FINALLY, here are few more of the places I saw around Los Angeles during my visit in September 2019…
THE FIRESTONE FROM LOST HIGHWAY
In David Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway, Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) works at an auto repair shop called Arnie’s, whose owner is played by Richard Pryor. These scenes were in the Firestone Tire Building at 800 South La Brea Avenue, in in central L.A.’s Mid-Wilshire neighborhood.
“I want you to take a ride with me. I don’t like the sound of something.”
As it turns out, the Firestone building is being converted into a “Market Hall”-style microbrewery and three restaurants, scheduled to open in 2020, the Larchmont Chronicle reported.
ECHO PARK LAKE
As seen in Chinatown (minus the swan boats) … and Under the Silver Lake (swan boats included).
This restaurant at 2018 West Burbank Boulevard in Burbank has been open since 1946. It makes an appearance in Part 8 of Twin Peaks‘ third season, masquerading as Pop’s Diner in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1956.
This is where we see a waitress cleaning up the counter while listening to “My Prayer” on KPJK radio, when a voice interrupts the broadcast, repeating over and over:
“This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eye and dark within.”
The waitress collapses, falling to the floor.
Chili John’s also can be seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. “In a seamless conflation of film location editing, Brad Pitt encounters a hitchhiking Manson girl, Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), in front of Chili John’s and Jackalope Pottery (10726 Burbank Boulevard in North Hollywood) in the same scene, even though the two locations are two miles apart from each other,” location manager Rick Schuler said.
As I was sitting at the U-shaped counter eating a bowl of delicious chili, a man walked into the restaurant and asked to see the owner. “I’m a location scout,” I overheard him saying, as he started trying to work out a deal to film scenes inside this retro diner.
Sitting on the promontory, I saw and heard dolphins in the water below me:
This area of Point Dume State Beach may look familiar from a couple of old movies…
This shore is seen in the climatic scene of director Robert Aldrich’s 1955 film-noir Kiss Me Deadly, in which — SPOILER ALERT — a nuclear fire erupts in a beach house.
A decade later, the same place became the setting for a famous post-apocalyptic image in Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 movie Planet of the Apes. (If you’ve somehow missed seeing it, here’s another spoiler alert.) This is where Charlton Heston’s character sees the wreckage of the Statue of Liberty in the movie’s final shot, realizing that he’s on Earth, not some other planet. The geography of this image seems highly unlikely. Apparently, this rocky landscape was supposedly created in New York Harbor by a nuclear explosion?
“Oh, my God! I’m back! I’m home. All the time, it was— We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! God damn you! God damn you all to hell!”
LANKERSHIM ARTS CENTER
This arts center at 5108 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood appears in Lost Highway as Luna Lounge.
BURBANK WATER AND POWER
This complex at 164 West Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank appeared in the last episode Twin Peaks‘ first season as the water processing plant on Black Lake. But as I discovered when I visited, the areas where that filming took place can’t really be seen from the roadway. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty nice building.
THE MUSIC BOX STEPS
In their Oscar-winning 1932 short film The Music Box, Laurel and Hardy struggle to move a piano up a long outdoor flight of stairs. Those steps—now known as the Music Box Stairs—are a tourist attraction in the midst of a hilly residential area in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Central L.A. I walked up the steps, which connect Vendome Street at the base of the hill with Descanso Drive at the top, then came back down.
Just as I arrived at the bottom, the woman who lives next to the steps was pulling up in her car and getting ready to park in her garage. I expected her to be tired of all the tourists visiting the spot next to her home, but it was quite the opposite. She was eager to show me a miniature piano left behind by some previous visitors.
VENICE BEACH AND SANTA MONICA
Here’s one movie location I wanted in L.A.’s Venice Beach neighborhood: Samesun Venice Beach, where Orson Welles filmed scenes for 1958’s Touch of Evil. It was the building where spies watched Susan (Janet Leigh). The neighboring building where she was honeymooning with Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston), St. Mark’s Hotel, is no longer standing.
Other random sights around Venice Beach and Santa Monica:
THE DUDE’S APARTMENT
The last movie location I saw before heading to LAX for my flight home was the apartment where the “Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) lives in The Big Lebowski. Actually, there’s some dispute about which of the houses on this block it was: 606 or 608 Venezia Avenue in L.A.’s Venice neighborhood. Either way, it’s a private home, so I kept my distance. I wonder if the current residents appreciate the history of where they live?
During my visit to L.A., I spent a few hours one day driving south from downtown to see a few locations associated with David Lynch films and other movies…
My first stop during this trip was Doheny Mansion—not to be confused with another house connected with the Doheny family, Greystone Mansion. Greystone, which I wrote about in Part 1, is the lavish Beverly Hills palace that oil tycoon Edward Doheny Sr. had built for his son, Ned.
But the father lived in Doheny Mansion in South L.A.
Three decades after David Lynch made 1977’s Eraserhead at Greystone Mansion, he filmed at Doheny Mansion, using the house as a key setting in his 2006 movie Inland Empire.
In the movie’s early scenes, this is the home where Laura Dern’s character, actress Nikki Grace, resides. Playing a woman who lives nearby—who is possibly a witch—Grace Zabriskie walks up to Doheny Mansion and sits down with Den’s character for a disturbing conversation.
“I am a new neighbor. I live just down the street. … I don’t mean to intrude. I am your new neighbor. I hope that it is not being inconvenient for you?”
The mansion was built in 1899 for Oliver P. Posey, with a Romantic Revival exterior including elements of the Gothic, Chateauesque, Moorish, and California Mission architectural styles. It was part of Chester Place, a gated community of Victorian mansions. After Doheny bought it in 1902, his family owned it for nearly 60 years.
Today, Doheny Mansion is part of Mount Saint Mary’s University’s campus, along with the surrounding properties on historic Chester Place. I had a bit of trouble finding an entrance to the campus, which is closed off to traffic with a private parking lot. But I eventually noticed an open gate for pedestrians on Addams Boulevard, about a block south of the mansion.
As I walked around the house, I saw only a few other people on the quiet campus. On the surface, it was a beautiful and idyllic scene. I’m guessing that most people wouldn’t find anything spooky about it. But I couldn’t help sensing something strange and sinister—probably just an after effect from watching Inland Empire. I did not go inside the mansion, which the university uses for offices. Tours are available.
Driving farther south, l crossed L.A. city limits, entering the suburb of Gardena in the South Bay region—for a visit to one of the most iconic locations from Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. The movie includes scenes at a diner called Winkie’s, which is supposed to be somewhere on Sunset Boulevard.
“I just wanted to come here.” “To Winkie’s?” “This Winkie’s.” “Okaaay… Why this Winkie’s?” “It’s kind of embarrassing…”
In reality, Lynch filmed the Winkie’s scenes in and around a restaurant at 1016 West El Segundo Boulevard in Gardena. When I visited in September 2019, the building still had signs identifying it as Caesar’s Restaurant, but it had been out of business for some time. The building seemed to be under renovation; a phone number was posted on one window for a roofing contractor.
