L.A. Confidential's location manager, John Panzarella, and key assistant location manager, Leslie Thorson, at the Formosa Café in West Hollywood.
L.A. Confidential's location manager, John Panzarella, and key assistant location manager, Leslie Thorson, at the Formosa Café in West Hollywood.
Jared Cowan

Revisiting the L.A. Locations From L.A. Confidential 20 Years Later

It’s Saturday afternoon in the City of Angels, and while I wait for location managers John Panzarella and Leslie Thorson at the corner of Santa Monica and La Brea, decent citizens run their weekend errands at Target, grab lattes at Starbucks and eat lunch at a variety of chain restaurants at West Hollywood Gateway shopping center. As some tourists snap selfies on the corner and top-40 tunes play over the mall’s sound system, I’m reminded that more than 20 years ago, when Panzarella and Thorson were amassing the filming locations for what is considered by many to be the greatest L.A. film of all time, this expansive shopping complex didn’t exist. Nor did the modern, blocklike apartment buildings across the street. The landmark Formosa Cafe and the old United Artists studios (later part of Warner Bros. and ultimately renamed the Lot in 1999) being the most visible buildings on the block at the time, the filmmakers could actually shoot this West Hollywood street and pass it off as the 1950s. A few years later and the film might not be the landmark picture that it is. L.A. Confidential came along at just the right time.

Thorson and Panzarella arrive within minutes of each other and it’s easy to see that they have a great relationship, cultivated over years of driving up and down streets trying to pinpoint the perfect locations for the two dozen–plus films they’ve worked on together. Panzarella, the veteran location manager of nearly 50 films spanning four decades, including Lethal Weapon, Jason Bourne and Hail, Caesar!, and Thorson, Panzarella’s key assistant location manager since 1993’s My Life, have coincidentally joined me in West Hollywood after getting haircuts by the same hairdresser. They’ve been going to only one person over the last 20 years, and it all goes back to the seminal L.A. film we’re here to talk about today. It turns out that the contact at one of the locations used in L.A. Confidential cut hair for a living and today works out of a barber’s chair set up in the living room of the Gramercy Place house that was immortalized in a scene known as “the Movie Premiere Pot Bust.”

On the 20th anniversary of L.A. Confidential, which was released Sept. 19, 1997, you might think that Panzarella and Thorson could be tired of rehashing old stories about the film’s locations. I interviewed Panzarella in 2014 about the Hancock Park house of Lynn Bracken, the film’s glamorous Fleur-de-Lis hooker made up to look like movie star Veronica Lake. However, Panzarella says that you’d be surprised which of his films people mention most often. “It’s funny, when I meet people, every once in a while somebody will say, ‘Oh, you worked on my favorite movie,’ and I always expect them to say Confidential. Once in a while someone says Midnight Run and I’m like, What?!,” says Panzarella, laughing about the 1988 action-comedy starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin.

Kim Basinger makes an iconic turn to camera as Lynn Bracken. She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Kim Basinger makes an iconic turn to camera as Lynn Bracken. She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Warner Bros.

The truth is both Panzarella and Thorson recognize that L.A. Confidential is a touchstone in their careers. After all, they were working with a master filmmaker: L.A. native Curtis Hanson, who in 2016 died of natural causes at age 71. Though Hanson was not a household name like some of his contemporaries and never achieved auteur status in the traditional sense of the word, he directed a wide range of popular films, including Losin’ It (1983) with Tom Cruise, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), The River Wild (1994), Wonder Boys (2000) and the Eminem vehicle 8 Mile (2002). L.A. Confidential, in particular, has the mark of a filmmaker in love with the city in which he grew up.

While the movie is based on the 1990 crime novel by L.A. writer James Ellroy, the film, co-written by Hanson — for which he earned an Oscar for screenwriting — races with the pulse of someone infinitely infatuated with Los Angeles, its architecture, glamour and, equally so, its rancid, late-night underbelly.

“Curtis was so into the illusion of the image versus the reality of Los Angeles. I think he carried that with him his whole life,” Panzarella says. “I will say that I’ve never worked with a director on any project that had his head in the locations more than Curtis — not even close. He was so tuned into locations. He found locations day in, day out. He would drive from the Marina into Hollywood, and he would take different routes and look for things. … A director wants the right locations, obviously, but I’ve never worked with a director who spent time scouting on his own.”

If there’s still any question as to the heart of the filmmaker within Ellroy’s neo-noir story of 1950s police corruption, take a cue from the novelist himself: “Curtis Hanson is an L.A. homeboy,” Ellroy wrote in his 1997 introduction to the published screenplay. “He’s 52 to my 49. That slight age gap telescopes back to the ’50s. He recalls the decade much better than I do.”

