Recognize This House? Here Are Some Iconic L.A. Houses From Your Favorite Movies and TV Shows
Mitchell and Cameron’s house from Modern Family in West L.A.
Whether it’s a central location in a feature film or just an establishing shot on a sitcom, L.A. houses have seen some major Hollywood action.
Whether Nancy’s place from A Nightmare on Elm Street in Hollywood or the Cunninghams' Milwaukee home in Happy Days (located in real life in Hancock Park), many are instantly recognizable. While directors, production designers, and location managers originally sought homes that would best serve the stories, many inevitably become celebrated. Perhaps a time machine made out of a DeLorean raced into the driveway. Maybe an extra terrestrial who phoned home took refuge there.
From the Valley to Venice, from Beverly Hills to Baldwin Hills, the sprawling landscape and vastly different neighborhoods of L.A. make up a backlot no like other. Here are ten of the most iconic movie and TV houses in Los Angeles.
Pee-wee Herman's house in South Pasadena
Photo by Jared Cowan
Pee-wee Herman’s Pad from Pee-wee's Big Adventure– South Pasadena
EXT. PEE-WEE’S PAD - DAY
Pee-wee walks out the front door of his story book-style house. Moving past well-tended flower beds, he goes around to the side of the house.
-From Pee-wee’s Big Adventure by Paul Reubens & Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol
The suburban neighborhood of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was supposed to be anywhere USA – mowed lawns, kids riding bikes, and white picket fences. However, the house of Paul Reubens’ alter ego, Pee-wee Herman, needed to explode with character and perfectly reflect the childlike nature of its owner.
“Tim was a very good illustrator and sketch artist,” says Production Designer David L. Snyder of director Tim Burton, who was making his feature film debut with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. “He wanted the house to look like it had two eyes, a nose, and a mouth,” adds Snyder.
Based on Burton’s drawings, Snyder and his team spent a lot of time scouting for what the director had in mind. “We never found the house that he really, really wanted, but we found something close enough,” says Snyder. The house was in South Pasadena – a city of only 3.44 square miles that's long been the choice of L.A. filmmakers looking for an Anytown, America feel.
The storybook, ranch-style house was painted fire engine red, much to the chagrin of the homeowner – a Chinese woman who barely spoke English. “When we went in to do the house and painted it red, she was terrified that everyone would think she was a Communist. She flipped out!” Snyder says.
To help the house come alive, the front lawn was dressed with a barrage of toys and colorful figures. However, the film’s low budget initially dictated what the filmmakers could afford to rent. “We didn’t get a big shipment that morning and we needed more stuff,” Burton explains on the DVD commentary. With the lawn looking a bit too sparse the production manager reluctantly agreed to rent more props.
The house is no longer red, nor are there vintage toys lining the yard, but visiting Pee-wee’s house today can’t help but feel slightly nostalgic. It’s easy to imagine Reubens’ beloved character happily skipping out the front door, yelling to Mr. Crabtree, “I’m going to water my lawn now,” and sneaking around the back of the house to visit his favorite thing in the whole world — his bike.
The backyard of Jack Horner's house from Boogie Nights
Photo by Jared Cowan
Jack Horner’s House from Boogie Nights – West Covina
EXT. JACK'S DRIVEWAY - DAY (June ‘84)
STEADICAM PULLS BACK and Jack enters FRAME, smiling and walking back into the house . . . this is one continuous shot . . . as he moves through, interacting with . . .
-From Boogie Nights by Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson’s sophomore feature, Boogie Nights, was a breath of fresh air when it burst onto the scene in 1997. It was epic, and personal.
Boogie Nights was filmed mostly on location in the San Fernando Valley — Anderson’s home, and birthplace of the adult film industry. Ironically, the central location of the film, Jack Horner’s house, was about 40 miles away, in the San Gabriel Valley.
The locations department, headed up by Location Manager Boyd Wilson, scoured the Valley looking for the perfect pad for adult film director, Jack Horner, played by Burt Reynolds. Wilson says Anderson was looking for “that iconic, ranch-style pool house from the '70s.” But most Valley homes from that time period were too small or had been updated. After many days of scouting, a less than exciting house near Tujunga was picked.