The building was still filled with the former restaurant’s furniture—and even some kitchen supplies and coffee cups. The decor doesn’t match the colors seen in Mulholland Drive, but the restaurant’s layout looks similar. I held my iPhone window up to the glass to capture some pictures of the interior. A Gideons Bibles box sat on one table.
In hindsight, I wish I’d taken more pictures of the surrounding area. Rewatching Mulholland Drive now, I recognize nearby buildings in the background of those scenes, including an adjacent hotel.
In Mulholland Drive, Dan (Patrick Fischler) tells Herb (Michael Cooke) about a nightmare he had about Winkie’s. He’d dreamed that a man was behind the restaurant, somehow causing him to feel frightened inside the dinner. “He’s the one who’s doing it. I can see him through the wall. I can see his face. I hope that I never see that face—ever—outside of a dream.”
Herb takes Dan behind the restaurant to confront his fears. As I approached the location where Lynch filmed this shocking scene, I felt disoriented. Wasn’t there supposed to be a wall behind Winkie’s? And an alley around the corner from that wall—where a dirty and disheveled bum lived? Visiting the spot, this is what I saw:
Chicago filmmaker and author—and fellow David Lynch fan—Michael Smith replied: “The alley is definitely still there, Robert!” He’d visited the same place a month before I was there, and he ventured farther back behind the restaurant than I did, with photos on Instagram to prove it.
Where had I gone wrong? Maybe if I’d studied those Mulholland Drive scenes more closely before visiting, I would have known where to look. If only I’d brought along some videos and photos to study when I was on location!
Rewatching the movie, I can see how the area behind the restaurant has changed. In the movie, the wall behind the restaurant extends farther west. And there’s another section of wall running toward the restaurant.
The satellite image of the restaurant currently posted in Google Maps shows how these portions of the wall were demolished at some point in recent years.
Later in Mulholland Drive, the movie shows the “Bum” (Bonnie Aarons) sitting in the alley behind that wall. In this dimly lit scene, bathed in a red glow, a stepped pattern is visible on the alley wall behind the Bum and a shopping cart.
That pattern is still visible on the wall today, although the wall has been painted dark gray. Although I failed in my mission to stand on the spot where Mulholland Drive‘s mysterious Bum lived, I think I was looking right at it. If you consider where that wall used to stand before it was demolished, the Bum was probably in that space just beyond the stripes for parking spaces.
THE DINER THAT INSPIRED WINKIE’S
Taking a tangent from my travelogue…
The restaurant that inspired Winkie’s diner actually is on Sunset Boulevard. It’s the Denny’s at 6100 Sunset Boulevard, at the corner with Gower Street. (I wish I’d known this when I was in L.A.—I did not visit the Denny’s.)
“Denny’s restaurant on Sunset used to be a place called the Copper Penny,” Lynch told interview Chris Rodley1—getting the old name wrong. It was actually called the Copper Skillet.
Before that, a 1953 classified ad called it California Kitchen.
“I think that’s where Frank Capra worked,” Lynch said, “and in the old days that was the corner where all the movie extras would line up in the morning for work.”
The intersection of Sunset and Gower was known as Gower Gulch. That nickname alluded to the cowboys who congregated at the corner looking for work in the movies back in the era from the 1930s through the 1950s, when many Westerns were filmed nearby at Columbia and Republic Studios. There was even a deadly shootout between a couple of cowboys at the corner in 1940.
Behind the Denny’s restaurant, there’s a strip mall Gower Gulch with a Old West theme, which opened in 1976.
The restaurant became Alphy’s in 1977 and Denny’s in 1982.
In 1998, the Los Angeles Times reported that this restaurant was known as the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Denny’s” because of its proximity to a Guitar Center and Ralphs grocery, which was nicknamed “Rock ‘n’ Roll Ralphs.”2 According to the Urban Dictionary, that store was “notorious for being packed around 2 to 3 AM after the clubs close, with drunken people trying to buy liquor for after-hours parties.”
In 1998, the Times also remarked that this Denny’s restaurant “has got to be the best people-watching place on the planet.”3
David Lynch told Rodley:
“And the Denny’s there was a pretty strange Denny’s. I’m not positive, but I think there was a satanic booth in the parking lot there for a while.”
Rodley: “What’s that?”
Lynch: “I don’t know! But I used to go there and have breakfast—a Grand Slam. Anyway, I was in a booth, and I think i was alone, and behind me there were three people, and they were talking about God. It sounded like quite a pleasant Sunday morning conversation.
“And I got up to pay the check, and I glanced over at the people in the booth, and there was the head of the satanic church in the booth. They were talking quite friendly and nice. I thought it was like a church group! And so it was kind of strange. Anyway, there was some kind of heavy feelings at that Denny’s, and that fed into this thing in Mulholland Dr.—this bum.”
Perhaps those people Lynch noticed were members of the the Church of Satan—”the first organized church in modern times promulgating a religious philosophy championing Satan as the symbol of personal freedom and individualism.”
“Many of our grass-roots people didn’t know much about subtlety then, or decorum,” he said. “I was trying to present a cultured, mannered image and their idea of protest or shock was to wear their ‘lodge regalia’ into the nearest Denny’s.”
“EAT AT JUDY’S” (RUDY’S)
Returning to my travelogue of South L.A. …
Driving south from the shuttered Caesar’s Restaurant in Gardena, I stopped for lunch at a diner called Eat at Rudy’s.
Lynch fans will recognize it as Eat at Judy’s, the place in Texas where Kyle MacLachlan’s character Dale Cooper (or is it a mysterious alter-ego named Richard?) visits in the final episode of Twin Peaks‘ third season.
In reality, Eat at Rudy’s is located at 558 East Anaheim Street, in a Los Angeles neighborhood Wilmington, which is part of the city’s Harbor region.
The restaurant’s interior was recognizable from those haunting scenes in Twin Peaks, including the open kitchen area where Cooper/Richard drops some handguns into the deep fryer.
“Is there another waitress that works here?” “Yeah. It’s her day off. Actually, it’s her third day off.”
I must say this seemed to be an outstanding diner and a friendly spot to go for lunch. I asked the waitress for the best or most popular dish, and she recommended the California turkey melt, which turned out to be just as delicious as she’d promised.
“The port of Los Angeles at this time decided they needed more room for containers, so they bought up 10 city blocks north of the ocean and destroyed all the houses in preparation for a new container port. We moved in there and built a house—the Paper Street House, sitting on its own on a city block, inspired by that Detroit desolation.”
The other nearby locations from Fight Club are: Asian man’s drugstore, 1109 West Harry Bridges Boulevard; Lou’s Tavern, 1331 B Street; and Goodyear, 505 North Avalon Boulevard.
POINT FERMIN PARK
By this point in travels, I was near the Port of Los Angeles and the San Pedro neighborhood in L.A.’s Harbor region. There’s another connection here with the Doheny family.
In Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 film The Big Lebowski, Point Fermin is where Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) scatter their friend Donny’s ashes. This scene takes place in an area of San Pedro’s shoreline called the “Sunken City,” where a neighborhood of houses tumbled into the ocean during a landslide in 1929.