L.A. Confidential was nearly 100 percent practical location–based. (An exterior penthouse window of downtown’s Pacific Electric Building had to be re-created in a parking lot because of a stunt where Russell Crowe’s Bud White dangles Ron Rifkin’s DA Loew out the window.) Panzarella and Thorson, along with one other assistant and a few day players, were tasked with weaving together a tapestry of nearly 40 locations for Hanson’s vision of 1953 L.A. “I was out of breath for four months,” Panzarella says. “I probably never had a movie take as much out of me as it did.”

Detective Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) walks through the detectives bull pen.
Detective Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) walks through the detectives bull pen.
Warner Bros.

Though Thorson was a fan of Ellroy’s novels and was familiar with his dense writing style, she says, “I did not realize [from the start] that everything was going to be a location. I assumed that we would build some things on stage, and so that was the shock when they [the producers] said, ‘Oh, it’s all locations.’” She adds that because there was no soundstage work, which would allow her department some time to regroup, there wasn’t much breathing room. (A soundstage was used in the film, but as a practical location for the setting of a fictitious Dragnet-like cop show entitled Badge of Honor.) The film’s locations spanned almost every corner of the city, from downtown to Venice, Hollywood to Long Beach. (Though the Valley was left out of the film, Thorson and Panzarella say they did scout locations on that side of the hill.)

“I spent countless hours with [production designer] Jeannine Oppewall in the car driving around and looking at stuff,” Panzarella says. Relying on experience, instinct and a Thomas Guide, Thorson drove to locations as far away as the oil towns of Taft and Oildale in California’s Central Valley to see if particular types of period-accurate locations still existed.

The filmmakers also strived to find locations in which they could show a whole street as opposed to framing only one section of it, which is something that’s become harder to do in L.A. and is apparent in a couple of the recent period films Panzarella and Thorson worked on, such as Hail, Caesar! and Rules Don’t Apply. “In L.A. Confidential we look all over the world all the time. You see so much street, so much actual terrain in Confidential,” Panzarella says.

Though period locations were more plentiful 20 years ago, Thorson says their department had a line item in the budget for “anachronism removal.” Street lamps had to be removed and replaced with period lighting; yellow street lines were masked out and painted white for accuracy; modern cars, trashcans and early satellite dishes all had to go.

Christmas Eve at Nick's Liquor
Christmas Eve at Nick's Liquor
Warner Bros.

As we sit amid a redeveloped West Hollywood less than 200 yards from one of the film’s locations, the legendary Formosa Cafe, I ask Panzarella and Thorson to pick their 10 favorite locations from L.A. Confidential. Judging by the way they teeter back and forth between a few of the locations, I can tell it’s not an easy request. “It occurred to me that City Hall is not on this list,” Panzarella says. What about the Navarrette apartment in MacArthur Park? There’s also the Lefferts house in Echo Park. Asking them to choose their favorite locations from the film is an exercise rooted in impracticality, a lot like asking someone to choose a favorite child.

“On a location level … it was clearly epic,” Panzarella says. “We were in such amazing places day after day and it was so outside the norm, I think, and we shot so many locations that had never been shot before that have become staples.”

After much consideration on the part of the locations duo, here are their top 10 favorite locations from L.A. Confidential.

Exley takes command of the Nite Owl crime scene.
Exley takes command of the Nite Owl crime scene.
Warner Bros.

10. JJ’s Sandwich Shop

INT. THE NITE OWL – NIGHT
Eerily quiet. Exley takes mental snapshots. Ten stools front a counter. The side wall mural-papered, winking owls perched on street signs. Behind the counter, a COOK sprawled dead, a .38 by his hand. The cash register is open and empty. On the left, a string of tables. Three in disarray. Food spilled, dishes broken. A splatter of blood on the wall. A high heel pump by an upended chair.

Of all the layers of mystery and intrigue in L.A. Confidential — and there are a number of them — perhaps the biggest question is who shot and killed six people in the middle of the night at the Nite Owl coffee shop?

The search for the Nite Owl location was lengthy due to an added dimension that was required for the flow of the action. Hanson and co-writer Brian Helgeland visualized in the screenplay one singular location where newly minted homicide detective Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) could walk through the eerily quiet restaurant, observe food burning on the grill, see that a cook had been shot behind the counter and enter a back room where he would discover a bloody pile of five murdered individuals.

Panzarella says, “There was a place over on Seventh Street that was perfect that people shot at all the time [the Quality Café at 1236 W. Seventh St., which is now part of the Teragram Ballroom]. If you didn’t have the back-room scene, that would have been such a no-brainer. It was absolutely period-perfect. It was wonderful, but there was no back room so we couldn’t use it.”

