Woody Harrelson as Billy Hoyle, left, and Wesley Snipes as Sidney Deane in White Men Can't Jump
Woody Harrelson as Billy Hoyle, left, and Wesley Snipes as Sidney Deane in White Men Can't Jump
20th Century Fox

Revisiting the Filming Locations of White Men Can’t Jump 25 Years Later

In March 1991, racial tensions in the city of Los Angeles were skyrocketing, in large part due to the brutal beating of a black man by a group of white LAPD officers after a high-speed pursuit that culminated in the city’s Lake View Terrace neighborhood. By the end of April 1992, a mostly white Ventura County jury would acquit three of the four officers charged with using excessive force to subdue Rodney King. (The jury could not reach a decision on the fourth officer.) A bomb, as filmmaker John Singleton put it on the steps of a Simi Valley courthouse, was about to explode.

Just over a year after the assault on King, and about a month before the reading of the “not guilty” verdicts that set off the L.A. Riots, a Los Angeles–set film — a comedy, no less — was released and spoke directly to the time, the culture and the city where a cyclone of racial injustice was stirring.

White Men Can’t Jump, written and directed by Ron Shelton, was released on March 27, 1992. At its core, the story is straightforward: Two street-smart guys — one white, one black — who can play some great street ball use their talents to hustle each other on the court. Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) plays to pay off a debt to a couple of New Orleans mafia types, while Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) hustles to support his wife and baby boy when his other freelance gigs (roofing, installing cable TV) are slow. The two then have to work together, out of obligation but also from a developed admiration and mutual respect. Many will point to the film’s hysterical and colorful dialogue as its most memorable trait; the movie almost singlehandedly popularized the “Yo' mama” joke in the early ’90s. White Men Can’t Jump was a product of its time, but its theme of refuting racial stereotypes remains topical.

Roger Ebert said in his positive 1992 review of the film, “It’s interesting that this is not simply a basketball movie. … Here is a comedy of great high spirits, with an undercurrent of sadness and sweetness that makes it a lot better than the plot itself could possibly suggest.”

Shelton’s L.A. film is almost always cited as one of the best sports movies of all time, as are his Bull Durham (1988) and Tin Cup (1996). However, White Men Can’t Jump is absent from most lists of the greatest films set in Los Angeles, which, more often than not, include the likes of L.A. Confidential, Boyz n the Hood, Boogie Nights, Blade Runner and Chinatown. “You’ve mentioned very serious films versus a comedy,” says White Men Can’t Jump’s lead location manager, Kokayi Ampah. “That’s the only reason I think that, but in terms of showing L.A. for L.A., White Men Can’t Jump is definitely one of [the best].”

Trying to escape from the Stucci Brothers, Gloria and Billy run through a pedestrian tunnel underneath the 10 freeway at South Marvin Avenue. They continue running along the Eighth Avenue bridge crossing the 10. “A lot of times we’ll just shoot things, images, that the director likes and it becomes part" of the movie, Ampah says.
Trying to escape from the Stucci Brothers, Gloria and Billy run through a pedestrian tunnel underneath the 10 freeway at South Marvin Avenue. They continue running along the Eighth Avenue bridge crossing the 10. “A lot of times we’ll just shoot things, images, that the director likes and it becomes part" of the movie, Ampah says.
20th Century Fox/Jared Cowan

Ampah’s co-location manager on the film, Elisa Ann Conant, says, “I think because it was such a basketball [film], it got a sports label, and I think the L.A. location part just got overlooked.” She tells us that the film is really set on the backbone of the city. “[We used] mainly Venice and a lot of South Central to tell the story of the characters.”

Without L.A., there is no White Men Can’t Jump. The film is an immersive, vibrant ride through the middle of sun-drenched Venice Beach basketball courts and scorching summer blacktops of South L.A. “It’s not really iconic L.A. … It’s not L.A. to a tourist. It’s L.A. to a hustler and so it’s specific in what you’re seeing around L.A.,” says the film’s production designer, J. Dennis Washington. “It’s mostly about their lives and the avenues they tread.” The Jungle, Crenshaw, Watts and West Adams are all central to what makes White Men Can’t Jump a truly authentic piece of Los Angeles filmmaking.