“And so, Theodore Donald Karabatsos, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, which you loved so well. Good night, sweet prince.”
As Atlas Obscura notes: “Do not attempt to enter the Sunken City. Not only is trespassing not tolerated, but accessing the ruins is dangerous and therefore should not be attempted. Due to the danger of the ruins, the site is strictly off-limits to the public.” So, I had to settle for looking through the fence at those bluffs.
Point Fermin Park is prominently featured in another iconic movie about Los Angeles. In 1974’s Chinatown, it’s where detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) follows the city water department engineer Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling). As Gittes watches, water mysteriously pours from pipes into the ocean, even though the city is in the midst of a drought.
The parking spaces on Paseo Del Mar are where Gittes is shown placing a stopwatch next to one of the wheels of Mulwray’s car—his trick for determining what time Mulwray finally moves his car to leave.
In these scenes, a little bar and restaurant can be seen nearby.
That joint, Walker’s Cafe, is still there, and it doesn’t look like it has changed a whole lot. Constructed around 1913 as a turnaround station at the end of the Red Car line down Pacific Avenue, it’s been Walker’s Cafe since 1946. I stopped in for a beer. Judging from the motorcycles parked outside and some of the conversations I overheard, it seems to be a hangout for bikers.
In 1990, waitress Reni Mauritsen defended the restaurant’s biker clientele, telling the Daily Breeze’s Lisa Plendl: “People have a tendency to think these guys are real rough, but I get more respect from them than anyone else.”
PELICAN COVE PARK
One more stop on my tour of L.A.’s southern reaches. I drove northwest on Palos Verdes Drive, a curving road with lovely views of the ocean—heading into Rancho Palos Verdes, a suburb in L.A.’s South Bay region.
In this area, Pelican Cove Park is a delightful place for a walk down to the ocean’s rocky shore. I spent half a hour sitting on the rocks and watching a large gathering of birds on some rocks out in the water.
As it happens, this oceanfront park appears in another movie by the Coen brothers: 2016’s Hail, Caesar! According to Los Angeles Magazine: “The dramatic South Bay topography stands in for Malibu, but the home of Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) is only a matte painting.”
1 David Lynch, ed. Chris Rodley, Lynch on Lynch (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005 edition), excerpted in Criterion Collection booklet for Mulholland Drive, 22. 2 Heidi Siegmund Cuda, “Club Hoppin’: Got Milk?”, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1998. 3 Heidi Siegmund Cuda, “Club Hoppin’: Burgers, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 1998. Follow links in the text for additional sources.
Just about every block of downtown L.A.—probably every block—has been filmed for a movie at some point.
I parked on a random block, with the first parking space I could find. Pulling out my iPhone, I checked the Google map I’d created with a list of movie locations.
By sheer coincidence, I’d parked right next to the restaurant where the Nite Owl Café scenes were filmed for L.A. Confidential. The café’s layout looked eerily similar.
“It happened to have, in the inside alley of the building right behind that restaurant, a bathroom that we could use for the murder scene,” L.A. Confidential production designer Jeannine Oppewall told Curbed Los Angeles.
Walking around downtown, I spotted a few of the buildings where Harold Lloyd filmed scenes for his classic 1923 silent comedy Safety Last!—famously featuring Lloyd dangling from a clock on the side of a high-rise.
David Lynch has filmed at a number of places in downtown L.A., including three buildings on one block of Spring Street—within an area known as the Spring Street Financial District, a.k.a. “the Wall Street of the West.”
One of these locations is actually just the rear wall of the Palace Theatre—or as the faded paint on the wall calls it, the Palace Newsreel Theatre. Built in 1911, it was originally a vaudeville house called the Orpheum Theatre—not to be confused with another theater of that name built down the street in 1926.
The Palace Theatre faces Broadway, but Lynch used the wall facing a parking lot on Spring Street as the entrance to Club Silencio in his 2001 movie Mulholland Drive.
“Go with me somewhere.” “It’s 2 o’clock—It’s 2 o’clock in the morning.” “Go with me somewhere.” “Sure. Now?” “Right now!”
On the day when I visited, some trucks were parked in the lot, obscuring my view of that mysterious portal. And the alley next to the theater’s wall—where a taxi drives in Mulholland Drive, dropping off Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Elena Harring)—was closed off.
Directly across the street from that parking lot is the Banks Huntley Building, a 12-story art deco skyscraper completed in 1931. In Mulholland Drive, the director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is seen entering this building. In the film, it houses the offices of a company called Ryan Entertainment.
“This is the girl.”
After exiting an ominous and surreal meeting, Kesher uses his golf club to smash the windshield of a limo in the parking lot just south of the Banks-Huntley Building.
Here’s a curious thing about that scene: As Kesher (Theroux) walks in front of the Banks-Huntley Building, a parking lot is visible across the street. That’s the same lot that will appear later in Mulholland Drive as the entrance to Club Silencio.
“TWIN PEAKS SAVINGS & LOAN”
South of the parking lot next to the Banks-Huntley Building—that lot where the limo’s windshield gets smashed—is the Majestic Downtown, a Beaux Art building that opened in 1924 as the Hellman Commercial Trust and Savings Bank.
David Lynch used the interior as the Twin Peaks Savings & Loan when he filmed the scenes in the last episode of Twin Peaks Season 2, showing Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) chaining herself to a vault (in what was supposed to be Washington state).
In 2014, the former bank space inside the building became a nightclub called the Reserve, where you can see that vault from Twin Peaks. I did not get the chance to go inside.
THE TOWER THEATRE
After Betty and Rita are seen entering the neon-lit doorway for Club Sliencio in Mulholland Drive, the following scene shows them watching a dreamlike show inside that mysterious club.
“No hay banda! There is no band! Il n’est pas de orquestra! This is all a tape recording. No hay banda! And yet we hear a band.”
Lynch did not film that interior scene in the Palace Theatre, however. He filmed inside the Tower Theatre, which is at the corner of Broadway and Eighth Street—just one block east and one block south of the spot where Lynch filmed the club’s doorway.
The Tower Theatre building is also where Lynch filmed the Mulholland Drive scenes where Theroux’s character is seen staying inside a run-down place called the Park Hotel.
Years later, Lynch returned to the Tower Theatre, using its interior as a location in the third season of Twin Peaks (or, as many people call it, Twin Peaks: The Return). This was the otherworldly space occupied by a character known as the Fireman (a.k.a. the Giant) and Señorita Dido. On his Twin Peaks Blog, Steven Miller analyzes where Lynch filmed these scenes within the building.
The Tower Theatre opened in 1927, designed by S. Charles Lee with a blend of French Baroque, Moorish, and Spanish design elements. The theater originally had a Vitaphone horn behind its screen, protruding through the building’s rear wall into the alley.
The Tower stopped showing movies in 1988, and the building has not generally been open to the public in recent years. So I was stuck on the outside, unable to see those spaces inside where Lynch filmed those incredible scenes…
When I was standing outside the building, I didn’t know why it had construction walls and scaffolding around it. I’ve since learned that the Tower Theatre is under renovation. In August 2018, Apple announced its plans to convert it into a store and event space.
