As an update: The last Fort Lee Mayor & Council meeting passed on the introduction of the ordinance to save Rambo's. Any "introduced" ordinance has to wait at least 2 weeks for a vote to approve. On August 22nd at the 8 PM Mayor & Council Meeting they will list this ordinance to vote in regard to approval.
The Fort Lee Historical Society asks you to sign this petition which will be delivered to the Fort Lee Mayor & Council and Fort Lee Zoning Board of Adjustment to Save the historic Rambo's Saloon building on 2423 First Street. This building, which dates back to the Civil War era, was used in the early 20th century as a film location, dressing room area, and meeting place for many of the early film pioneers and studios when Fort Lee was the first American film town. DW Griffth, Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, Mack Sennett and many other film pioneers developed the American film industry in their work on this property in this structure. This is the most important surviving building in the Borough of Fort Lee that was used during Fort Lee's days as the first American film town and this building helped give birth to the American film industry.
ADDITIONAL SOURCE MATERIAL ON THE HISTORY OF
2423 FIRST STREET
FORT LEE, NJ 07024
1. Fort Lee: The Film Town (John Libbey Publishing 2004) by Rutgers University Professor of film Richard Koszarski:
Reference to page 24: material by Gene Gauntier from Woman’s Home Companion, October and November 1928 – Gene Gauntier (1885-1966) was an American screenwriter and actress who was one of the pioneers of the motion picture industry. Here in her own words she comments on Rambo’s:
The summer of 1907 introduced us to a wonderful new location, Rambo’s in Coytesville, New Jersey. Coytesville was the same sleepy little village it had been for a hundred years, with winding dirt roads and clapboard houses nestled among rose and lilac bushes, an ideal background for pictures. Rambo’s, since pictured in hundreds of films, was our discovery. Rambo’s served as a New England tavern, for many a western saloon, and dozens of other sets….a year or so later (1908) D.W. Griffith discovered this place which we had considered wholly our own. Here we made “The Days of ‘61”, the first picture of the Civil War ever produced.
Reference to pages 37-38: material by Fred Balshofer, independent producer, and Arthur C. Miller, cameraman who would eventually win 3 Academy Awards for cinematography from their book “One Reel a Week” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967- pp. 24-37):
It certainly never occurred to us that this small rural town of Fort Lee would soon become the movie capital of the world, years before Hollywood, California, gained the title. The trolley tracks from the ferry joined Main Street, a little beyond the top of the hill, and about four blocks farther we turned onto Fourth Street, now called Lemoine Avenue, and drove through the woods to Coytesville, a little over a mile up the river…First Street was perhaps a mile long, and about halfway was Rambo’s roadhouse and saloon. Rambo’s is a landmark and a historic spot of the early moviemaking days. The saloon is a two-story frame building with a wooden front porch topped by a steep, slanted roof. There were no poles or wires to spoil photographing from any direction, and the dirt road Rambo’s faced had a typical western appearance. Many a pair of ugly cowboys stepped out the front door of Rambo’s Saloon and squared off on the dusty road for a shoot out. This was also the place where the stagecoach picked up passengers and reported the holdup to the sheriff who immediately formed a posse and started the chase of the bandits. Within a stone’s throw was a tree where each day at least one bad man finished his life dangling from the end of a rope.
The second floor of this now historic house was used as dressing rooms for most of those who became the early stars of the motion picture business…any morning the sun shined there would be extras waiting at Rambo’s hoping to be chosen by one of the different companies that came to Coytesville.
The account continues as Mr. Miller discusses that all the film / studio crews from different companies would lunch each day at Rambo’s and exchange the latest innovations in their moviemaking techniques – these pioneers included D.W. Griffith’s famed cameraman Billy Bitzer. Bitzer displayed his camera innovations for members of other crews while lunching at Rambo’s so in a real sense Rambo’s was the birthplace not only of the American film industry but also of the art of the American cinema.
2. Bergen County Historic Sites Survey Borough of Fort Lee
New Jersey Office of Cultural and Environmental Services Historic Preservation Section Individual Structure Survey Form Historic Sites Inventory No. 0219-94
Historic Name: Rambo’s Hotel 2423 First Street
Construction Date: Bet 1867-76
Rambo’s Hotel at 2423 First Street is an important extant building in Fort Lee directly connected with the early movie industry. While the 19th century building has lost details, it remains in restorable condition and its earlier appearance is well documented by movies and stills. The hotel run by the Rambos served as a set for early westerns, a dressing room, and as a eating and gathering place for members of movie companies filming in Fort Lee when it was the “capital” of the nascent motion picture industry, roughly between 1904 and 1920.
Arthur C. Miller in his book One Reel a Week describes Rambo’s roadhouse and saloon significance and its appearance:
Rambo’s is a landmark and a historic spot of the early moviemaking days. The saloon is a two-story frame building with a wooden front porch topped by a steep, slanted roof. There were no poles or wires to spoil photographing from any direction, and the dirt road Rambo’s faced had a typical western appearance. Many a pair of ugly cowboys stepped out the front door of Rambo’s Saloon and squared off on the dusty road for a shoot out.
Mr. Miller went on to win three Academy Awards for cinematography for the following films:
How Green Was My Valley (directed by John Ford - 20th Century Fox, 1941)
The Song of Bernadette (20th Century Fox, 1943)
Ann and the King of Siam (20th Century Fox, 1946)
This legendary multiple Oscar winning pioneer American cinematographer who appears in the logo of the Fort Lee Film Commission at the camera on cliffhanger point during the 1918 production of the movie serial The House of Hate with Pearl White (see below), declared that Rambo’s is in fact a historic site of the early American film industry and the pedigree of this building is beyond reproach and thus the Fort Lee Historic Site, Structure, Cultural and Landmark Committee, in its advisory capacity as listed in ordinance, does respectfully request that the Fort Lee Zoning Board of Adjustment deny any application for a variance to demolish this unique and important piece of not only Fort Lee history but American film history.
Help us save Rambo's Hotel in Fort Lee seen in this 1912 Keystone Studio film "A Grocery Clerk's Romance"! (Please click on above link to view)This is one of the last and most important film history sites in Fort Lee, NJ that dates to Fort Lee's days as the first American film town!
If you wish to contact us by phone or letter:
Fort Lee Historical Society 309 Main Street,Fort Lee NJ,US,07024 Call:1-201-592-3678