The Champion

Fort Lee's First Permanent Studio

5th Street in the Coytesville section of Fort Lee

Fort Lee's first studio

The Champion Studio

2 5th St., Fort Lee, NJ
Active 1910-1917

Movie making was taking place in  the Fort Lee area since American movie making began in 1893.  Thomas Edison filmed here. D.W. Griffith filmed here.  Path√© and Kalem filmed here.  Biograph shot in the area.  Edison was just east of here.  It was an active movie location.

It wasn't until Mark Dintenfass was forced to flee NYC to evade Edison's patent detectives and landed in Fort Lee to build its first permanent studio that Fort Lee truly became a movie town.  Dintenfass opened the flood gates in 1910 and rapid succession several more studios were build during the next couple of years, ushering in Fort Lee's place in film making history.

Dintenfass, a herring salesman, began movie making in an old studio he bought in Manhattan, where he made the earliest of sound movies at his Actophone Studio.  He used equipment that Edison had patents on.  Edison, a ruthless businessman, wanted every penny he could squeeze from his patents.  He even owned patents on things he did not invent.

Though rather small Champion was actually larger for its time.  It was basically a single story building of offices, editing, costumes, etc.  Attached to it was a two story stage and in  1911 a large glass stage was built adjacent.  Champion's output consisted of westerns and epic war pictures

In 1912 Champion Studio and Mark Dintenfass found themselves in the middle of the fledgling movie industry's first big merger: the formation of Universal Moving Picture Manufacturing Company (later Universal Pictures...yes, that Universal Pictures).

The merger was instigated by Carl Laemmle, the owner of Independent Movie Producers (IMP).  In addition to Dintenfass was David Horsley of New Jersey's Centaur Studio and Horsley's second studio, Nestor Studio, Hollywood's very first.  Other partners included Charles O. Baumann and Adam Kessel of New York Motion Picture Corp., Pat Powers of Powers Motion Picture Company, Jules Brulatou, William Swanson of Rex Motion Picture Company, and Robert H. Cochrane.

During the early days of the merger the company was based at Champion as well as Bison Studio in Edendale.  Once the company built its two large studios (Fort Lee and Universal City) Champion became the animation department turning out cartoon for Universal.

For many years after it ceased being a movie studio, the Champion building survived as a print plant.  When it was demolished on December 20, 2013 is was the oldest standing studio facility in America.

See Champion on the map

click to enlarge

Please contact me if you would like a copy of this image

Scroll to Top