In a way, fate played a big part in finding the perfect house for Jack and company. Wilson recalls that while riding in a production van after scouting the Tujunga house, Anderson saw some location folders in between the seats and he began to look through them. Production Designer Bob Ziembicki thought what Anderson had found was a pile of rejected locations, but the director had never seen them. “I flip it open and I said, ‘This is fuckin’ Jack’s house,’” says Anderson on the Boogie Nights DVD commentary.
After scouting the location, Ziembicki agreed. “We all fell in love with it immediately. It was perfect because it was still in a time warp,” he says. The floors were lined with shag carpets, the furniture was period, the home’s layout provided enough room to accommodate Anderson’s dynamic camera moves, and, of course, it had a pool.
One hiccup at this perfect location was that the homeowners were very religious. “Obviously, we moved them out to a hotel,” Ziembicki tells the Weekly, “but we were very cautious about letting them know what the subject matter of the movie was.”
While the movie is set against the backdrop of the adult filmmaking world, Anderson was adamant that the story focus on the characters and their relationships to each other, relationships that are centered around time in Horner’s house. “I don’t want to approach the big, sociological picture of porno vs. the world,” Anderson says on the DVD commentary. “I want to think about Jack’s house. What are the rules at that fuckin’ house, by that pool?... From the front door of Jack’s house to the back door – that’s what we should focus on and think about.”
The Arnold house from The Wonder Years
Photo by Jared Cowan
The Arnold House from The Wonder Years – Burbank
EXT. SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD – DAY
A VERY HIGH BIRD’S-EYE SHOT of a sprawling suburban area — shopping centers, parking lots, subdivisions, garden apartment complexes. As we listen, the CAMERA DESCENDS ever closer to one particular suburban neighborhood…
-From The Wonder Years, “Pilot,” by Neal Marlens & Carol Black
Over the six-year run of the hit ABC series The Wonder Years (1988-1993) we were never told where exactly Kevin Arnold and his family resided. It was a middle-class suburb made up of mostly tract housing, no different from many developments that popped up in the U.S. after WWII. That’s the beautiful thing about The Wonder Years – it could have taken place almost anywhere. Of course, to L.A. residents, the show’s suburban streets are fairly easy to identify.
Burbank seems like a natural choice to depict a working-class, suburban neighborhood with a 1950s/1960s vibe, especially to a production shooting in L.A. Many of the homes remain modest in size, and the pastel paint jobs transport you to another era. However, the decision to shoot The Wonder Years’s pilot episode and, subsequently, the entire series in Burbank wasn’t cut-and-dry.
First, it was important to find an L.A. area school that would cooperate with the pressing needs of production: permitting filming while school was in session and the ability to go in and out during the week as needed, especially if the show went to series. LAUSD proved to be unaccommodating and expensive so producers began discussions with Burbank Unified School District. “Burbank was so cooperative and so happy to have us,” says Alicia Alexander, the location manager on the pilot episode. With John Burroughs High School set for the show, Alexander could look for a neighborhood and house within close proximity to the school.
With tract house developments, it wasn’t uncommon for developers to plant different types of trees on different blocks to give each its own character. This was true of a development Alexander scouted just east of Glenoaks Boulevard in the Burbank foothills.
The snag was, as with most 40-year-old neighborhoods, the trees had grown tall. Producers wanted a fresh look, as if the development was a few years old at most. But one particular street had a solution. Alexander remembers being astonished at the sight of it: “Oh my God, there’s no trees!” There, the trees had succumbed to disease and never made it out of the ground. “I looked down the street and saw what looked like a brand new tract,” says Alexander.
A few homes on the block were zeroed in on after a production assistant went door-to-door to gauge homeowners’ interests in letting their houses be used for filming. The house that was eventually chosen for Kevin and his family was built in 1949. It had the right architecture, a classic interior, and the perfect geographic layout, including a back door that led into the kitchen. (After the pilot episode, a set was built mimicking the interior.) The first shot of the show’s home movie opening title sequence is the Arnold family standing in front of that house.