Could the scene have been cheated at two separate locations? Possibly, but Panzarella says it just didn’t evolve that way. In truth, there are only a couple of instances in the film where multiple locations make up one singular setting. For the most part, characters move organically through entire spaces from room to room.

Exley's POV of the Nite Owl crime scene
Exley's POV of the Nite Owl crime scene
Warner Bros.
JJ's Sandwich Shop in downtown L.A., the location of the Nite Owl coffee shop
JJ's Sandwich Shop in downtown L.A., the location of the Nite Owl coffee shop
Jared Cowan

Eventually, the filmmakers landed on a restaurant that couldn’t have been more convenient to one of their most central locations: the Pacific Electric Building at 610 S. Main St. in downtown. Facing the Pacific Electric Building on the Sixth Street side was a small luncheonette, today JJ’s Sandwich Shop, which had the advantage of a long back hallway with access to a restroom where Exley would find the bodies. “When Exley sticks his head through the door and you see that long hallway, it was just incredible to have that depth,” Panzarella says. All of the contemporary furniture and fixtures were moved out of the restaurant and swapped with period-accurate countertops, tables, chairs and other set dressing.

Coincidentally, says Panzarella, there was a barbershop next door called the Nite Owl.

JJ Sandwich Shop, 119 E. Sixth St., downtown.

Cane & Basket Supply Co.
Cane & Basket Supply Co.
Jared Cowan

9. Cane & Basket Supply Co.

INT. NICK’S LIQUOR – NIGHT
Tinsel-trimmed photos of movie stars look down from the walls as the OWNER loads a case of liquor for Bud, who waits across the counter. The Owner grumbles to himself, obviously supplying the stuff for free.

On Christmas Eve, two-fisted detective Bud White (Russell Crowe) picks up a case of booze at Nick’s Liquor to take back to a holiday party at the Hollywood precinct. It’s here that White first meets Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), the film's renewed and distinctive take on the femme fatale. Panzarella says that, for him, the meeting of these two characters is one of the most memorable moments in cinema history. “When you see Kim Basinger’s face clearly for the first time in the liquor store — it’s akin to when Grace Kelly turns to camera in Rear Window. It’s just one of the stunning images of Hollywood, ever.”

“I mean, who ever looked so good in a hood?” adds Thorson, laughing.

Like the Nite Owl, there was a clear directive for the type of location needed for Nick’s Liquor. “Our model for looking for that was not to do it on a main street just because of all the difficulty of the anachronism removal. We were looking around the corner from the main street where you’ve got five or six storefronts.” Panzarella says.

The location managers looked at a number of actual liquor stores, but, Thorson says, none of them were visually appealing. “They didn’t have the right kind of layout. They’re just too much — they’re ugly,” she says matter-of-factly.

Panzarella adds that using a contemporary liquor store would have been too much work for the art department, a statement that is puzzling at first when considering the actual location that was chosen for the scene.

The locale decided upon for Nick’s was not an actual liquor store, nor was it any variation of a neighborhood market. Operating out of the 1940s-era building was, and still is today, a caning and basket supply business named, appropriately, Cane and Basket Supply Co. The business started operating in 1934, was purchased in 1962 by the family that still runs it, and moved to its current location in 1966. Hanson himself discovered the location upon one of his drives into Hollywood.

Panzarella says, “This was the most unique set of storefronts I’ve ever seen being in the middle of a block of a residential, industrial, quasi–small business area. Nowhere can I think of besides that [location] do you have a string of what appear to have originally been grocery store, liquor store, something like that that had just turned into a cane shop in the middle of a block.”

Detective Bud White (Russell Crowe), left, grabs his box of booze after meeting Lynn Bracken at Nick's Liquor.
Detective Bud White (Russell Crowe), left, grabs his box of booze after meeting Lynn Bracken at Nick's Liquor.
Warner Bros.

Transforming the location into a Nick’s Liquor was actually much easier to do than in a real liquor store, says Thorson, where “you’ve got row and row and row of refrigerator cases, you’ve got signage everywhere, you’ve got neon everywhere, and none of it is the right period.”

“And if the director sees something that he wants to do, and it requires some work, it’s easy to get approved,” Panzarella says, laughing.

The set was so believable, in fact, that the owner of Cane and Basket Supply Co. tells me a few of the neighbors thought that a liquor store was taking over the spot.