“Apple has the original blueprints for the Tower and will use them along with photographs and other records to restore original theater highlights such as murals, decorations and a leaded-glass window over the entrance,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Apple released an artist’s rendering of what the Tower Theatre space will look like after it reopens as an Apple store (at some date in the future, not yet announced). I hope some of the architectural details seen in Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks will be visible inside the store.
This is where a criminal named Joe Messing (Mark Pellegrino) kills Ed and steals his “famous black book” (“the history of the world in phone numbers”). After the killing-theft goes seriously awry, Joe makes his getaway via the fire escape.
“It is still a low-income residence and seems to be stubbornly resisting the gentrification that is going on all around,” Curbed noted.
A historical plaque on the opposite corner notes that Woody Guthrie often played his folk music on the streets here.
FIRE STATION NO. 23
Built in 1910, the fire station at 225 East Fifth Street was the Los Angeles Fire Department headquarters for a decade. The building’s decor was so ornate that critics called it the “Taj Mahal” of firehouses. The impoverished area surrounding Fire Station No. 23, which closed in 1960, is known as Skid Row.
David Lynch filmed the death row scenes for his 1997 movie Lost Highway inside this fire station.
“Shit. That wife killer’s looking pretty fucked up.”
The building also appears in Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China, The Mask, Flatliners, National Security, and other movies.
In 2018, Curbed Los Angeles reported that the city of Los Angeles plans to turn the old fire station into an art center. “Each year this building has been subject to vandalism, rain damage, and other deterioration,” project manager Neil Drucker said. Some Skid Row activists spoke out against the proposal.
THE BRADBURY BUILDING
The Bradbury Building was near the top of my list of things I wanted to see in L.A. Watching the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, I was fascinated to see how this building’s skylight-illuminated interior has appeared in many different movies over the years. The 99% Invisible podcast also devoted an episode to the Bradbury Building, calling it “arguably the biggest architectural movie star in all of Los Angeles.”
In Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner, the Bradbury feels spectral, with beams of light shining down from an advertising zeppelin through the skylight. It’s where the replicant designer J.F. Sebastian (played by William Sanderson) lives, along with a menagerie of his mechanical creatures.
In the commentary on the Blu-ray of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, Scott recalls: “The Bradbury Building I was told was a cliché, and millions of TV series had been made in it. Eventually, I just stopped listening.”
The Bradbury Building’s exterior is nice, but nothing all that remarkable.
But, oh that interior!
Gold mining millionaire Lewis Bradbury had the building constructed in 1893, hiring a draftsman named George Wyman. According to 99% Invisible’s Avery Trufelman, Wyman was inspired by a passage in Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, an 1887 novel that predicted what the world would be like in the year 2000:
“It was the first interior of a twentieth-century public building that I had ever beheld, and the spectacle naturally impressed me deeply. I was in a vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above. … The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior.“
It’s hard to capture the Bradbury Building’s essence in a still photograph. Here’s a video I took as I entered the structure’s atrium:
In his Blade Runner commentary, Ridley Scott recalled making the Bradbury Building look desolate and spooky during a nighttime shoot: “The mucking up of this building to make it look deserted was very simple, because I only dressed where you see: little bits of water on the ground. Bits of rubbish that could be easily swept up afterwards. So you don’t need to do much, you don’t need to trash the whole goddamn building. … We were cleaning up rubbish as we went, so we could leave that night.”
In Blade Runner, the Bradbury Building’s entrance is flanked by large columns. “I said, ‘I need something in the street to make it weird,'” Scott recalled. “… So we just stood it up in the front door, shot it that night, and took it away.”
THE MILLION DOLLAR THEATRE
The Million Dollar Theatre, which opened in 1917 and still stands across the street from the Bradbury Building, is visible in Blade Runner.
“I had them go in and they just blasted it with water,” Scott recalls in his commentary track for Blade Runner: The Final Cut. “… We just hit it with water and let it dry out and just brought the car down the middle, and it kind of looked futuristic. And glittered like diamonds.”
This tunnel is also where the car repossessors led by Harry Dean Stanton’s character Bud confront their rivals, the Rodriguez Brothers, in director Alex Cox’s 1984 film Repo Man.
LOS ANGELES UNION STATION
In Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen observes:
“As the major gateway to Los Angeles in the ’40s and ’50s, it has been a location for many movies and a favorite site for movie kidnappings. Through its corridors and grand lobby have passed gangsters, drug dealers, political protesters, Munchkins, even an alien in heat disguised as a railroad conductor. Yet Union Station hasn’t always played itself. It was a police station in Blade Runner.”
LOS ANGELES CITY HALL
Los Angeles City Hall was the city’s tallest building from its completion in 1928 until 1964, and it can be seen in numerous films and television shows, from the original Dragnet series and Mildred Pierce to L.A. Confidential. It’s destroyed by Martians in 1953’s War of the Worlds.
This modernist 1965 high-rise houses the headquarters of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power—and appears prominently in Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception.
LOS ANGELES CENTRAL LIBRARY
Once again, I will quote from Los Angeles Plays Itself:
“The movies loved Bunker Hill. The lords of the city hated it. Rents were low, so it put the wrong kind of people too close to downtown. Bunker Hill became a target for slum clearance or urban renewal. They had to destroy it in order to save it.”
“The new Bunker Hill looks like a simulated city…”
The Angels Flight funicular railway has appeared in many movies over the years. The one currently in operation is at a different location from the original one, which ran from 1901 to 1969.
Comparing my photo of that block with the movie, I now realize that I was facing the wrong direction. There’s one building you can see in both photos: the one with several curved arches on its façade. It’s on the left side in the movie, but the right side in my photograph. I was facing north. Apparently, the camera in Chinatown was facing south.
It became an iconic location for movies. Scenes were filmed here for Point Blank, Repo Man, Grease, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Dark Knight Rises, To Live and Die in L.A., Drive, and All Quiet on the Western Front (which disguised it as a European battlefront during World War I).
I stopped to take a photo of the river from the bridge on Seventh Street, looking north. In the distance, you can see Sixth Street, where the old bridge is being dismantled and replaced with a new one featuring a wavy design.
“It’s right about here on Sierra Bonita. That’s not too far away.”
In David Lynch’s movie Mulholland Drive, the Diane Selwyn character lives in the Sierra Bonita Apartments—supposedly at 2590 Sierra Bonita Avenue.
We see Betty Elms (Naomi Watts’s character in the movie’s first part) looking for the apartments on a map of Los Angeles. She points to a spot near the corner of De Longpre Avenue and Hobart Boulevard in East Hollywood, not far from the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue. All of this geography may be purposely fictional.
In reality, Lynch filmed the Sierra Bonita scenes at a complex nicknamed the Snow White Cottages, at 2900 Griffith Park Boulevard in Central L.A.’s Los Feliz neighborhood.
These eight cottages were constructed in 1931, a block away from where Walt Disney had opened his studio two years earlier (at 2719 Hyperion Avenue, where a Gelson’s Market grocery store is today). Disney animators lived in these 700-square-foot, one-bedroom homes, including Claude Coats and his wife, Evelyn Henry, walking to work down the street. Henry later described the cottages:
“They’re real cute. Thatched roofs and looked just like a Snow White cottage. They were all separate cottages. They were not adjoined. Everyone living there worked at the studio.”