With a little help from the neighborhood, The Wonder Years found its home.
The Psycho house with a Universal Studios Hollywood tram full of summer guests
Photo by Jared Cowan
The Psycho House – Universal City
MARY'S VIEWPOINT - A LARGE OLD HOUSE - NIGHT
A path from the motel office leads directly up to this house. There is a light on in one of the upstairs rooms. A WOMAN passes the window, pauses, peers out.
-From Psycho by Joseph Stefano
This year marks the 50th anniversary celebration for Universal Studios Hollywood’s world famous behind-the-scenes studio tour. It offers guests a sneak-peak of movie sets, including perhaps the most iconic movie house in the history of cinema — the Bates Mansion, better known as the Psycho house.
In 1964, just a few years after the release of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho, and years before the Jaws or King Kong attractions were conceived, the infamous Victorian house, labeled by Mr. Hitchcock as an example of “California Gothic” architecture, was a highlight of the studio tour and remains so to this day.
Multiple houses, including original cartoons of The Addams Family mansion, are rumored to have been architectural inspirations for the home of Norman Bates and Mother. And Production Designer Robert Clatworthy and Art Director Joseph Hurley, under the direction of Hitchcock, undoubtedly drew upon the mood of Edward Hopper’s 1925 painting, House by the Railroad. The piece depicts a lonely Victorian mansion, shadows cast upon it as though it has something to hide.
While there are certainly similarities between the painting and the iconic set piece, Jeff Pirtle, Director of Archives and Collections for NBC Universal, says that the Hurley and Clatworthy designs were completely original.
The director's daughter, Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell, who also has a small role of a secretary in Psycho, tells the Weekly via email, "My father wanted the house to scare the audience. He wanted them to be frightened each time they saw it and to wonder what was going on inside."
The art department cannibalized and incorporated into the Bates Mansion the tower from another Victorian house on the backlot: the Dowd house from Harvey, starring James Stewart. As Hitchcock intended to photograph just one corner of the house from the vantage point of the Bates Motel, located below, it was only necessary to construct the front and screen-left façades.
To accommodate various productions over the years, the house was later shuffled around the backlot, expanded, and used in various states of beauty and decay. Upon first seeing the set in the early 1980s in a stock unit area of the backlot, Psycho II screenwriter Tom Holland recalls, “That house was a falling down wreck, and we moved it, and rebuilt it.” Using the original Hurley and Clatworthy blueprints, Psycho II Production Designer John Corso restored the mansion to its eerie origins.
Despite all of the relocations, renovations, and restorations, the Psycho house has stood the test of time. It’s branded in the minds of moviegoers worldwide as the quintessential “haunted mansion,” and it is perhaps the most historically significant surviving movie set in the world. More than 50 years after the making of Psycho, Mother is still home to greet you.
The house of Furious and Tre Styles from Boyz N the Hood
Photo by Jared Cowan
An Evening W/ the Cass Man
TicketsTue., Feb. 21, 8:00pm
Tonight At the Improv with Jay Davis
TicketsTue., Feb. 21, 10:00pm
National Midnight Society!
TicketsTue., Feb. 21, 10:00pm
Rebels of Comedy
TicketsWed., Feb. 22, 7:30pm
FX Networks' Feud: Bette and Joan (Free Advance Screening)
TicketsWed., Feb. 22, 8:00pm
The Home of Furious & Tre Styles from Boyz N the Hood – Chesterfield Square
EXT. FURIOUS STYLES HOME – DAY
Stops halfway down the block at a SMALL SPANISH STYLE STUCCO HOME. In the front yard stands a tall handsome Black man of about thirty years of age.