Cane & Basket Supply Co. was transformed into Nick's Liquor.
Cane & Basket Supply Co. was transformed into Nick's Liquor.
Jared Cowan

It was a bonus that the proprietor of the location also owned the building across the street, which production designer Jeannine Oppewall turned into the façade of a cat and dog hospital. This, of course, added to the concept of being able to see out of windows and down the street to provide the tremendous sense of time and place that the filmmakers desired. Panzarella says, “That’s the kind of thing that you see in Confidential that you don’t see in a lot of other period films.” Also visible down the street from Cane & Basket Supply Co. is the Cochran Avenue Baptist Church, which Hanson employs in a shot with Bud White standing in the foreground holding his case of booze. It’s not the only church Hanson uses to frame up Crowe’s character. Later in the film, White arrives at Crossroads of the World, the camera at a low angle and Bud in the foreground with the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on Sunset Boulevard looming over him, foreshadowing redemption for the troubled detective.

Cane & Basket Supply Co., 1283 S. Cochran Ave., Mid-Wilshire.

Stuntmen perform a scene at the Pacific Electric Building in which Detective White hangs DA Ellis Loew out of his office window in order to procure information. A set was created in a parking lot to capture the reverse shot where we see the actors' faces.
Stuntmen perform a scene at the Pacific Electric Building in which Detective White hangs DA Ellis Loew out of his office window in order to procure information. A set was created in a parking lot to capture the reverse shot where we see the actors' faces.
Warner Bros.

8. Pacific Electric Building

INT. CITY HALL DETECTIVE BUREAU – SQUAD ROOM – NIGHT
Exley sits by himself in a sea of desks, his box of stuff unpacked. The SQUAWK BOX drones. He watches, listens as:

L.A. Confidential’s most central location, on screen for 37 minutes of the film’s 2-hour, 18-minute run time, is downtown L.A.’s Pacific Electric Building, now Pacific Electric Lofts. The building, originally called the Huntington Building after its designer Henry Huntington, was built in 1905 and served as an office building and terminal for the Pacific Electric streetcar line, more commonly referred to as the Red Car. By the mid-1950s, when automobiles became the preferred method of transportation over the streetcar, the building saw less and less action, and in 1961 the streetcar concourse was converted into a parking garage.

From the 1980s until 2005, when it was converted into live-work loft spaces, the building was mostly vacant, making the turn-of-the-century building very attractive to filmmakers. Nowadays, Thorson says, finding a building in that state in downtown Los Angeles is not as common. “Back in the early ’90s there were a lot of vacant buildings downtown — a lot of derelict buildings.”

Detective Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) talks to the coroner at the detective bureau.
Detective Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) talks to the coroner at the detective bureau.
Warner Bros.
Stairwell at Pacific Electric Lofts
Stairwell at Pacific Electric Lofts
Jared Cowan

Prior to L.A. Confidential using the location, Se7en turned parts of the building into a gritty police headquarters. L.A. Confidential expanded upon that idea and used multiple floors of the Pacific Electric Building not only as a detective bureau but also as the police chief’s office, records room and interrogation rooms; a penthouse was turned into the district attorney’s office. The filmmakers used hallways and stairwells to organically connect rooms and floors within the same location.

Detective Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel), right, Bud White and fellow detectives look on as newly minted (snitch) detective Ed Exley walks down the hall.
Detective Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel), right, Bud White and fellow detectives look on as newly minted (snitch) detective Ed Exley walks down the hall.
Warner Bros.
A hallway at Pacific Electric Lofts
A hallway at Pacific Electric Lofts
Jared Cowan

“It’s a very inspirational building,” Thorson says. “Just walking through those hallways and fantasizing about the people who used to be there — you could just walk through there and it was really evocative of the past. A lot of the buildings that we scouted before we ended up there … they had been gutted. You’d go in and there are wires hanging down everywhere, but the Pacific Electric Building was really in pretty good condition.”

The building was “unadulterated old L.A.,” Panzarella adds. “All the light fixtures were still intact. In the police chief’s office you were able to look out windows and look out across a vast Los Angeles landscape that was unchanged.”

Pacific Electric Lofts, 610 S. Main St., downtown.

The main welcome area of SPARC, used as the Hollywood station dispatch center in L.A. Confidential.
The main welcome area of SPARC, used as the Hollywood station dispatch center in L.A. Confidential.
Jared Cowan

7. Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC)

INT. HOLLYWOOD STATION – DISPATCH DESK – NIGHT
Exley’s at the desk shuffling paper.

The big double doors open and Jack arrives followed by the two Patrolmen with Matt Reynolds and Tammy Jordan in tow. Jack, who regularly works out of the detective bureau at City Hall, is practically a movie star to the station house cops. They greet him with “Hey, Jack!,” “Big V!,” “To what do we owe this honor?!”

