Movies have helped shape our culture since the early years of silent films. From days of war to rainy beach days, a trip to the theater has been the common cure from real life since 1896, when the first theater opened its doors in New Orleans. But what appears on the screen is also a real life location, whether in a temporary studio set or in a brick and mortar building. So here is an ode to five historic buildings whose skin and bones have made it onto the big screen, and while real life may wear them down, through film they have ceased to age.
1) Bradbury Building, Los Angeles, CA (1893)
This is probably the mother of all sci-fi filming locations in the United States. Movies, television shows, music videos and even commercials have been shot in the historic structure. Originally commissioned to be built by Lewis L. Bradbury, a gold miner who actually found gold, controversy still reigns over who should receive the credit as architect. Originally, Sumner Hunt was hired but his plans were tossed because they were not grand enough. Then his draftsman, George Wyman was hired but little to no evidence shows that Wyman put forth plans that were any different from Hunt’s. The best part of this story, however, is that Wyman, being only a draftsman for Hunt who made very little money, took the job because he and his wife received a message from his dead brother, Mark, through a planchette board (an old-school weegie board) which read: “Mark Wyman/ take the/ Bradbury building/ and you will be/ successful” with “successful” being written upside down. Wyman therefore took the job and is given full credit for the job.
The design, ironically enough, was based on a sci-fi novel, set in year 2000, called “Looking Backward” by Edward Bellamy, and has been written into many sci-fi novels since it’s completion. To date, the structure can be seen in twenty-two movies, beginning in 1950 noir films to the most recent 2011 film, “The Artist.” While the exterior red brick is beautiful in itself, the interior is where the acclaim is given and what is predominantly used for sets. Polished oak railings, “bird-cage” elevators and filigree ironwork, imported from France, fill the central atrium, which causes “a mesmerizing degree of symmetry and visual complexity.”
Like the Bradbury Building on Facebook.
2) Hotel del Coronado, Coronado, CA 1888
This incredible wooden structure was the largest resort hotel in the world at the time of its opening in 1888 and today is one of a small number of remaining wooden Victorian resorts; a truly American architectural genre. It is still the second largest wooden resort in the United States. Built by three partners, E.S. Babcock, Hampton L. Story and Jacob Gruendike, the men were able to buy Coronado and North Island for $110,000 and then to put one million dollars towards the grand construction, involving two thousand laborers. The biggest problems were finding labor and lumber, which were solved through buying sole rights to all the raw lumber from Dolbeer & Carson lumber yards and taking on primarily Chinese laborers from northern California. Just before the opening, the Southern California land boom completely collapsed, and more money was needed for the completion, resulting in more people’s financial involvement.
During prohibition, The Del (as it is known) became the ultimate playground for Hollywood stars and politicians alike. Royalty from abroad was also reported to stay at the resort. In 1927 the first film was shot at the hotel and since then, around twelve additional movies have been set there, including “Some Like it Hot,” “My Blue Heaven” and “The Stunt Man.” Today, many additions have been added to enlarge the occupancy of the resort. It is estimated to be valued at roughly $590 million to date.
3) Hatfield House, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England (1611)
Built in 1611 by the first Earl of Salisbury, Robert Cecil, the Cecil family still calls Hatfield House home today. Surrounded by a deer park, 42 acres of manicured gardens and part of the original Tudor palace where Queen Elizabeth I was raised, the property has maintained its décor and architecture over the centuries, including exceptional features of the Jacobean era. To discuss the intricate details of the architecture would take volumes, so suffice it to say that it’s grand. Really grand.
While the house is home to the Cecils (more specifically the seventh Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury,) it is commonly used as a venue for weddings and events, but more importantly it has been seen in thirty-one films to date. Obviously, this is far more than a house. Because Willy Wonka didn’t make magical candy in any old building, Lara Croft couldn’t raid tombs without all that dough, and Bruce Wayne would hardly be Batman without Alfred, and Alfred’s only come in places such as Hatfield.
4) Greystone Mansion Beverly Hills, CA (1930)
If the Bradbury Building is the mother of all sci-fi films, then Greystone Mansion is probably the matriarch of all historical filming locations. Having presently been featured in sixty-three movies, beginning in 1947, Greystone Mansion is the Beverly Hills go-to for wealthy film settings. But what’s really exciting is the movie-worthy history that haunts the mansion.
Built by the son of a gold and oil miner (the largest oil producers in the world at that time), 12.58 acres of land were gifted to Edward “Ned” Laurence Doheny, the successor to the financial empire, on his wedding day. Construction began in 1927; the family moved in in 1928 and building continued for a total of three years. However, five months after the family took residence, Ned Doheny was found to be victim of a murder/suicide, together with his personal secretary, Hugh Plunkett. The official verdict was that crazy Plunkett murdered Doheny then turned the gun on himself, but all evidence shows that the opposite happened. Doheny’s father carried deep ties to Washington and the press at the time and the case went quiet immediately following the press release announcing that Plunkett was the culprit. Doheny was thirty-six years old.
The entire Greystone estate cost $4,404,956.88 to complete, which was almost an inconceivable number at the time. Named after the ominous color of the stone used in building, the property boasts sweeping views of Los Angeles, with fifty-five livable rooms and seven fireplaces, each designed and built by different artists. It even contains a bowling alley, as can be seen in the final scene of There Will be Blood (2007.)
5) Hook and Ladder 8, NYC (1904)
This old firehouse may not have appeared in as many films as the previous four listed, but there is one movie that is so good, and so famous, that it was impossible not to include Hook and Ladder #8. That’s right, this façade was home to the incredible Ghost Busters of 1984 and Ghost Buster II in 1989.
Built in 1904 but cut in half in 1913 when the road was widened, Hook and Ladder #8 still appears exactly the same as it did in 1904. Maintaining it’s original carved stone brackets, limestone cornices and window details, extreme care was taken to make the change appear invisible. Known for its valiant firefighters who made brave and daring rescues over the years, as well as those who gave their lives for their country, both across the ocean and on September 11, 2001, the firehouse was put on a list of NYC firehouses to close in 2011. However, Hook and Ladder #8 remains in working order due to an outpouring of protests, and ghosts that need exterminating.