Film and TV

Recognize This House? Here Are Some Iconic L.A. Houses From Your Favorite Movies and TV Shows

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Thu, Aug 21, 2014 at 7:42 AM
click to enlarge Mitchell and Cameron’s house from Modern Family in West L.A. - JARED COWAN
  • Jared Cowan
  • 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.

See also: Our full gallery of famous L.A. movie and TV houses

click to enlarge Pee-wee Herman's house in South Pasadena - PHOTO BY JARED COWAN
  • Photo by Jared Cowan
  • Pee-wee Herman's house in South Pasadena
Pee-wee Herman’s Pad from Pee-wee's Big Adventure– South Pasadena

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.

click to enlarge The backyard of Jack Horner's house from Boogie Nights - PHOTO BY JARED COWAN
  • Photo by Jared Cowan
  • The backyard of Jack Horner's house from Boogie Nights

Jack Horner’s House from Boogie Nights – West Covina

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.”

click to enlarge The Arnold house from The Wonder Years - PHOTO BY JARED COWAN
  • Photo by Jared Cowan
  • The Arnold house from The Wonder Years

The Arnold House from The Wonder Years – Burbank

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. 

click to enlarge The Psycho house with a Universal Studios Hollywood tram full of summer guests - PHOTO BY JARED COWAN
  • Photo by Jared Cowan
  • The Psycho house with a Universal Studios Hollywood tram full of summer guests

The Psycho House – Universal City

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.

See also: Our full gallery of famous L.A. movie and TV houses

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