-From Boyz N the Hood by John Singleton
While at USC film school, writer/director John Singleton was taught to “write what you know,” and that’s exactly what he did when he penned what was to become a modern day classic and seminal Los Angeles film – Boyz N the Hood. “I thought about how my life changed from living with my mother in one part of South L.A. to living with my father in another part of South L.A., which weren’t too dissimilar,” Singleton tells the Weekly. The screenplay he wrote, and the subsequent film, was an original and unflinching portrayal of young, African-American men trying to survive among gang violence in South Central.
When scouting locations for Boyz N the Hood, Singleton, then 22, looked at various areas of South L.A. The project’s Location Manager, Kojo Lewis, says, “One could argue that just being in South Central you can shoot anywhere, but that is not the reality. Every third street in the whole city of Los Angeles has an entirely different architecture and is an entirely different looking neighborhood.”
Singleton wanted the neighborhood to feel like the street where he lived with his father. “I was really recreating 101st and Vermont – near the intersection of Vermont and Century,” says Singleton.
Just off Slauson Avenue in the Chesterfield Square neighborhood, a few miles north of his father’s house, one street caught the director’s eye. The homes on the block matched the look Singleton had in mind and were situated in a manner that allowed him the freedom to move the camera as he had planned – dynamic pans and tracking shots that crossed the street, moved from house to house, and followed characters into connecting alleyways.
No sets were built for Boyz N the Hood; every shot was of a practical location. A single-family house built in 1923 would be the home of Furious and Tre Styles, played by Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding, Jr. The house afforded the filmmakers enough room to shoot and light the interior, and it also looked across the street to the house of Tre’s friends: Doughboy and Ricky, played by Ice Cube and Morris Chestnut.
Before the theatrical release of Boyz N the Hood, Columbia Pictures hosted a test screening at the studio, and many of the neighborhood’s residents were invited. “When they saw the locations in the picture, all the different places, people cheered the locations,” recalls Singleton. “They had never seen their neighborhood in a film before.”
Singleton visits the neighborhood every so often and he says the homes look the same today as they did in 1990. Many of the same families still live there, although redevelopment means that some locations from the film are no longer in existence. The opening of the film, shot on Lawrence Street in Inglewood, where Singleton lived with his mother, is no longer lined with homes. “That’s all been revamped," he says. "There’s a Costco there."
The living room of Frank Llyod Wright's Ennis House
Photo by Jared Cowan
The Ennis House from Blade Runner – Los Feliz
EXT. DECKARD’S APARTMENT BUILDING – NIGHT
Deckard’s car pulls up into a drive of a condominium block that looms against the night sky like a pile of cardboard boxes.
-From Blade Runner by Hampton Fancher & David Peoples
At the top of a winding, narrow road in the Los Feliz hills, towering above the city, is one of L.A.'s most spectacular architectural wonders. It’s played host to many famous filmmakers and actors over the years, but in this case the architect and his house are the main attractions.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House was built in 1924 for Charles and Mabel Ennis. Constructed primarily with interlocking concrete blocks of a Mayan-inspired design, it’s one of four textile blockhouses in Los Angeles designed by Wright — and the largest.
Over the years the house had fallen into disrepair and sustained a lot of damage, the brunt caused by the 1994 Northridge earthquake and subsequent rainy seasons. Areas under the foundation had washed away creating a serious possibility of this architectural marvel sliding down the Los Feliz hill.
Previous attempts to restore the home were shoddy at best. For example, contractors had painted directly onto the blocks instead of emulsifying and sealing them. As a result, moisture accumulated under the paint and the walls leaked. “Lots of people have been here. They’ve tried to seal it up, they’ve tried to fix the waterproofing, they’ve cast new blocks, and a lot of mistakes have been made,” says Project Manager Will Schiefer, who is now in charge of the house’s restoration.
About three years ago, billionaire businessman Ron Burkle purchased the house for $4.5 million (originally listed at $27 million) from the Ennis Foundation with the intention of restoring it and preserving it as a museum. There’s no projected completion date or timeline for the restoration. Under the supervision of Schiefer, every part of the house, from the iconic concrete blocks, to the foundation, down to the doorknobs, is getting the attention it deserves.