When Billy bets Sidney that he can dunk a basketball, the two pull over to this vacant car lot, which was built for the film at 3825 Crenshaw Blvd. in the Crenshaw district. It’s from this scene that we get the title of the film, when Sidney tells Billy, “White men can’t jump.” Today, a strip mall stands on this spot. Earlier in the film, a city bus drops off Gloria and Billy just up the street, at the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Rodeo Road.
When Billy bets Sidney that he can dunk a basketball, the two pull over to this vacant car lot, which was built for the film at 3825 Crenshaw Blvd. in the Crenshaw district. It’s from this scene that we get the title of the film, when Sidney tells Billy, “White men can’t jump.” Today, a strip mall stands on this spot. Earlier in the film, a city bus drops off Gloria and Billy just up the street, at the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Rodeo Road.
20th Century Fox

“Ron has a good working knowledge of L.A.,” says Ampah of the writer-director, and it shows in Shelton’s screenplay. Oki's Dog on Pico, 103rd Street in Watts, Windward Avenue in Venice and more locations are specifically written into the script and all paint a vivid portrait of the city on the page.

Washington, who has designed movies such as Stand by Me, The Fugitive, Nebraska and Shelton’s 2002 L.A. police drama, Dark Blue, concurs with Ampah and says some of the film’s locations seemed to have personal connections for the director. “He discusses certain scenes [with me] and what’s happening and what he loves about the city — certain things that he really likes and certain small iconic pieces that mean a lot to him. You know, he wanted Oki Dog and [places] like that that he wanted to get in the movie. That helped set a tone for me, as well.”

Sidney pulls into Oki's Dog, located at 5056 W. Pico Blvd., where he meets a client who hired him to do a roofing job. Billy finds Sidney at Oki's Dog to ask for help with getting Gloria back.
Sidney pulls into Oki's Dog, located at 5056 W. Pico Blvd., where he meets a client who hired him to do a roofing job. Billy finds Sidney at Oki's Dog to ask for help with getting Gloria back.
Jared Cowan

“He knew exactly where he wanted things [to take place],” says Conant of Shelton, which made things somewhat straightforward in the search for locations but may have proven more difficult in securing specific spots crucial to the story. “Like, ‘I want a basketball court in the middle of Venice.’ Very hard and expensive, but that’s what he wanted. … You have to figure out how to get it done.”

From inner-city basketball courts and an art deco Santa Monica landmark to seedy, rundown motels and congested South L.A. apartment complexes, we revisited many of the film’s locations and spoke with Ampah, Conant and Washington about getting it done 25 years ago for White Men Can’t Jump.

Billy hits a shot from the top of the key.
Billy hits a shot from the top of the key.
20th Century Fox

The Venice Beach Court

EXT. THE SAME VENICE BASKETBALL COURT – DAY
Bang. Action. A game is in progress with several games on several courts in the background. The players are mostly black, and on the main court, entirely black.

At the center of White Men Can’t Jump are five basketball courts, each one unique to the scene and the neighborhood where it was found. Only one of the courts had a mandate in terms of specific location, but the other four were open to creative solutions.

Washington says, “What we were trying to do was show a similar world in different ways in L.A., where they were going to hustle on these unofficial courts and every setting is kind of different. I think that was a big part of it.”

“They didn’t just want regular basketball courts for this movie. This had to tell a story,” Conant says. “We looked at a lot of basketball courts all over [the city].” Ampah and Conant exhausted just about every possibility throughout Los Angeles, including locations that weren’t actual courts. “It was a lot of places where you could put a court. There are your real basketball courts and then there are parking lots where you could put a court. There’s a menagerie of places of trying to be creative,” Conant says. “I remember scouting for parking lots at mansions. I mean, there are just a lot of different ways you could play it.”

“When you’re location scouting, you don’t want to leave any rock unturned. It’s the only shot you have to find the best you can for the story. It’s an exhausting search, it really is,” Washington says.

A White Men Can't Jump mural at 66 Windward Ave. in Venice, right across the street from where Billy parks his car at the beginning of the film
A White Men Can't Jump mural at 66 Windward Ave. in Venice, right across the street from where Billy parks his car at the beginning of the film
Jared Cowan

Ampah says, “At the beginning of the picture [we would] go and shoot as many interesting parks or basketball courts as we could.” He estimates he scouted at least 100 courts around the city. “You would just be conscious of [noticing courts] when you were driving.” He shot photos of any outdoor location that had a hoop, net and backboard, even makeshift, back-alley courts behind businesses.

Of course, the one court that couldn’t be set in just any urban area of L.A. was the most difficult to coordinate.

White Men Can’t Jump opens with a 15-minute scene on the courts at Venice Beach — famous around the country as a street ball mecca — that introduces the main characters, Billy Hoyle and Sidney Deane, and immediately sets the tone of the film: It’s colorful, it’s profane, it’s fast-paced, it’s funny, and it’s not afraid to push boundaries.

Most audiences take for granted that the courts at the beginning of the film are the iconic Venice courts at Muscle Beach. Even the Visit Venice website incorrectly credits the famous courts as a filming location for White Men Can’t Jump. The truth is, however, the courts featured in the opening of the film were created in a parking lot along the Venice Boardwalk at Rose Avenue, about a mile north of the Venice courts. The film was shot over the summer of 1991, which made it impossible for the production to take up as much time as it would have needed to shoot at the real location. It proved to be an arduous and ambitious task for the locations department to make the Rose Avenue parking lot work as a double.