Social and Public Art Resource Center, more commonly referred to as SPARC, is the community organization responsible for most of the murals and public art seen around the city of Los Angeles. Since 1977, SPARC has been operating out of the old Venice police station on Venice Boulevard near Abbot Kinney; it was built in 1929 and remained an active LAPD precinct until the early ’70s. According to SPARC’s website, they like to say that the organization has “‘liberated’ the space for the arts.” This statement couldn’t be more accurate, especially when it came to L.A. Confidential.

Though Panzarella loved the location — “It was perfectly period. Nothing had been disrupted,” he says — he wasn’t aware, even to this day, that there was a far greater meaning to SPARC that the film chose its headquarters as one of its locations.

Exley and Vincennes look on as officers usher in to the Hollywood station a group of Mexican men falsely accused of assaulting two policemen.
Exley and Vincennes look on as officers usher in to the Hollywood station a group of Mexican men falsely accused of assaulting two policemen.
Warner Bros.

SPARC’s executive director, Debra J.T. Padilla, tells me that a powerful mural proposed by artist Noni Olabasi depicting images of the Black Panthers, political activist Huey P. Newton and acts of police brutality, injustice and racial profiling — themes pervasive throughout L.A. Confidential — was made possible partly because of the film. After attending more than 20 meetings with the City Arts Commission to receive approval for the mural  — normally one meeting was sufficient, according to Padilla — SPARC officials received death threats over the mural’s content and City Council members thought the imagery could stir up another riot. After threatening to sue the city through the ACLU because the commission was not permitted to judge a mural based on content, only on artistic merit, the mural was eventually approved.

SPARC turned the jail cells of the old Venice police station into an art gallery. When shooting L.A. Confidential, a false wall was created to cover the cell bars, transforming the gallery into the Hollywood station muster room.
SPARC turned the jail cells of the old Venice police station into an art gallery. When shooting L.A. Confidential, a false wall was created to cover the cell bars, transforming the gallery into the Hollywood station muster room.
Jared Cowan

Shortly after receiving the go-ahead, the proposed site for the mural, a barbershop at 11th Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard, had been raided. Padilla says she was informed that a handgun was found under the register and a customer had a joint. The next day she was told that funding could not be provided for the mural now that the building was considered a crime scene. What looked like a dead-end situation changed when Panzarella walked through the door of the Venice police station just a few days later to inquire about using the site as a filming location for L.A. Confidential, where it would double on screen as the Hollywood police station. If needed, location fees paid to SPARC could be used to fund Olabasi’s mural, To Protect and Serve, which can still be seen today at 11th and Jefferson. Eventually SPARC received the funds from the city, but Padilla says at that specific moment in time when she met Panzarella, L.A. Confidential was going to save SPARC and an artist’s vivid and honest depiction of police brutality.

Other films to have used the old Venice police station prior to L.A. Confidential include Annie Hall, John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.

The Hollywood station is one of only a couple settings in the film that were divided into multiple locations. The jail cells in the “Bloody Christmas" scene were filmed at Lincoln Heights Jail on North Avenue 19, though it's a seamless continuation of the Venice location.

SPARC, 685 Venice Blvd., Venice.

Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), left center, passes a glass of eggnog to officer Exley during the Hollywood station Christmas party.
Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), left center, passes a glass of eggnog to officer Exley during the Hollywood station Christmas party.
Warner Bros.
Stairway at SPARC
Stairway at SPARC
Jared Cowan
Seeing down the block as Hush-Hush magazine editor Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), left, and Vincennes plan to stage an arrest while the Hollywood premiere of When Worlds Collide takes place in the background.
Seeing down the block as Hush-Hush magazine editor Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), left, and Vincennes plan to stage an arrest while the Hollywood premiere of When Worlds Collide takes place in the background.
Warner Bros.

6. Gramercy Place & Hollywood Boulevard

EXT. 2245 MARAVILLA (HOLLYWOOD) – NIGHT
Just off the Boulevard with a view of the El Cortez. A klieg-lighted, limousine premiere is going on: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. Jack and two uniformed PATROLMEN wait on the street. Hudgens’ assistant, CHIP, holds a portable arc light. Hudgens creeps back over from the house.

In the novel and in early versions of the screenplay a house with a view of the Chinese Theatre was to be the setting where showbiz savvy detective Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) conspires with the sleazy tabloid editor of Hush-Hush magazine, Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), on a story about arresting a couple of young actors on a marijuana possession charge.

“Our directive always was to have a theater that was in a sightline to a house, like half a block away,” says Panzarella. “We did go look at the Chinese Theatre, we went down Sycamore, we went down Orange, we went down all the adjacent streets and there was no house there that was within sightlines [of the theatre],” he says.

When it became clear that there was no geographic solution to shooting at a house with a view of the Chinese Theatre, other options had to be considered.