The Ennis House has a rich history of film production, which dates back to 1933 when Michael Curtiz, who would later direct Casablanca, shot a romantic comedy on-site called Female, which can be seen today in the Turner Classic Movies DVD collection Forbidden Hollywood. The house’s sharp angles, exotic design and cavernous interior also made it a popular location for horror films, or as the house of a villain, as in 1959’s House on Haunted Hill starring Vincent Price, The Rocketeer, Black Rain and The Karate Kid Part III. “It’s always the bad guy here,” Schiefer says, laughing.
One of the most famous film uses of the Ennis House was in Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci fi masterpiece, Blade Runner. The driveway of the house was used as a carport at Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) apartment building. The house, 58 years old at the time, was an interesting location choice for a film that took place in the 21st century. David L. Snyder, who was the Art Director on Blade Runner, says it worked because “Frank Lloyd Wright was the future. There was no one doing what he was doing.”
Filmmakers were not allowed to shoot the interior of the Ennis House for Blade Runner. According to Production Designer Lawrence G. Paull it was never considered. However, Paull did get permission to make plaster castings of the Mayan block, which had never previously been permitted. The blocks were incorporated into an apartment set and then returned to the owner of the house so they couldn’t be used again without his permission.
It’s been years since a film has been allowed to shoot at the Ennis House, for obvious reasons. One of the more recent depictions of the house was in an animated series – a 2005 episode of South Park.
Mills View from 1986's House
Photo by Jared Cowan
“Mills View” from House – Monrovia
EXT. HOUSE – DAY
The HOUSE is an old Victorian-style two story home built around the turn of the century in Marin County, CA. The HOUSE is surrounded by lush green trees and sits in the middle of a quiet suburban neighborhood.
-From House by Ethan Wiley
There’s a large Victorian home in the foothills of Monrovia that screams “haunted house!” It’s no wonder the dwelling was chosen by director Steve Miner for his 1986 horror/comedy mash-up, House.
Producer Sean S. Cunningham, best known for creating the Friday the 13th franchise, tells the Weekly via email, “We wanted to shoot an unusual looking, one-off house, which was located within the Los Angeles production zone. Steve Miner and [Production Designer] Gregg Fonseca looked far and wide for a house that had tall, gothic elements like the one in Monrovia. Once they saw it, they had to have it in the movie.”
House is the story of recently divorced, best-selling horror novelist Roger Cobb, played by William Katt. After his aunt commits suicide in the family house, he inherits the property, and returns there with the intention of writing his next book – a memoir of his experiences in Vietnam. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that Roger’s young son had vanished at the house without a trace. Was he kidnapped or did the house consume him, as Roger’s aunt believed? The house eventually grabs hold of the writer’s traumatic memories of Vietnam and begins to exploit them, driving the author mad.
The Eastlake-style Victorian house chosen by the filmmakers, the Milton S. Monroe House, also referred to as Mills View, was built in 1887, the same year Monrovia was incorporated as a city. Milton was the son of the city’s founder, William N. Monroe, a wealthy railroad baron. Multiple families owned the house over the years, and in 1905, a woman inherited the property from her aunt. Coincidence?
While attractive to the eye, the house conveys a strong sense of foreboding. Jim Wigton, President of the Monrovia Historic Preservation Group, says, “We had a meeting there years ago with somebody who was a [medium]. He claimed there were ghosts present, but I take that thing with a grain of salt.”
The bowling alley of the Greystone Mansion, used in There Will Be Blood
Photo by Jared Cowan
The Greystone Mansion from There Will Be Blood – Beverly Hills
INT. BOWLING ALLEY/PLAINVIEW MANSION – NIGHT
This is a very large party area/bowling area/recreational room in the basement of the Plainview Estate…
-From There Will Be Blood by Paul Thomas Anderson
More than 65 feature films have shot at the Greystone Mansion. That’s not including the television series that have used it as well: Alias, Murder She Wrote, and Gilmore Girls, where it served as Rory Gilmore’s prestigious prep school, Chilton Academy.