The Cadillac Hotel is seen in a view from the Rose Avenue parking lot that was turned into the Venice basketball courts for White Men Can't Jump.
The Cadillac Hotel is seen in a view from the Rose Avenue parking lot that was turned into the Venice basketball courts for White Men Can't Jump.
Jared Cowan

For the location to succeed as a believable court, half of the 368-space lot would need to be converted into multiple basketball courts, a quarter of the lot would be designated for equipment, and the last quarter would remain open for parking to beachgoers. As you might imagine, business owners along the boardwalk were less than thrilled about a production taking over a parking lot in front of their stores during the busy season. Adding to that, the court had to be built over Memorial Day weekend.

“The merchants who are around that parking lot believed that’s their parking lot, though it’s not their parking lot,” Ampah says. The lot at Rose Avenue is for general beach parking, and not specifically designated for customers shopping along the Boardwalk. “People who come to the beach and park in the parking lot stay all day. So that was one of the arguments we had against them. They’re there all day, it’s not like it’s a turnover lot.”

Ampah’s first proposal to use the parking lot was turned down because Boardwalk merchants wrote a letter to L.A.'s Department of Parks & Recreation, citing bad experiences with film crews in the past. Meanwhile, Ampah says, Shelton loved the beachside location and wanted it for the film. The location manager figured he needed to “go deep” and write a counter argument. “So I wrote this letter — and this had been just after the Rodney King thing. So I went deep and said, ‘OK, so since the Rodney King thing — and being a black man — should I then cringe whenever I see a policeman? No!’ I said, ‘And you shouldn’t do that with a film company. They’re not all going to treat you bad.’”

“That’s Kokayi’s philosophy,” Conant says. “I think that’s why I bonded working him. We didn’t just go into neighborhoods and take over and not give back.” (This wasn't only the case in Venice; rather, it would prove true for the entire production throughout every community the film visited.)

White Men Can't Jump location manager Kokayi Ampah at the Lafayette Park basketball courts. Ampah unexpectedly started working in locations in 1978 when he was a production assistant on Roots: The Next Generation. He later became the first African-American in the Teamsters union as a location manager. His first feature film as a location manager was The Color Purple (1985) and he worked with director Steven Spielberg again on Amistad (1997). Ampah has worked on six Clint Eastwood films and done locations for movies including The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Mars Attacks! (1996), Poetic Justice (1993) and 8 Mile (2002).
White Men Can't Jump location manager Kokayi Ampah at the Lafayette Park basketball courts. Ampah unexpectedly started working in locations in 1978 when he was a production assistant on Roots: The Next Generation. He later became the first African-American in the Teamsters union as a location manager. His first feature film as a location manager was The Color Purple (1985) and he worked with director Steven Spielberg again on Amistad (1997). Ampah has worked on six Clint Eastwood films and done locations for movies including The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Mars Attacks! (1996), Poetic Justice (1993) and 8 Mile (2002).
Jared Cowan

Conant recalls that the Venice court was a tough negotiation. “I think we had to get the City Council involved,” she says. Shop owners would inflate their earnings to exploit the production, which, she says, is typical, especially in Venice. “When you come down to Venice, you better have money.”

After Ampah attended multiple hearings and argued the production’s position, the film was granted permission to use the lot, still to the chagrin of some store owners. Ampah, though, devised a plan to keep merchants relatively happy. If people were turned away from the quarter of the lot designated for public parking, Ampah’s team handed out $5 vouchers, which could be used at a number of participating stores near the parking lot. “Every Monday we would go in, collect the vouchers, and issue [the merchants] a check at the end of the week,” Ampah says. The film’s art department even got involved in designing new vouchers every week the production took up the lot. “They had to be different so someone didn’t try to duplicate them,” Ampah adds. When all was said and done, “It worked,” he says.

The iconic movie court itself was built on an east-west axis in the parking lot. Washington says, “A lot of it is sun direction. What’s going to be better for us for light?” As it was summer, the production didn’t have to worry about long shadows from a sun in the southern sky.