It’s sometimes said that Walt Disney built these houses. But in reality, they were built and designed by Ben Sherwood.
According to the Finding Los Angeles website: “The Snow White cottages feature crooked roofs, timber-frame facades, picture-perfect windowboxes and landscaping, intentionally-worn chimneys, and a tower at the far end of the bungalow courtyard. For Disney’s animators who lived in and walked by these storybook cottages everyday, there’s no doubt that art imitated life through their renderings of the fairytale cottage now immortalized in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.“
“Oh, it’s adorable! Just like a doll’s house. I like it here. Ooh, it’s dark inside.” — Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
I wonder: Is the connection between this filming location and Disney’s classic 1937 movie based on the Snow White fairy tale mere happenstance? Or does it have some deeper resonance for Lynch?
The Snow White Cottages are private property, of course, with a locked gate. I walked along the front of the complex and looked down the alley (where the characters in Mulholland Drive go, seeking to hide from seemingly ominous men sitting in a nearby car).
SNOW WHITE CAFÉ
During my visit to L.A. I happened upon another place with connections to Disney’s classic 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—the Snow White Café, a cozy little bar and restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard, where the walls are adorned with paintings of Snow White’s characters.
I asked the bartender: “What’s the deal with the Snow White theme?” He told me Disney’s animators used to hang out at the café, which opened in 1946, and that Walt Disney himself donated the artwork. This story seems to be more or less true, according to an article on the Only in Hollywood website.
The bartender also told me that the joint had been a speakeasy during the Prohibition Era, owned by Charlie Chaplin. (I’d want to see solid evidence before I buy that story.)
As I noted above, those Snow White Cottages where Lynch filmed scenes for Mulholland Drive are on Griffith Park Boulevard. If you follow that winding street north for a mile, you’ll arrive at Griffith Park itself. With 4,310 acres of mountainous terrain, it’s one of the nation’s largest urban parks, nearly five times the size of New York City’s Central Park. (An article at KCET’s website outlines the history of Griffith Park.)
Griffith Observatory is also where the time-traveling cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives in 1984’s The Terminator. More recently, it appears in La La Land and Under the Silver Lake, in which Andrew Garfield’s character Sam decodes a secret message in a song:
“Rub Dean’s head and wait under Newton.”
In those films, the characters seem to have Griffith Observatory’s grounds to themselves. But when I visited, it was crowded with tourists. It’s a delightful place to look out at L.A.’s landscape, especially as the sun goes down and the city’s lights turn on.
The Bronson Caves are in another area of Griffith Park. This is where the Owl Cave scenes were filmed for Season 2 of Twin Peaks—and, more famously, the mouth of the caves appears as the Bat Cave entrance in the 1960s Batman TV series.
This man-made tunnel is a remnant of a rock quarry opened by Union Rock Company in 1903. It takes only about a minute to walk through the main corridor, as you can see in this video I made:
Wikipedia observes: “Scenes of the main cave entrance are normally filmed in a manner that shows the entrance at an angle because the cave is actually a very short tunnel through the hill, with the rear opening easily visible in a direct shot.”
And yet, thanks to its proximity to Hollywood, the Bronson Caves have appeared in hundred of movies and television shows—including two classics from 1956: In the finale of John Ford’s The Searchers, John Wayne pursues Natalie Wood to the cave’s entrance. And it’s also where Kevin McCarthy’s character hides out in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only to make a horrifying discovery about his companion, Becky (Dana Wynter).
“I went to sleep, Miles, and it happened.” “Oh, Becky.” “They were right.”
Robert Altman filmed a disturbing scene for the climatic moments of 1993’s Short Cuts nearby. More recently, Bronson Caves appear in Hail, Caesar! and Under the Silver Lake.
THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN AND SUNSET RANCH
Next to Bronson Caves and Bronson Canyon, a walking trail leads up to a couple of places with scenic views of the Hollywood Sign. I walked up 1.9 miles to the end of the Hollyridge Trail on Mount Lee, where you can see that iconic sign as well as a location from Lynch’s Mulholland Drive: Sunset Ranch.
This is where Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) goes at night for a meeting with the enigmatic figure called the Cowboy (Lafayette “Monty” Montgomery).
“Where do I meet this Cowboy? I mean, do I have to ride out to the range?” “Sort of, funny boy. If I tell him the meeting’s on, you have to go to the top of Beachwood Canyon. There’s a corral up there where he’ll be.” “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
It’s striking how close Sunset Ranch is to the Hollywood Sign. That proximity isn’t apparent in the movie, although Lynch cuts from the nighttime scene directly to a daytime image of the sign. During my visit, I heard horses neighing below me in the private ranch, which offers horse rides on the nearby mountain trails.
“I interviewed a former Sunset Ranch riding instructor who told me of spending the night in one of the rooms over the barn and hearing a man being hanged, along with choking sounds and the vibration of the rope. …
“Then there’s the strange, wafting scent of gardenias each autumn. Riders and ranch employees report smelling gardenias on the trails in mid-September, near the anniversary of Peg Entwistle’s suicide off the Hollywoodland Sign. No gardenias grow in the area, but Peg wore gardenia perfume.”
Entwistle, a New York stage actress who came to Hollywood and failed to land any of the movie roles she’d dreamed of, climbed 50 feet up a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and jumped to her death in 1932.
The sign makes me think of Eden Ahbez (or “eden ahbez,” as he usually styled his name), the songwriter and proto-hippy who wrote the song “Nature Boy.” Legend has it that Ahbez was living under the first “L” of the “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign in 1947, when he managed to get his song into the hands of Nat King Cole, who turned it into a No. 1 hit.
On his blog about Ahbez, Brian Chidester reports: “According to old-time California nature boy Bob Wallace, Ahbez used to camp out next to a shack up there in his sleeping bag, where he’d also sit and hold his hand-carved bamboo flutes up to the wind to let nature play its own song!”
As I walked down the trails in Griffith Park after seeing the Hollywood Sign, I encountered a coyote crossing the roadway:
THE TAILGATING SCENE FROM LOST HIGHWAY?
In David Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway, tough guy Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) beats up a motorist who was tailgating him.
“Don’t you ever fucking tailgate! Ever! Ever! Do you know how many fucking car lengths it takes to stop a car at 35 miles an hour?! Six fucking car lengths! That’s 106 fucking feet, mister! If I had to stop suddenly, you would’ve hit me!”
I haven’t found information about exactly where this scene was filmed. It takes place on a two-lane road curving through the mountains, much like Mulholland Drive. The Hollywood Sign is visible in the background during the violent assault along the road’s shoulder.
Judging from where the sign is in the background, I’m guessing the scene was filmed in Griffith Park—maybe on Mount Lee Road?
“I want to know if there was an accident on Mulholland Drive.”
David Lynch named his 2001 movie Mulholland Drive after one of the most famous roads in Los Angeles.