Filmmakers have been attracted to the beauty and the mystique of the mansion from as early as 1947 to as recently as Paramount Pictures’ 2014 reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Tudor-style mansion, built in 1928, was a gift from Edward L. Doheny to his son, Edward “Ned” Doheny. Doheny Sr. was living in what is known today as the Doheny Mansion, on Chester Place (now part of Mount St. Mary’s College), also a famous movie and television house — although the house he built for his son is newer and grander.
“He wanted his son to have the best house in Southern California,” says City of Beverly Hills Senior Park Ranger Steven Clark, who has supervised just about every motion picture, television show, commercial, and photo shoot to have used the mansion since 1999. In 1928, Clark adds, the Greystone Mansion, at 44,000 square feet with fifty-five rooms, was the largest house south of Hearst Castle, and it stayed that way until the early 70s.
Underneath Clark's official persona of a park ranger is a movie buff who loves every part of the job. He excitedly details what scenes were shot in the mansion's gardens and corridors: “This was the Green Goblin’s house in Spider-Man parts one and three.” “This pond was in the first X-Men movie.” “In The Bodyguard there’s a great fight scene in this kitchen.” Filmmakers have even used the kitchen’s refrigerator, the first electric model, as a background for morgue sets.
Projects would come and go over the years. Sometimes a production would use the house as a regular set piece, taking the audience from room to room; other times only a corner of one of the 55 rooms would be utilized. However, in 2007, one of the greatest films to ever shoot in the mansion would leave its mark.
“Daniel Day-Lewis was one of the highlights of my career here. He stayed in character the whole time,” says Clark of the actor who starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s tale of oil and greed, There Will Be Blood. The character of Daniel Plainview, played by Day-Lewis, was loosely based on Doheny Sr., also an oil tycoon.
The Greystone’s high-ceilinged living room was used as Plainview’s office, but the film’s shocking conclusion, filmed in the mansion’s basement bowling alley, is what many people recall.
The There Will Be Blood production completely restored Greystone’s 1920s bowling alley based on original photographs. It’s here that Plainview compares drinking a milkshake to his triumph over the weak: “I. Drink. Your. Milkshake. I drink it up!” While the bowling alley is not used today, it’s still in working order thanks to Anderson’s film.
In recent years, filming has slowed at the Greystone Mansion, thanks to so many productions leaving L.A. “It used to be we’d get about two movies and three TV shows [per year], and commercials and photo shoots. Now once every two years we’ll get a movie,” says Clark.
The Alfred F. Rosenheim Mansion from American Horror Story
Photo by Jared Cowan
The “Murder House” from American Horror Story – Country Club Park
EXT. HOUSE – AFTERNOON
PUSH across a leaf-strewn lawn to find a GIRL, eight, with long braids, staring at an abandoned Victorian house that has fallen into grave disrepair. Shutters missing, paint peeling… an ingénue turned dowager by the march of time.
-From American Horror Story, “Pilot,” by Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk
If you take a ghost or crime tour of Los Angeles, make sure not to get out and play on the lawn of 1120 Westchester Place. A sign posted on the front lawn shows an illustration of a shot-up practice target with the warning “Beware of Owner” and ReadyToDefend.com. There’s also video and audio surveillance around the perimeter of the historic 1902 Alfred F. Rosenheim Mansion, which was featured in the first season of FX’s psychological horror hit, American Horror Story. (Rosenheim also designed and built the famous Doheny Mansion.)
The show brilliantly interweaves various eras in which multiple violent murders occurred in one of the most twisted haunted houses ever: a father burns his family alive, a mysterious man in a gimp suit drowns one of the owners, kids are killed in the basement by some kind of monster. While nothing of the sort has ever happened in the mansion, nor have there been any reported hauntings, the house is nothing short of macabre. Its gothic brick façade is set back from the street, half hidden by trees, along with a protruding stairwell tower with Tiffany stained glass.