Various driving shots, clockwise from top left: West 35th Street & St. Andrews Place; West Adams Boulevard near Hauser Boulevard; near Jack's Chili Shack (demolished) on Crenshaw Boulevard; and West Washington Boulevard near Fifth Avenue.
Various driving shots, clockwise from top left: West 35th Street & St. Andrews Place; West Adams Boulevard near Hauser Boulevard; near Jack's Chili Shack (demolished) on Crenshaw Boulevard; and West Washington Boulevard near Fifth Avenue.
20th Century Fox
Sidney slam-dunks the ball in his first game with Billy as a partner at the 22nd Street court.
Sidney slam-dunks the ball in his first game with Billy as a partner at the 22nd Street court.
20th Century Fox

The 22nd Street Court

EXT. THE 22nd STREET PLAYGROUND – NEXT DAY
RAYMOND DICKENS, 38, SKIES AND SLAMS a ball through the hoop. He’s huge – at least 6’7”. He’s the real king of the playground. A quick, big, explosive, fluid athlete. A bit over the hill but enormously skilled. A game in progress that includes Sidney and Raymond’s teammate, T.J.

Of the remaining four courts — three for hustles and one for a tournament — Ampah knew they needed to be heavily urban.

The requirement for the court where Billy and Sidney would hustle their first opponents — and have a knife drawn on them by Raymond, played by ex-NBA All-Star Marques Johnson — was that it had to be in the middle of a neighborhood. “I scouted recreation centers and we needed one in the ’hood,” Conant says. She fell in love with a court in a South L.A. community at the intersection of East 22nd and Trinity streets. The court was surrounded by craftsman-style homes and had a clear view of the L.A. skyline rising up in the background. The court, which is still there today, was on the property of the El Santo Niño Community Center. The center was, and still is, part of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, an organization that helps low-income families and communities, providing day-care assistance and after-school programs to keep kids off the streets. “These people were so kind, and they needed the money," Conant says. "I made friends with these people. I went back year after year for a long time.”

Conant tells us that the 22nd Street court was one of the locations she was most proud of. “It was [about the] kids. It was a chance to give back. I like to bless people who aren’t expecting it,” she says.

The basketball court at El Santo Niño Community Center at 601 E. 23rd St. in South L.A.: The court layout has been changed since the filming of White Men Can't Jump, but many of the original court's boundary lines can still be seen.
The basketball court at El Santo Niño Community Center at 601 E. 23rd St. in South L.A.: The court layout has been changed since the filming of White Men Can't Jump, but many of the original court's boundary lines can still be seen.
Jared Cowan

Both Ampah and Conant say that people were naturally excited about what was going on in their neighborhood. Ampah says, “We were at a time where a lot of filming hadn’t been in the [South L.A.] community. All of a sudden Hollywood comes. I guess they knew Wesley at that point. I don’t know if they knew Woody at that point, but still, it’s a movie company. It was a new deal to them.”

A corner store two blocks from the 22nd Street court at the corner of 22nd and South San Pedro Street was used for an hysterical attempted-robbery scene involving Raymond, who’s trying to steal the money he needs for the game against Sidney and Billy. The owner recognizes Raymond — “Raymond, is that you?” — and tells him to take off the ski mask. Unsuccessful at robbing the store, the owner ends up buying the gun from Raymond. Ampah says that the strategy of finding the store was as simple as trying to locate a spot near the 22nd Street court and one that felt as if it belonged in the same neighborhood. “Usually, in the inner city, finding a liquor store nearby is not hard, which is a sad thing to say, but that’s usually what’s there,” Ampah says.

Outside the liquor store, a blue mural adorns the wall that depicts the Virgin Mary next to some dancing beer cans that look like they belong in Pee-wee Herman’s refrigerator. Unless the production could get clearances for the graffiti or murals seen at a location, Washington would have to create his own with a team of muralists, some of whom were recommended by the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC). “Usually, I’d sit down and show them the location,” Washington says. “I don’t even know if I said what the theme was. I’d just say, ‘Why don’t you give me some sketches of what you think you could do here.’” Out of three or four sketches, Washington would choose one for the particular location.

Raymond (Marques Johnson), right, pulls a gun on Tad (Reynaldo Rey).
Raymond (Marques Johnson), right, pulls a gun on Tad (Reynaldo Rey).
20th Century Fox
Inside the liquor store located at 2200 S. San Pedro St. in South L.A.
Inside the liquor store located at 2200 S. San Pedro St. in South L.A.
Jared Cowan
Hustle No. 2 takes place in the parking lot of St. John's United Methodist Church.
Hustle No. 2 takes place in the parking lot of St. John's United Methodist Church.
20th Century Fox

103rd Street Court

EXT. 103rd ST. PLAYGROUND IN WATTS – DAY
A first class playground game in progress.

After Sidney and Billy are successful with their first hustle as a team, the pair head down to Watts for a game they end up losing because, as we later learn, Sidney was working with the other team to hustle Billy.