Panzarella says, “We went to Leimert Park; we looked at the theaters, which obviously didn’t work, around Westwood, so we checked every vintage theater you can think of.”

Looking south on Gramercy Pl. towards Hollywood Blvd.
Looking south on Gramercy Pl. towards Hollywood Blvd.
Jared Cowan

Eventually, production designer Jeannine Oppewall suggested the perfect location, says Panzarella. “Honestly, I didn’t think we would throw a marquee on the façade of a building.” What Oppewall had found was an art deco bank building at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Gramercy Place — at the time used as offices — designed by John and Donald Parkinson, the architects of L.A. City Hall and the Bullocks Wilshire Building. A neon marquee for the fictional El Cortez Theatre was affixed to the building; some spotlights were placed on Hollywood Blvd., a few cars, some background actors and BAM, a movie premiere at a perfect T-intersection just a few houses down from the “pot bust house” where Thorson and Panzarella still get the hair cut.

Today, the homes on the street look very similar to how they appeared in the film, but, Thorson says, they were in danger of being demolished some years back for a new fire station that later opened in 2012, three blocks away from Gramercy Place at 5769 Hollywood Boulevard. “There were hearings and public outcry and talk about how many people would be displaced if that happened,” she says.

5620 Hollywood Blvd. Hollywood.

White arrives at Pearce Patchett's house.
White arrives at Pearce Patchett's house.
Warner Bros.

5. Pierce Patchett’s House

EXT. 416 DE MILLE DRIVE (LOS FELIZ) – DAY
Bud White gets out of his car in a cul-de-sac high above the city. A sleek, modern architectural house spills down the hill from a street-level entrance. Approaching the house, Bud hears a distinctive sound and looks over the railing. On the lawn below, a tall, distinguished man, last seen outside Nick’s Liquor on Christmas Eve, is chipping golf balls. They land in a tight grouping.

It’s no secret that the bad guys always get the cool architecture. Take the Sheats-Goldstein House, the jagged concrete and glass John Lautner home in Beverly Crest where sly pornographer Jackie Treehorn lived in The Big Lebowski. There’s also Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mayan-inspired Ennis-Brown House in Los Feliz that was home to slick millionaire businessman and all-around bad dude Terry Silver in The Karate Kid Part III.

The theme of great architecture and being occupied by the villain is certainly not lost in L.A. Confidential. For the home of Pierce Patchett, the film’s notorious millionaire who pimps women “cut” to look like movie stars, the filmmakers chose a Richard Neutra masterpiece in the Los Feliz hills.

The main entrance of the Lovell Health House in Los Feliz; the Griffith Observatory can be seen in the background.
The main entrance of the Lovell Health House in Los Feliz; the Griffith Observatory can be seen in the background.
Jared Cowan
Pearce Patchett (David Strathairn) greets White outside of his garage.
Pearce Patchett (David Strathairn) greets White outside of his garage.
Warner Bros.
The garage of the Lovell Health House
The garage of the Lovell Health House
Jared Cowan

The Lovell Health House, done in the International style comprised largely of glass and steel construction, was built between 1927 and 1929 for Dr. Phillip Lovell.

Panzarella says, “Early on we came up with Lovell Health House. … We very firmly had that in mind. The moment we pitched that to Curtis he was all on board with it.” However, actually securing the Lovell Health House as a location was another matter. “Mrs. Topper, who was a longtime owner of it, had turned a lot of projects down,” says Panzarella. “We tried to pitch what a cool project it was and you want to be associated with this. This is a landmark house and this is a great opportunity to share it with the world. … We were very persistent and very friendly and she finally relented and allowed us to film there. I know they’ve turned down a lot of things since,” says Panzarella.

Thorson and Panzarella concur that you really have to want to shoot the Lovell Health House to make the effort because of its location at the top of one of the many narrow, serpentine roads in the Los Feliz hills. “We were fortunate in that there was a Mediterranean mansion right next door that was vacant at the time so we were able to bring cast trailers up, which was very much wanted, and put them on that property,” says Panzarella. “It’s super inconvenient and very difficult to deal with, but there’s a payoff.”

Lovell Health House, 4616 Dundee Dr., Los Feliz

Vincennes waits for Exley outside the Frolic Room.
Vincennes waits for Exley outside the Frolic Room.
Warner Bros.

4. Frolic Room

EXT. FROLIC ROOM (HOLLYWOOD BLVD.) – NIGHT
A hole-in-the-wall. Next door, at the Pantages,
The Bad and the Beautiful is playing.