“[Co-creator] Ryan Murphy, our director, was very clear about wanting a house that had enormous character,” says pilot Production Designer, Beth Rubino, in Behind the Fright: The Making of American Horror Story. “We scouted, and as soon as Ryan came into this house he immediately felt that it was the vibe that was right for him and for the story.”
The house boasts a professional recording studio and post-production facility, which can hold up to 250 people for events. Strangely enough, the room had originally been built as a chapel when the Sisters of Social Service, who added the room in 1932, took over the house. Production Designer Mark Worthington says in a behind-the-scenes featurette, “It’s an odd place, I mean, it was essentially a nunnery, or a convent, which I think is always interesting because you get this idea of sacred and profane in one place.”
After shooting the pilot episode, the interior of the house was built on a soundstage.
The Rosenheim Mansion has also been seen in other horror/sci-fi related TV series such as The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Twilight Zone. However, if you’re looking for the mansion, type “American Horror Story house” into Google Maps, and it pops right up. It’s one of the few movie and TV houses in L.A. that the online map service refers to by a popular show name.
The house of Lynn Bracken from L.A. Confidential
Photo by Jared Cowan
Lynn Bracken’s House from L.A. Confidential – Hancock Park
EXT. LYNN BRACKEN’S – DAY
A discreet Spanish house at the end of the street adjacent to a golf course. A projector’s flicker strobes against the closed curtains. We hear a PHONE RING.
-From L.A. Confidential by Brian Helgeland & Curtis Hanson
L.A. Confidential is a film that tears away the glamorous façade of Los Angeles, home of movie stars and sunshine, and exposes a corrupt framework underneath the idyllic surface. “Thematically, I wanted to try and capture a feeling that would deal with the difference between illusion and reality,” says director, Curtis Hanson on a DVD making-of featurette.
The theme Hanson was exploring is personified by a few of the film’s main characters, perhaps none more so than by a high-class prostitute, Lynn Bracken, played by Kim Basinger in an Oscar-winning performance. At Fleur-de-lis – a call-girl service with the seductive slogan, “Anything You Desire” – the women are altered, sometimes by plastic surgery, to look like movie stars. Bracken is Fleur-de-lis’s Veronica Lake look-alike.
The film’s Oscar-nominated production designer, Jeannine Oppewall, and Location Manager John Panzarella, LMGA, spent more than two months searching for Lynn Bracken’s house. “Originally, Curtis and I both had the feeling it was written as if it should be a Spanish-style courtyard apartment in Hollywood,” Oppewall tells the Weekly. Many buildings were scouted, but thanks to their overuse in other films and other various drawbacks the filmmakers adjusted their concept.
“It needed to be somewhat isolated,” Panzarella says of the location in question. “[Bracken] is conducting her illicit business and you didn’t want to think [the house] was immediately next door, cheek-to-jowl, with 20 houses on a block.” What Oppewall and Panzarella eventually found was a 1923 Spanish-style house in Hancock Park next to the Wilshire Country Club. With no neighbor on one side of the house, the sense of privacy was instant. The description of the house and its location next to a golf course was written into later versions of the script.
According to Oppewall, the house had a drama unto itself. “All we needed to do was to add the right furniture and other ingredients to make it feel like her [own] movie set,” says Oppewell referring to the image Bracken adopted when with clients. The upstairs rooms would represent the real Bracken.
Oppewall built a covered patio area to accommodate a scene where two characters talked at the front door while it rained. It was removed when production wrapped.
L.A. Confidential is regarded by some as the best film set and shot outside the studios in Los Angeles; others will argue the best is Chinatown. No matter where your convictions lie, both L.A. films can be summed up by Sid Hudgens, L.A. Confidential’s scheming tabloid news publisher played by Danny DeVito: “You’d think this place was the Garden of Eden, but there’s trouble in Paradise…”
Jared Cowan is a photographer and avid filmgoer living in Los Angeles. In 2002, he graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia with a B.F.A. in film and video production. See more of his photography at jaredcowanphotography.com and follow him on Twitter at @JaredCowan1. He'd like to thank the Location Managers Guild of America for their assistance.
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