Conant, who moved to L.A. from Louisiana in 1984, became familiar with South-Central when she was a teacher in the area before getting into locations 27 years ago. She tells us that when scouting the area, you just have to be smart and careful. “You don’t go out with your big camera. I learned a lot of lessons as I grew up in this business,” she says. “When you’re in those areas you just kind of have a smaller camera. … You contact the local police department so they know you are in the neighborhood. And that’s a known rule for all scouting. You’re in neighborhoods and you’re taking pictures, you’re supposed to check in with the local LAPD. That’s location managing 101.”

The Watts Towers are visible in the background of this shot taken from across the street from St. John's United Methodist Church, located at 1715 Santa Ana Blvd. in Watts.
The Watts Towers are visible in the background of this shot taken from across the street from St. John's United Methodist Church, located at 1715 Santa Ana Blvd. in Watts.
Jared Cowan

Conant, though, makes a point to tell us, “I love South-Central. I think more movies should show the beauty of South-Central versus all just gangs.”

The basketball hustle that would be shot in the parking lot of 94-year-old St. John’s United Methodist Church across from the Watts Towers speaks, in a way, to what Conant is talking about. Though the scene involves gambling, and certainly a lot of trash talk, there’s no violence of any kind depicted. The actors’ wardrobe is bright and vivid. A mural of African-American children playing in green fields under rainbow-colored hot air balloons is seen painted on the side of the Baptist church across the street. A Hispanic family walks with a child down the steps of a bridge crossing the tracks of the Metro Blue Line. On the court, the camera moves are dynamic, and the editing is swift. It’s all about the game and the community on a warm, sunny day in Watts.

Conant says the location was appealing for three simple reasons: “Train, Watts Towers, church. We had a base. It was just beautiful.”

Location manager Elisa Ann Conant, on a rainy day, revisits the Rose Avenue parking lot that was turned into the Venice basketball courts for White Men Can't Jump. Conant has worked with Ampah a number of times since White Men Can't Jump and also worked on locations for films including Super 8 (2011), Bulworth (1998), Higher Learning (1995) and Straight Outta Compton (2015).
Location manager Elisa Ann Conant, on a rainy day, revisits the Rose Avenue parking lot that was turned into the Venice basketball courts for White Men Can't Jump. Conant has worked with Ampah a number of times since White Men Can't Jump and also worked on locations for films including Super 8 (2011), Bulworth (1998), Higher Learning (1995) and Straight Outta Compton (2015).
Jared Cowan
Sidney and Billy play in the TTBBT championship game.
Sidney and Billy play in the TTBBT championship game.
20th Century Fox

The Lafayette Park Tournament

EXT. THE TOURNAMENT – LAFAYETTE PARK – DAY
THE VENICE BEACH BOYS SING for money near the tournament courts at Lafayette Park, near downtown Los Angeles.

After Sidney bamboozles Billy in Watts, Sidney’s wife, Rhonda (Tyra Ferrell), suggests that the two basketball hustlers work together in a tournament after Billy’s fiery Puerto Rican girlfriend, Gloria (Rosie Perez), demands the money back from the Watts game.

The first annual TTBBT, or the Two-on-Two for Brotherhood Basketball Tournament, required a look that set it apart from every other court in the film. “It’s the combination of finding a park, finding something that’s kind of official to the city, other than being out in one of these scratchy areas where they’re hustling,” Washington says of the tournament location. Though Lafayette Park in the Westlake neighborhood is specifically mentioned in a revised version of the script we found at the Writers Guild of America library, Ampah tells us it wasn’t originally written that way.

“One morning I was scouting, and I drove down Sixth Street and I looked over here at the park,” Ampah says as we talk at a picnic table in Lafayette Park. “It was a foggy day, and so I shot it and I didn’t come back in the daylight. I showed Ron the pictures, and he loved it because of that fog effect. He said, ‘I wish we could get it in the movie.’” While the filmmakers wouldn’t be able to recapture the foggy-morning aesthetic, the park seemed ideal.

The basketball court on the left, at Lafayette Park, was built specifically for White Men Can't Jump.
The basketball court on the left, at Lafayette Park, was built specifically for White Men Can't Jump.
Jared Cowan

“It’s got some great L.A. foliage plus the palm trees,” Washington says. “The only thing that’s [even] more unique there is that from Wilshire Boulevard you have high-rises. … I think those combinations kind of made sense for the tournament, being a sanctified game that’s put together in the middle of the city.”

The only setback at Lafayette Park was that it had just one basketball court, and the film would require a location with multiple courts to showcase the tournament aspect. Like the Venice court, the production devised a creative solution: They would build a brand-new court next to the existing one and leave it as a gift to the city.

Ampah thinks back to conversations he had with city officials and says, “If we did build it, it would have to be to the specs the city required. So [the city] gave us a list of three contractors who had built courts for them. So then we had the plans drawn up and got the [dollar] figure and then went back to the city and said, ‘OK, this is the court we’d like to build so we can do the film and make this tournament.’ And they said, ‘Well, fine.’ We built the court and shot the movie.”

