Sun Valley, San Rafael, Once Home to Early Motion Picture Studio

by Laurie Thompson

San Rafael Studios of the California Motion Picture Corporation. Anne T. Kent California Room, Marin County Free Library

The Sun Valley neighborhood of San Rafael was once home to the California Motion Picture Company (CMPC), a pioneer of feature-length films specializing in films about the early history of California.

Their elaborate studios, built in early 1914, were bounded by Forbes and 5th Avenues and J and K streets.

A March 26, 1914 Marin Journal article says, “The choice of San Rafael as a studio site was made after the producers had searched all the more attractive spots in California. Arthur Cadwell, who helped develop the technical end of the motion picture industry in this country after a long schooling in France and who is chief of this department for the California Motion Picture Corporation, declares the light and atmospheric conditions at San Rafael ideal for camera work. Scenic advantages were also influential in determining the new firm to locate in Marin County.”

CMPC producer, George Middleton, a San Francisco native who lived in San Rafael for many decades, describes the layout of the CMPC’s studios in a 1949 Independent Journal article:

“In all eight component units were constructed. On the northern frontage, at the eastern section, was a two-story building, the lower devoted to offices; the upper to dressing rooms. Opening from this to the south was the large glass enclosed stage. Joining it to the west was a carpenter shop. A short distance from this was another structure for the storing of properties or props. At the northeast corner stood stables which housed authentic Wells Fargo and other ancient coaches. Directly south and distant was the squat laboratory where film development proceeded and cutting took place. Immediately east and midway across the lot, a small brick vault held the valuable film storage. Facing Fifth Avenue at the southeast corner was the cooks building. Here was the kitchen and lunchroom for studio employees.” .

The photograph featured here depicts CMPC’s vast compound. It forms part of a recent donation of materials from the estate of George Middleton which greatly enhance our CMPC collection.

Stay tuned for more installments about the California Motion Picture Corporation and some exciting events we are scheduling for next fall.

Originally published at



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