlie's leading lady

Edna Purviance played the role of the farmer's daughter in "The Tramp" (1915) opposite Charlie Chaplin.. Edna became Chaplin's most enduring and endearing leading lady between 1915-1923.

Photo Credit: tanimara1

Read more about Edna Purviance - Nevada's Silent Movie Star, her birthhome and life.

The cottage where Edna Purviance lived in Niles - Charlie Chaplin and Edna pose with the cast

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This is a group shot in Niles with Charlie Chaplin and his leading lady, Edna Purviance outside the cottage where she lived. Ms. Purviance can be seen leaning against the white picket fence with Chaplin to her left. The two were rumored to be lovers, although Ms. Purviance ended up marrying an American Airways pilot in later years.

This is a picture of the same cottage taken on Oct.10, 2010. It is now a private residence.

This is a picture of the same cottage taken on Oct.10, 2010. It is now a private residence.

This is a picture of the same cottage taken on Oct.10, 2010. It is now a private residence.

A Night Out - Chaplin's first movie in Niles

This is a 8 min. clip of "A nIght Out", Charlie Chaplin's first movie with Edna Purviance filmed in Niles.

Historic Niles Billboard

Historic Niles Billboard

Historic Niles Billboard

Charlie Chaplin Day is celebrated in Niles every year - Free silent movies, popcorn and lots of fun

type=text

type=text

Every year, historic Niles brings back to life Charlie Chaplin as "The Tramp" with look-alikes roaming the streets and greeting pedestrians. Occasionally, A keystone cop will be seen intimidating the bumbling vagrant with his signature bowler hat, baggy pants, cane and mustache. There will be a brief chase scene down Main street much to the amusement of visitors. Photo-ops with "Charlie" as mementoes are priceless moments for passersby.

The Edison Theater gets very crowded during Charlie Chaplin days when movies like, "The Tramp", "The Champion", "The Jitney Elopement" and others are playing. Free popcorn is handed out by the friendly volunteers during the 15-minute intermission. Where else can you laugh your pants off and be treated to the classic silents of legends for free.

"Charlie Chaplin" posing next to vintage handcranked camera - Charlie Chaplin Day June 2006

"Charlie Chaplin" posing next to vintage handcranked camera - Charlie Chaplin Day June 2006

"Charlie Chaplin" posing next to vintage handcranked camera - Charlie Chaplin Day June 2006

  • Charlie Chaplin : Official Website
    Discover Charlie Chaplins amazing life and career through a set of great articles by David Robinson; trailers and excerpts of all Charlie Chaplin feature films.
  • Charlie Chaplin's Wives
    Charlie Chaplin Wives - Mildred Harris, Lita Grey, Paulette Goddard and Oona O'Neil.
  • Smile - Charlie Chaplin's theme music for Modern Times
    Smile is the theme music of Charlie Chaplin's film Modern Times. Lyrics were added to the music in 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons.
  • Charlie Chaplin's Leading Ladies
    Charlie Chaplin's leading lady list from Keystone, Essanay, Mutual, First National, United Artist and British Productions. They included Edna Purviance, Mabel Normand, Paulette Goddard and Georgia Hale.
  • Charlie Chaplin Complete Film List
    Charlie Chaplin complete film list from Keystone, Essanay, Mutual, First National, United Artist and British Productions. Includes date originally released.

Welcome to Historic Niles District

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

Niles is a small town that refuses to die. It has been revitalized and kept alive by volunteers of the Niles Main Street Association, tax-exempt, non-profit community-based organization. Volunteers have devoted time, energy and resources to preserve the historical significance of Niles.

19th century desolate Old Niles - Became the set for the Wild Wild West

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

Imagine the many cowboy adventures encountered by Broncho Billy as he swaggered through this dusty town. Bit players were real cowboys with real guns and a taste for liquor.

G.M. Anderson made the right choice picking Niles to film the 300-some spaghetti westerns.

Niles in 1924

type=text

type=text

Late 40s-50s vintage cars line Main street near the concrete Niles theater which opened in 1924, replete with red velvet curtains, bird of paradise carpeting, 500 padded seats, and an orchestra pit for fiddle, pianos and drums.

Niles Main Street today - Where time stood still

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

Antique stores showcase treasures from yesteryears. It is no wonder visitors from all over make the journey to Niles just to browse and look for that special find. The sidewalks have been widened with benches stationed along the way for visitors take a break and people watch. Most likely for husbands or significant others to sit and wait for their wives who are busy perusing the shops.

The New Niles Town Plaza - A place to relax and step into a time machine

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

Niles Town Plaza looks on to the business district along Niles Boulevard, usually referred to as Main Street by the locals. Being a historic district, the buildings have been preserved with their original architecture and only freshened up with paint. Antique stores with very interesting collectibles from the early 19th-20th century line Main Street interspersed with small eateries and art galleries.

The Niles Main Street Association is dedicated to the economic revitalization and historic preservation of the Niles Business District In Fremont.

Niles Depot turns into Railroad Museum

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

The Niles Depot (circa 1941) was restored to its full glory and brought to Niles from its original location in Mission Blvd. It is now the centerpiece of new Niles Plaza and rotated to face Main street with its rows of turn-of-the-century buildings. Niles Depot is now a railroad museum with HO and N scale train sets, vintage furniture and historical railway memorabilia.

Get lost in the attic - A blast in the past

historic-niles-district-of-fremont-california

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

As the name implies, you will stumble upon things here that were lost in the attic. There are multiple vendors in this store. You will find an old Remington typewriter for $20, bakelite, earrings, hatpins, bowls and casseroles from the 70's, Doors record, Captain America board game, grandma's dress form, just to name a few finds in the store.

Vintage telephone

Vintage telephone

Vintage telephone