The same court was used at the end of the film, when Sidney and Billy take on the film’s L.A. street-ball legends, Duck Johnson and Eddie “The King” Faroo.

“Usually when film companies build something, they always have to tear it out. They won’t leave a stick because of liability laws,” Washington says. “We wanted to be able to build a proper court, not just a movie court, and leave it there so people could use it from then on, and we did.”

Today, you can still play on the Lafayette Park courts from White Men Can’t Jump, including the westerly court built specifically for the film.

In an act of desperation to get Gloria back after she leaves him for gambling their money away, Billy makes a bet with Sidney’s friend Robert (Cylk Cozart) that he can sink a hook shot from more than halfway down a makeshift court. If Billy makes the shot, Robert, a studio security man, will get Gloria onto the lot to audition for Jeopardy!, the show she’s been tirelessly preparing for.EXPAND
In an act of desperation to get Gloria back after she leaves him for gambling their money away, Billy makes a bet with Sidney’s friend Robert (Cylk Cozart) that he can sink a hook shot from more than halfway down a makeshift court. If Billy makes the shot, Robert, a studio security man, will get Gloria onto the lot to audition for Jeopardy!, the show she’s been tirelessly preparing for.
20th Century Fox
The lot where filmmakers built the court from the hook-shot scene is located at 510 Wall St. in downtown L.A. “Did it look urban?” Ampah asks. “Do you know how many times I’ve been asked, ‘Where’s that court?’ because somebody wants to do a commercial?”
The lot where filmmakers built the court from the hook-shot scene is located at 510 Wall St. in downtown L.A. “Did it look urban?” Ampah asks. “Do you know how many times I’ve been asked, ‘Where’s that court?’ because somebody wants to do a commercial?”
Jared Cowan
Billy pulls into Neptune's Grotto.
Billy pulls into Neptune's Grotto.
20th Century Fox

Neptune’s Grotto

EXT. NEPTUNE’S GROTTO MOTEL – JUST AFTER DAWN
BILLY STOPS ON THE LANDING – He looks toward the street.

“I think the name of the motel was Ron’s [idea] because he was laughing at this pile of shit that he’s calling a grotto,” Washington says.

After taking Sidney on a run for his money in Venice, Billy pulls his car into the parking lot of a rundown, seaside-themed motel called Neptune’s Grotto. The metal railings along the stairways are rusted, dead potted plants sit next to the empty swimming pool defaced with graffiti, and sepia water stains bleed down the exterior walls.

Neptune’s Grotto — and the equally decrepit Ocean Breeze Motel (actually the Cinema Motel at 5274 Washington Blvd.) where Billy and Gloria stay after escaping from the Stucci Brothers — was found just by driving around, Ampah says, as he had never worked with any urban motels before.

“We looked at hundreds of motels all over the city,” Washington says.

A postcard of the Flamingo West motel in Santa Monica
A postcard of the Flamingo West motel in Santa Monica
Flickr

The location that was chosen for Neptune’s Grotto was originally the Flamingo West motel, which once stood at 1733 Ocean Ave. in Santa Monica. At the time of filming White Men Can’t Jump, the building was derelict, along with a number of other properties along Ocean waiting to be redeveloped. It was perfect, Ampah says, because it already looked substandard.

“The place had been empty but it wasn’t trashed, so we trashed it,” Washington says. “We really ran it down: rust all over the place, we put graffiti inside the pool, drained the pool and just brought it way down. … It was almost a place where you [would be] squatting.”

“The hotel that was next door was really a dive. It was in transition,” Ampah says of the area. In the film, an empty lot can be seen across the street, which would become the JW Marriott Hotel in 2000. The rest of the block has been completely modernized with contemporary office and apartment buildings.

Billy, Sidney and Gloria pull up to the Vista View apartment building.
Billy, Sidney and Gloria pull up to the Vista View apartment building.
20th Century Fox

Vista View Apartment Building

P.O.V. A VERY TOUGH, UGLY STUCCO APARTMENT BUILDING.

“All I care about is getting out of the damn Vista View apartment building because there ain’t no vista, there ain’t no views, and there sure as hell ain’t no vista of no views,” Sidney’s wife, Rhonda, says of the rundown apartment complex and dangerous neighborhood where they live with their baby boy.

Located on August Street in the Baldwin Village neighborhood, more commonly known as the Jungle because of the area’s lush, tropical foliage, the location was a difficult place to pin down, according to Conant. “It was trying to find the place that, number one, would allow us to film, but number two, would give the designer what he wanted,” Conant says.