“I live near it, and I drive it quite often,” he told Filmmaker magazine in 2001. “… So it’s a mysterious road. It’s rural in many places. It’s curvy, it’s two lanes, it feels old. It was built long ago, and it hasn’t changed too much. And at night, you ride on top of the world. In the daytime you ride on top of the world too, but it’s mysterious, and there’s a hair of fear because it goes into remote areas. You feel the history of Hollywood in that road.”
When the Hollywood Hills Improvement Association, “a body composed of a large number of prominent property owners,” proposed the plan for Mulholland Drive in 1922,1 the Los Angeles Times remarked: “The idea has enormous possibilities as a scenic road, since it would command views of ocean, city, mountains and desert without peer in the world.”2
And when the road opened to cars on December 26, 1924,3 it created the possibility of building houses high up in the Hollywood Hills, transforming a wild and mountainous landscape into pricey real estate.
The road is named after the man who’d envisioned it: William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant who started working as a ditch digger before rising to become the Los Angeles city engineer and Water Bureau chief. Mulholland (who inspired the Hollis Mulwray character in the 1974 film Chinatown) had overseen the construction of the highly controversial aqueduct carrying water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles.
“Years ago, in his walks over these hills, Mr. Mulholland saw the possibilities of such a road, and advocated it among his friends,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Remarkably, Mulholland Drive was named after him while he was still serving in office. He’d reportedly suggested naming it after some famous historical figure, but Mulholland’s associates insisted on honoring him.
The Times agreed, saying that the road should be named after “the man whose engineering skill brought to Los Angeles the water supply which has made the Los Angeles of today possible.”2
Mulholland’s career ended in calamity and disgrace, when the St. Francis Dam burst open on March 12, 1928—just over 12 hours after Mulholland and an assistant had inspected the dam and declared it was safe. The resulting flood killed more than 400 people.
I didn’t take many photographs of Mulholland Drive during my visit—because I was too busy driving on it. The scenery is breathtaking all along this winding road. It feels like it’s high above the City of Angels, and yet, it is actually a part of it.
“I think because of the views, Mulholland gives you a semi-religious feeling of being up there and in control,” David Thomson wrote in the 1990s. “It is where Satan would take you if he were to offer you the city.”4
Sweeping around all of those curves, I gripped the steering wheel of my rental car and kept my foot poised to break at any second. Mulholland Drive demands that you stay alert at all times, even as the mountains and mansions tug at your attention, pulling your eyes away from the pavement. It’s no surprise that at least one spot on Mulholland Drive is known as a “dead man’s curve.”
In director Lee Tamahori’s 1996 neo-noir movie Mulholland Falls, brute cops throw a mob-connected man down a steep hill next to Mulholland Drive, calling the spot “Mulholland Falls.”
The road and its dangers also loom in the background of Steven Soderbergh’s 1996 film The Limey. “Those streets up them hills, you gotta’ be careful,” Luis Guzmán’s character Eduardo Roel says. “Gotta keep your eyes on the ball. Two o’clock in the morning, it’s dark, your mind’s agitated. You’re driving too fast. Those curves don’t kid around. Could’ve happened to anybody.”
“What are you doing? We don’t stop here.”
David Lynch told interviewer Chris Rodley that his movie sprang out of a simple suggestion: “My former agent Tony Krantz said, ‘Why don’t you do a new television show called Mulholland Dr.*?’ If he hadn’t said that, I would never have done anything with it, so that was a good thing. … It was just those words. ‘Mulholland Drive.’ When you say some words, pictures form, and in this case, what formed was what you see at the beginning of the film—a sign at night, headlights on the sign, and a trip up a road. This makes me dream, and these images are like magnets, and they pull other ideas to them.”5
* The film’s title is often styled as Mulholland Dr.
In the movie’s opening minutes, two cars come screaming down the two-lane highway at nighttime—racing side by side, with young people standing up through the sunroofs of the vehicles, yelling and waving their arms. That would be reckless anywhere, of course, but now that I’ve actually driven on Mulholland Drive, it’s almost unimaginable that anyone would attempt such a stunt on this road.
Those cars crash into a limousine stopped along the road. The passenger in the limo (Laura Elena Harring), whom we’ll come to know as “Rita,” walks away from the crash, heading downhill through the brush along Mulholland Drive—drawn toward the lights of Los Angeles. It’s not clear precisely where on Mulholland Drive this collision is supposed to happen.
The movie returns to the same road in its final scenes, when the characters have changed personas. This time, Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts) is riding in the limo. Her destination is the home of movie director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux). We’ve heard the address:
6980 Mulholland Drive.
Once again, the limo makes an unexpected stop along Mulholland Drive—but this time, there’s no crash. Harring, now playing the character Camilla Rhodes, takes Diane up a hill to Kesher’s house.
In reality, there is no house at 6980 Mulholland Drive. Does the crash in the first part of the film happen at or near this address mentioned in the last part of the film? Geography suggests that it’s at least somewhere in that vicinity. As Rita walks downhill, she ends up on streets that are south-southwest of 6980 Mulholland Drive.
It’s worth noting that the nighttime vista Rita sees in the movie doesn’t seem to quite match what she would see at 6980 Mulholland Drive. (And this isn’t where Lynch filmed the scenes at Adam Kesher’s house isn’t here—that location is reportedly in the Studio City neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley.)
I did not visit Mulholland Drive at nighttime; the closest approximation I have for the nighttime views in Lynch’s film are these photos looking out at Los Angeles from the part of Griffith Park near the Griffith Observatory.
FRED AND RENEE’S HOUSE IN LOST HIGHWAY
“Dick Laurent is dead.”
There’s something curious about the 6980 Mulholland Drive location.
If Rita walked a few hundred feet downhill from this spot, she’d end up in the backyard of a house from an earlier Lynch movie, 1997’s Lost Highway: the modernist home where jazz musician Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) lives with his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette).
In the film, the house’s address is identified as “7035 Hollis, near the observatory.” There is, in fact, no such address in L.A. (Is Hollis an allusion to the Chinatown character Hollis Mulwray, a.k.a. William Mulholland?)
The house where Lynch filmed the exterior shots of the house and at least some interior scenes is actually on Senalda Road. According to Zillow, it was built in 1957. Here’s how it was described in a 1959 real estate ad in the Los Angeles Times:6
I drove past this private home a couple of times and snapped a few quick photos without lingering. Perhaps the house seemed spooky merely because of the way I’d seen it used in Lost Highway, but I sensed something forbidding about the building’s fortress-like façade facing that narrow, curving street in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood.
“One of the glories of Los Angeles is its modernist residential architecture, but Hollywood movies have almost systematically denigrated this heritage by casting many of these houses as the residences of movie villains.”
THE WALK DOWN FROM MULHOLLAND DRIVE
In Mulholland Drive, Rita is next seen walking on the 7400 block of West Franklin Avenue in the Hollywood Hills West neighborhood—about a mile south of Mulholland Drive. (As it happens, this is near the former home of Joan Didion, 7406 Franklin Avenue.)