“Curtis always had suggestions of bars, especially, to go and check out,” says Panzarella. “I kind of always had the notion of the Frolic Room in my back pocket, thinking they would never ever want to shoot at the Frolic because it was so small.” After looking at a number of other bars, Hanson finally asked Panzarella why they weren’t looking at the legendary Hollywood haunt located next to the Pantages Theatre. "'Well, I’ve got pictures of it,'" Panzarella told the director, "'but I just think it’s so small I really didn’t think you’d want to shoot there.’” Hanson, though, knew the exact few angles he wanted to capture and was confident it could work.

The Frolic Room
The Frolic Room
Jared Cowan

The location was the perfect watering hole for detective Jack Vincennes. His affinity for being in front of a camera and his desire to be entrenched in the illusion of Hollywood made all the more sense that he would frequent the bar on Hollywood Boulevard with its whimsical neon yellow sign and location next to the Pantages.

“Curtis said that the character, or what he wanted Kevin Spacey to bring to the role [of Vincennes], was sort of a Dean Martin-esque kind of persona,” says Panzarella. “They’re no frolicsome scenes [in the Frolic Room], but he’s a frolicsome kind of guy who’s facing hard decisions and this is his place.” It makes all the more sense that “Powder Your Face With Sunshine” sung by Dean Martin is heard on the jukebox of the Frolic Room during a major transformative scene for Vincennes.

Frolic Room, 6245 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Over a drink at the Frolic Room, Vincennes contemplates doing the right thing.
Over a drink at the Frolic Room, Vincennes contemplates doing the right thing.
Warner Bros.
The Frolic Room
The Frolic Room
Jared Cowan
The current interior of the Formosa Café with the "Lana Turner" booth in the foreground. The restaurant/bar is slated to reopen in 2018.
The current interior of the Formosa Café with the "Lana Turner" booth in the foreground. The restaurant/bar is slated to reopen in 2018.
Jared Cowan

3. The Formosa Café

EXT. THE FORMOSA (SANTA MONICA BLVD.) – DAY
A Packard pulls up out front. Bud gets out, heads inside. Another car pulls up across the street.

There’s no question that one of the greatest scenes of L.A. Confidential takes place at the Formosa Café. When Exley and Vincennes barge into the Formosa in an attempt to get some answers out of gangster Mickey Cohen’s muscle-for-hire, Johnny Stompanato, Exley assumes Stompanato’s date, who resembles Lana Turner, is one of Pierce Patchett’s lookalike prostitutes. After Exley brashly insults her, Vincennes, ever the showbiz expert, quietly informs his partner that it really is Lana Turner. Turner then proceeds to throw a glass of water in Exley’s face.

Thorson says, “I think the Formosa worked particularly well for the scene because it had been a Hollywood hangout and to have cops in there, but also movie stars, it was its own little Crossroads of the World.”

Exley and Vincennes enter the Formosa Café to get some answers from Johnny Stompanato.
Exley and Vincennes enter the Formosa Café to get some answers from Johnny Stompanato.
Warner Bros.
The Formosa Café seen in 2014, looking similar to how it appeared in the L.A. Confidential.
The Formosa Café seen in 2014, looking similar to how it appeared in the L.A. Confidential.
Jared Cowan

The Formosa is another location that can be attributed to Hanson, says Panzarella. With production offices located at the Lot, adjacent to the classic Hollywood bar, many conversations during the formative stages of the movie took place there.

As was widely reported, the Formosa quietly and abruptly closed over the holidays last year. Luckily the 1930s-era bar is protected by the city of West Hollywood and will reopen next year. Panzarella says, “You’re lucky that some of the gems are still around, but what was around the gems is no longer there and you lose the continuity of being able to do what we did, which so other few films do: looking up and down streets and really seeing an environment.”

7156 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

A patrolman waits for Exley and White outside of Lynn Bracken's house. A false patio built by production designer Jeannine Oppewall is seen on the left side of the house.
A patrolman waits for Exley and White outside of Lynn Bracken's house. A false patio built by production designer Jeannine Oppewall is seen on the left side of the house.
Warner Bros.

2. Lynn Bracken’s House

EXT. 1736 ORANGE DRIVE, HOLLYWOOD (LYNN BRACKEN’S) – DAY
A discreet Spanish house at the end of a street adjacent to a golf course. A projector’s flicker strobes against the closed curtains. We hear a phone ring.

Undoubtedly, the most difficult location to pin down was Lynn Bracken’s house. It’s the central location that most symbolizes the theme of illusion versus reality that permeates the film. Bracken conducts her illicit business on the home’s glamorous ground floor comprised of elegant, contemporary furniture and white satin curtains while the upstairs is golden in color and indicative of the true Bracken, the small-town girl from Bisbee, Arizona.