“Ron wanted to really shoot in the correct places,” Washington says. “[The apartment location] was one time when we had a little disagreement. He just wanted the real thing and I understand that, but I said, ‘You know, anybody from the Midwest that looks at a street here, they’re going to think it's Beverly Hills.’ It’s beautiful. All those elephant ear, palm trees, it’s lush, it’s green, it’s gorgeous — even though it’s one of the most dangerous places in the city — but he still wanted to do it.”

The location of the Vista View apartments on August Street in the Jungle
The location of the Vista View apartments on August Street in the Jungle
Jared Cowan

“They wanted to paint a picture that [Sidney] came from danger,” Conant says as she points to an image of the wrought iron fence and gate in front of the location. “This represented what his life and his character [were about].”

“This was not in such a great part of town,” she adds. “It’s still not such a great part of town.”

Generally, filming in the Jungle is off-limits, said Training Day technical adviser Cle Shaheed Sloan on a behind-the-scenes featurette for that 2001 film. “They have a policy of no cameras — totally.”

Ampah tells us, “The other side of doing locations is knowing who’s who — [the Jungle is] Blood territory — so you know who to talk to when you’re shooting.” Though he didn’t do this during the filming of White Men Can’t Jump because he says he simply hadn’t thought to at the time, Ampah adds that it’s standard practice to touch base with gang leaders when you’re filming in their territory, and he’s had to do it since. “I worked one day where I was in three different gangs’ areas,” the location manager says. “There would be Bloods here, Crips, and then another set of Bloods who weren’t part of [the other] Bloods.” The process, he says, is not totally different from location practices in an affluent community. “It’s just like if you go to a rich neighborhood and you gotta go see the homeowners association. … Really what you wind up doing is maybe hiring five guys from each group and they probably do nothing but just tell the kids in the neighborhood, ‘Don’t bother [the crew].’"

However, some of the local gang members do wind up on film occasionally, as they did in Training Day when the production shot in the Jungle. Many of the guys standing out in front of the apartment buildings during the film’s climax were gang-affiliated, Training Day director Antoine Fuqua says in the making-of documentary. “The gang members are the guys who gave me permission to come into their neighborhoods. They were so supportive and I wanted them to be in the movie,” he said in 2001.

After years of preparation, Gloria gets onto Jeopardy! thanks to Billy sinking a difficult hook shot in a bet. Ampah says, “ I remember a lot of us stood there like we were answering questions on the set. I know I did that.” Jeopardy! is still shot on Stage 10 at Sony in Culver City.
After years of preparation, Gloria gets onto Jeopardy! thanks to Billy sinking a difficult hook shot in a bet. Ampah says, “ I remember a lot of us stood there like we were answering questions on the set. I know I did that.” Jeopardy! is still shot on Stage 10 at Sony in Culver City.
20th Century Fox
Sidney and his family leave a potential rental house.
Sidney and his family leave a potential rental house.
20th Century Fox

The Rental House

As the sun sets in an orange sky over L.A., the camera cranes down from a skyline filled with palm trees to reveal a group of girls jumping rope outside of a white craftsman home with an emerald green lawn. Sidney and Rhonda, carrying their child, walk out the front door with the homeowners and a real estate agent in tow. They love the house; it’s ideal and a far cry from the Vista View, but Sidney is apprehensive, as the rent is more than he’s comfortable paying.

The house, located on West 30th Street off of Arlington Avenue, is unique in the neighborhood as it sits at an angle along Prescott Court, a pedestrian walkway running between homes that connects 30th Street to Jefferson Boulevard three blocks south. “I stopped [at the house] because it was just, like, ‘Wow!,’” Conant says.

“It’s like old Los Angeles,” Washington says of the house and the neighborhood. “It’s just a great-looking place — a place that you hoped that they could [move into] someday.”

The rental house on West 30th Street and Prescott Court
The rental house on West 30th Street and Prescott Court
Jared Cowan

Conant, who feels she’s an expert at scouting houses and residential neighborhoods, vividly recalls locating and securing the home on 30th Street, which was her favorite location in the film. She says she left many letters at the home before getting any response from the homeowners. “You have to work it. It takes a while to get [the owners] to trust you,” she says. “It was another process and I couldn’t rush it, because they were older and they had to get to know you and you had to go and have dinner or you had to go and spend time and then you just grow to love them.”

The couple, who actually appear in the film as the homeowners, eventually became excited at the prospect of their house being used as a filming location. Conant developed a close relationship with them and would visit over the next few years. “They were like parents,” she says.

Billy walks up to the Antenna department store on Hollywood Boulevard.
Billy walks up to the Antenna department store on Hollywood Boulevard.
20th Century Fox

Antenna

EXT. HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD – NIGHT
BILLY STARES AT A CHEESY SHOP – Lots of glitter on the sign.
P.O.V. A SLINKY BLACK DRESS on a mannequin.