Rita continues walking, heading about half a mile southeast, to the 7200 West Sunset Boulevard in the Hollywood neighborhood. Finally, she falls asleep in some hedges outside an apartment building we later hear identified as 1612 Havenhurst. There’s actually no such address: Havenhurst Drive doesn’t extend north beyond Sunset Boulevard, or 1500 North.
That’s about a mile west of the previous spot where we’ve seen Rita walking, meaning that her entire trek down from Mulholland Drive was something like two and a half miles—a rather long walk for a dazed and injured woman wearing high heels.
Of course, Lynch may not have intended viewers to study the geography of Rita’s walk. And, depending on how you interpret the movie, all of this might be a dream anyway.
If, in fact, the spot where Rita falls asleep is supposed to be near Havenhurst and Sunset Boulevard, that would place it in the suburb of West Hollywood.
Looming northwest of the intersection is the seven-story Chateau Marmont hotel, built in 1929, where Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, and Lindsay Lohan stayed; John Belushi and Helmut Newton died; Robert Mitchum was arrested; Jim Morrison jumped from a fourth-floor window; and Dorothy Parker, Hunter S. Thompson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jay McInerney wrote.
Half a block south on Havenhurst, a dotted line is painted across the street, marking the boundary between the cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood.
On the same block, the Mi Casa apartments were filmed in Chinatown—appearing as the El Macondo Apartments, where detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) takes clandestine photos of Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling) in a romantic rendezvous.
AUNT RUTH’S APARTMENT
“Everybody in this building’s pretty much OK with me—or they wouldn’t be here.”
When she awakens, Rita hides in an apartment, as a tenant named Aunt Ruth (Maya Bond) departs on a trip. Later, Aunt Ruth’s niece Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) arrives. Lynch filmed these exterior scenes at the Il Borghese Apartments, a couple of miles to the southeast—at 450 North Sycamore Avenue in the Hancock Park neighborhood.
Curbed Los Angeles reported: “According to a tipster: ‘Shirley Temple lived here. Errol Flynn partied here, Ann-Margaret visited her publicist here, Lionel Richie found his current wife here.’ And we can’t confirm a damn bit of it…”
I photographed the exterior of the building, with its distinctive arched gates. I could hear the trickling of the fountain inside the courtyard, a sound that appears a few times in Mulholland Drive.
For photos of the courtyard, check out this blog post by Jonathan Myles-Lea, who notes: “Apparently a large olive tree existed on the lot where [Il] Borghese was to be built and instead of uprooting the tree, Gault centred the building’s courtyard around it. The 100 year old tree is still there today.” And for a look inside one of the units, see this story at the Apartment Therapy website.
PINK’S HOT DOGS
“Any new girls on the street lately? … A brunette? Maybe a little beat up? You’ll keep your eyes open for me won’t, you baby?”
Another Mulholland Drive location is just three blocks from the Il Borghese apartments: Pink’s Hot Dogs at 709 North La Brea Avenue. Billing itself as “A Hollywood Legend Since 1939,” the popular restaurant is where Lynch filmed the hitman Joe (Mark Pellegrino) talking with a couple of his associates along the building’s north wall.
Paul Pink and his wife, Betty, started selling 10-cent wieners from a cart at the same corner in 1939, before constructing the restaurant in 1946.7 It’s one of those oddly configured commercial buildings that seem cobbled together; the hot dog stand shares space with a lamp store. In Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen describes Pink’s as one of those “a few Los Angeles landmarks that almost always play themselves.”
Pink’s serves a delicious and decadent item dubbed the Mulholland Drive Dog: a nine-inch “stretch dog,” grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, nacho cheese, and bacon. Inside, the many photos of celebrities and customers on the walls include an autographed picture of Lynch. Above his name, he wrote:
As a fan of David Lynch’s films, I wanted to see the place where Eraserhead was born. But that is hardly the only claim to fame for Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills.
This West Coast palace was built with oil money. Edward Doheny Sr., who’d discovered oil in Los Angeles in 1892, had this 55-room Tudor Revival-style home built in the late 1920s—as a gift for his son, Ned Doheny.
On February 16, 1929, five months after Ned and his family had moved in, he was found dead in the mansion alongside the body of his friend and aide Hugh Plunkett. Both had been shot in the head.
“After a quick investigation, authorities ruled that a deranged Plunkett shot his employer and then turned the gun on himself, but to this day the sensational crime is a source of rumor and speculation,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2003.
As it happened, both men were due to testify in the trial of Ned Doheny’s father in the Teapot Dome case—perhaps the biggest political scandal in U.S. history before Watergate. And Ned was accused of serving as his father’s bribery bagman.
Edward Doheny Sr. was later found not guilty of bribing an official in President Warren G. Harding’s Cabinet, even though the official was found guilty of taking the bribe.
The story of the Dohenys inspired Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!—which Paul Thomas Anderson loosely adapted into his 2007 film There Will Be Blood, one of many, many movies filmed at Greystone Mansion.
The city leased it to the American Film Institute—and that’s where David Lynch enters the picture, arriving as an AFI student in 1970. Beginning in 1972, Lynch spent four years making Eraserhead, transforming the Greystone Mansion’s stables into a makeshift studio—creating a weird world inside its walls.
In his 2018 book Room to Dream, Lynch wrote:
“Nobody was using the stables at the AFI, so I set up there and had a pretty-good-size studio for four years. Some people from the school came down the first night of shooting and they never came down again. I was so lucky—it was like I’d died and gone to heaven.”1
For a time, Lynch even lived in the stables. “I moved into the stables when Peggy and I split up, and that was the greatest place. I’d lock myself in Henry’s room and I loved sleeping there, but eventually I had to leave …”2
It’s an astonishingly beautiful place. Strolling amid the buildings and gardens, I felt as if I’d somehow wandered onto the grounds of an English castle.
At first, it wasn’t clear to me where the stables were located, but I found a map on a placard, which showed the stables down at the southwest corner of the estate, along Doheny Road.
The gates to this section were locked, much as I’d expected. These utilitarian buildings are hardly the main attraction for most visitors, even if I think they deserve to be preserved—not only for their architectural beauty, but as a shrine to the creation of Eraserhead.
The Criterion Collection’s edition of Eraserhead includes a short film from 1997 documenting a visit by Lynch, Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, and Catherine Coulson to the stables. Even they weren’t allowed inside the buildings, apparently.
Until I visited this spot, I’d had trouble picturing the place where Lynch and his small team of collaborators created their surreal film, which seems so far removed from the milieu of Los Angeles. The contrast was even more striking as I stood outside the wall on Doheny Road, which is lined with tall palm trees. It’s hard to imagine how anything like Eraserhead had emerged from this sunny street lined with luxurious estates.
Greystone Mansion has a Zelig-like presence in Hollywood films and TV shows. Dozens of movies have been filmed in its rooms and gardens over the decades, including—to name just a few—Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, The Disorderly Orderly, The Loved One, Stripes, Ghostbusters, The Witches of Eastwick, X-Men, Spider-Man, The Prestige, and The Social Network.