Thorson says that Bracken’s house was originally scripted as a modern triplex. “That’s not what Curtis really wanted, that’s not what Jeannine really wanted. They wanted something more romantic. We were looking for something with an exterior balcony. It was definitely a needle in a haystack situation. We showed them so many different things and nothing clicked.”

“They did want it to be somewhat isolated, but at the same time not isolated,” Panzarella adds. “I think we looked at hundreds [of locations] alone for Lynn Bracken’s house,” he says, laughing.

“I still dream about it myself,” Thorson says.

Lynn Bracken's house in Hancock Park; the Wilshire Country Club golf course is seen on the left.
Lynn Bracken's house in Hancock Park; the Wilshire Country Club golf course is seen on the left.
Jared Cowan

Another associate, Stephen Fischer, who worked locations with Panzarella and Thorson, spent an insane amount of time of Bracken’s house according the Panzarella. “It became his obsession,” says Thorson.

Eventually, a Spanish Colonial Revival home on Wilcox Avenue adjacent to the Wilshire Country Club golf course was identified as a very possible location for the house that had stumped everyone. “Curtis walks in and he sees the layout of the staircase and the bedroom is in the back and it was kind of like BANG, that’s it. After having looked at so many things that didn’t work it was kind of an epiphany and a glorious moment,” says Panzarella. "This one just happened to have the right ingredients and it was a bonus that the golf course was [next door],” which reinforced the notion of privacy and isolation.

Additionally, a porch was constructed and added to the front of the house by Oppewall so as to create the balcony that was originally desired and a division during a scene between White and Bracken: he confronts her while pacing in the pouring rain while she remains under cover of the balcony.

501 Wilcox Ave., Hancock Park

The Victory Motel
The Victory Motel
Warner Bros.

1. The Victory Motel Site

EXT. THE VICTORY MOTEL – DAWN
Set in the no-man’s land of the Baldwin Hills oil field. A broken neon sign features an oversized V, but nobody’s triumphed here in years. Abandoned, but for a pair of LAPD cars, a light burning in room 5 and the sound of someone screaming.

Though L.A. Confidential was almost completely based in practical locations it shouldn’t suggest that sets weren’t created at a location. This was the case at the site of the Victory Motel, the abandoned and secluded motor court that Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) uses to violently interrogate witnesses and is the scene of the film’s climatic eight-minute-long shootout.

“The other epic search was for the Victory Motel,” says Panzarella. Thorson scouted motels in the Bakersfield area because oil companies in that region, back in the day, had built housing for their employees. Unfortunately, no usable locations of the sort could be found.

Panzarella says, “We went east on highway 66. There’s a motel on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra that we looked at. There was an incredible motor court motel in Lincoln Park, but it just didn’t give us the room that we really needed.”

The former site of the Victory Motel at Inglewood Oil Field; normally, the grove is used for "base camp" when productions shoot the surrounding area. L.A. Confidential is the only film to employ the empty site as a location.
The former site of the Victory Motel at Inglewood Oil Field; normally, the grove is used for "base camp" when productions shoot the surrounding area. L.A. Confidential is the only film to employ the empty site as a location.
Jared Cowan

Thorson adds, “The problem being that we needed to do this big shootout and it really needed to be isolated and feel dangerous. Most motels are in the midst of civilization because, otherwise, how would you find them?”

There were a couple of good places on the east end of Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, but there was too much development nearby at the time. Panzarella concedes that even if the film had been shot twenty years earlier they probably wouldn’t have found a location that was suitable for the Victory Motel.

“After awhile we figured that we had to find a site,” says Panzarella. He took Oppewall to an empty, secluded grove at a private filming location within the Inglewood oil fields. “I remember coming up over the rise – the same rise where you see all the police cars come from – coming up over that rise, looking down into the grove and I turned to her and I said, ‘That’s where the Victory Motel goes.’”

White runs from his car in the pouring rain to meet up with Captain Dudley Smith at the Victory Motel.
White runs from his car in the pouring rain to meet up with Captain Dudley Smith at the Victory Motel.
Warner Bros.
The Victory Motel site
The Victory Motel site
Jared Cowan

The oil field is perhaps the single most inspired location choice in the entire film. Not only is the surrounding area full of working oil pumps, which immediately brings to mind Los Angles of the past, but the idea of setting it in an oil field evolved naturally through the process of creative location scouting. Thorson says, “I think it was actually inspired by the concept of the oil fields and the housing that had been built there. … This is an abandoned motel where oil workers used to be housed and I think that was part of it.”

Inglewood Oil Field, Black Diamond Locations, Culver City

Exley identifies himself to arriving officers after the film's dramatic shootout at the Victory Motel.
Exley identifies himself to arriving officers after the film's dramatic shootout at the Victory Motel.
Warner Bros.

All screenplay excerpts by Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland. 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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