Sometimes tracking down a location is just as simple as looking at the script, which is what we did to find the clothing store where Billy buys a “stupid hoochie mama looking dress” — as Gloria calls it — after feeling guilty for losing his tournament winnings in a bet with Sidney. The name on the store is Antenna. A Google search for “Antenna Los Angeles” came up empty, but a search for “Antenna Hollywood Boulevard” pointed us to 6363 Hollywood Blvd. If you look closely at the shot of Billy walking up to the store, you can just make out the stars from the Walk of Fame. Ampah says the production would have had to pay for use of the Walk of Fame imagery had they shot the stars clearly.

The Antenna building, which was the northernmost spot in the city used in the film, has been home to a number of businesses over the years, including a department store, a nightclub and an operating space for a Hollywood tour company.

Conant says it was a monotonous search for the dress shop. Many of the businesses she spoke to on Hollywood Boulevard were interested in participating but often wanted too much money.

The all-night shoot at the location for a scene that lasts less than a minute of screen time was challenging, according to Conant. “I think we prepped it once or twice and never shot it, and then I had to go and talk to all these [surrounding] businesses. I had to get them to leave their lights on. This was a big deal on Hollywood Boulevard because then across the street you had to have lights, too. This was a big lighting job. … You’re prepping it during the day, you’re [running] cable up and down the street,” she says. “It’s no fun — no fun in that it’s no joke.” Lights inside the store also needed be swapped out to make sure they would appear in the correct color temperature on film.

The location of the clothing store at 6363 Hollywood Blvd.
The location of the clothing store at 6363 Hollywood Blvd.
Jared Cowan
Billy and Gloria bike and skate along Ocean Boulevard across from the Hotel Shangri-La, left, and Sidney looks for Billy at the hotel. “When Rosie is skating on the promenade, that's not allowed,” Ampah says. Though the proper permits were of course in order for the scene, “It was not something [Santa Monica] wanted to promote,” Ampah adds.
Billy and Gloria bike and skate along Ocean Boulevard across from the Hotel Shangri-La, left, and Sidney looks for Billy at the hotel. “When Rosie is skating on the promenade, that's not allowed,” Ampah says. Though the proper permits were of course in order for the scene, “It was not something [Santa Monica] wanted to promote,” Ampah adds.
20th Century Fox/Jared Cowan


Hotel Shangri-La

EXT. SHANGRI-LA – NEXT MORNING
From the street, through the palms and parking meters, a view of the moderne architecture.

As the sun sets, the camera pulls back through a window, pink curtains sway slightly from a delicate breeze off the Pacific, and Gloria and Billy are revealed, making love. It’s a perfect rekindling of their relationship after Gloria’s triumphant win on Jeopardy!, which Billy helped to make happen. The scene is set inside one of L.A.’s legendary hotels, the Shangri-La. The hotel, known for its Streamline Moderne architecture and Hollywood trysts, was built in 1939 at 1301 Ocean Ave. in Santa Monica, only about half a mile from where Billy and Gloria started out at Neptune’s Grotto.

As is noted in the script, Shelton suggested the hotel. “I think what he liked, and I like it too, was the deco aspect. It’s right at the ocean; you can take advantage of the Pacific and seeing the water and the pier in the distance and all of that stuff, which is really so rich [in texture] for L.A. and such a signature piece of L.A.,” Washington says. “It’s very human scale. It’s provincial, it’s not grand, but the Shangri-La name — again [Shelton] would gravitate to these names [like Neptune’s Grotto] that were in direct dichotomy of what they were. This is by no means a Shangri-La. It’s nice, but come on, you know?”

Simply put, though, Washington says that Shelton is an L.A. guy and a number of the locations in White Men Can’t Jump, including the Shangri-La, are places that likely hold a place in his heart. “I think some of these specifics he came up with, they’re old haunts,” Washington says. “He’s spent his life roaming around these places. … [The Shangri-La] is probably one of them.”

After Billy settles his debt with the Stucci Brothers, Billy and Sidney head back down to the beach. The mural was painted by Yem, aka Krenz, one of L.A.'s best-known billboard graffiti artists.
After Billy settles his debt with the Stucci Brothers, Billy and Sidney head back down to the beach. The mural was painted by Yem, aka Krenz, one of L.A.'s best-known billboard graffiti artists.
20th Century Fox
The vacant lot at the end of the film is off of South Marvin Avenue and West Adams Boulevard.
The vacant lot at the end of the film is off of South Marvin Avenue and West Adams Boulevard.
Jared Cowan

All screenplay excerpts by Ron Shelton. Please keep in mind that some of these locations are on private property. Do not trespass or disturb the owners. Follow Jared on Twitter at @JaredCowan1.

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