It would be fascinating to see the scenes showing Greystone in these various films edited together, to see how the same spaces have been used time and time again. Through its numerous film roles, Greystone has become the archetype of a classic West Coast mansion.
In There Will Be Blood, it’s the mansion of oil tycoon Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), where he proclaims, “I drink your milkshake!” That was the first film made inside the mansion’s subterranean bowling alley, located near the old laundry room where Lynch had constructed the stage for Eraserhead‘s Lady in the Radiator in the 1970s.3
In Chandler’s The Big Sleep, private detective Philip Marlowe describes departing Greystone—or a mansion similar to it, anyway:
Outside the bright gardens had a haunted look, as though small wild eyes were watching me from behind the bushes, as though the sunshine itself had a mysterious something in its light. I got into my car and drove off down the hill. What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that.4
Two miles southeast of Greystone, David Lynch filmed some outdoor scenes for Eraserhead on the land southeast of Beverly Boulevard and San Vicente Boulevard, in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of Los Angeles.
I didn’t visit this site—largely because I knew that nothing remains to be seen of the landscape Lynch filmed. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating to consider how much this place has changed.
“… it was one of my favorite places in the whole world. You’d go over this doughnut of earth and down inside this place, and you’d be in a completely different world. There were these oil tanks and this working oil well just standing there. It was just incredible.”
Lynch said he liked this place because it seemed frozen in time since the 1930s. “… it hadn’t changed. It was like a set. This place just existed there.”5
Back in 1931, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon had told readers about an oil well near this site:6
Beverly Park, an amusement park with a dozen kiddie rides, opened here in 1946, leasing land from the Beverly Oil Company and disguising the neighboring oil well as a dragon with flapping wings. Walt Disney’s visits to the park reportedly inspired him to create Disneyland.
(KCET reports that Alfred Hitchcock filmed 1951’s Strangers on a Train here, but that seems to be incorrect. From the American Film Institute website: “According to a Nov 1950 HR news items, the amusement park set was constructed at director Rowland V. Lee’s Ranch, which was located in the San Fernando Valley…” The Carousel Corner website agrees, noting that Hitchcock’s movie, featuring “the greatest carousel movie scene ever,” used a rental Herschell carousel.)
Beverly Park closed in 1974—around the time when Lynch filmed Eraserhead—while the adjacent Ponyland stayed open a few more years.
“Beverly Ponyland consisted of a dusty, dirty row of old wooden stalls with a 3-track riding ring where one could hear the sounds of snorting ponies, jingling bits, creaking leather saddles and sporadic ‘Giddyups,’ while the pungent mixture of hay and fresh droppings filled the air,” KCET notes.
“… After Beverly Park closed, some of the rides remained on the lot. They stood forlornly behind a chained up gate, bearing a misleading sign which read, ‘closed for renovations.'”
Lynch recalled: “There was a pony ride from the twenties or thirties. And there was this little key shop that was like four feet by four feet, with a roof. And then there was the Tail o’ the Pup hot dog stand, which has moved to another place now. And there was Hull Bros. Lumber, which was a working sawmill, I think, with a hundred-foot-tall mound of sawdust next to it. There was also a nursery. It was all, like, from the thirties—mostly dirt, with this stuff scattered around. The buildings were ancient, and guys wore those green-colored visors and armbands. They were old-timers who knew about wood and Hollywood and everything.”5
In 1979, two years after the release of Eraserhead, construction crews began building the eight-story Beverly Center shopping mall on this land. “Now it’s just like, a congestion of shops and parking and lights and signs. It’s just a huge change,” Lynch later remarked.5
In 1984, the Los Angeles Times reported that neighbors “said it was one of the ugliest buildings in the city and called it the Incredible Bulk.”7
In 1991, architecture critic Aaron Betsky wrote: “The Beverly Center is not a pretty building. It’s big, it’s brown, and it’s a blob.” He called the mall’s interior a “shining shopping nirvana” and “the Acropolis of shopping, dedicated to our national religion, consumption.”8
Since renovations were completed in 2018, the bulky shopping center is no longer brown. It “now boasts a new glimmering white skin made of a highly textured stucco surmounting a metal mesh which changes transparency through the day and according to the viewer’s vantage point.”
It’s utterly unrecognizable as the place where Lynch filmed, but oil wells are still operating on the property, concealed by the tall walls along San Vicente Boulevard.
FRANKLIN CANYON PARK
Driving north three miles from Greystone Mansion—taking Loma Vista Drive and Coldwater Canyon Drive—you’ll arrive at Franklin Canyon Park, where several scenes were filmed for Twin Peaks, especially for the second season of the TV series. This California park serves as a stand-in for the forests of Washington state in these scenes, which were mostly filmed by directors other than David Lynch.
I took a short drive into Franklin Canyon Park, but alas, I didn’t have enough time to search for these locations—or the many other places where movies and TV shows were filmed. When I visited, it looked like a movie crew was filming something.
Franklin Canyon has appeared in It Happened One Night, The Blob, Minority Report, Platoon, Nightmare on Elm Street, Rambo, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Purple Rain, and the original Star Trek TV series episode “The Paradise Syndrome.”
Perhaps most famously, a lake in the canyon serves as the backdrop for the opening credits of The Andy Griffith Show.
This canyon is where Los Angeles Water Bureau chief William Mulholland built reservoirs and a “Mighty Siphon of Riveted Steel” from 1913 to 1916, completing a 230-mile aqueduct that carried water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles.
Without all of that water, it’s doubtful that L.A. could have continued growing into a massive city, and the Los Angeles Times hailed this “splendid achievement by Mulholland and his assistants.”9 But people in the Owens Valley accused L.A. of stealing their water.
Mulholland was the inspiration for a character named Hollis Mulwray in Robert Towne’s screenplay for Roman Polanski’s 1974 film Chinatown. Don’t take that version of the story too literally, though.
“Robert Towne took an urban myth about the founding of Los Angeles on water stolen from the Owens River Valley and made it resonate,. Chinatown isn’t a docudrama; it’s a fiction. … These echoes have led many viewers to regard Chinatown not only as docudrama, but as truth, the real secret history of how Los Angeles got its water, and it has become a ruling metaphor for nonfictional critiques of Los Angeles development.”
Author David Thomson wrote that William Mulholland “is regarded now as a robber baron and ecological rapist.” But as he noted, “No one is sending the water back to the desolate Owens Valley.”10
As Mulholland was building Franklin Canyon’s reservoirs, the Dohenys—the same family that built Greystone Mansion—bought land in the lower part of the canyon for watering and grazing cattle. In 1935, the Dohenys added a Spanish adobe home in the canyon, using it as a summer retreat.
The canyon’s old reservoirs were removed from use—and one was completely drained—by the early 1980s, after officials decided they were vulnerable to earthquakes. And the land was opened to the public as Franklin Canyon Park.
The park’s north end connects with a curvy mountain highway with a famous name: Mulholland Drive.
1 David Lynch and Kristine McKenna, Room to Dream (New York: Random House, 2018), Room to Dream, 124. 2Room to Dream, 131. 3Room to Dream, 122. 4 Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1939; New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992), 230. 5 David Lynch, ed. Chris Rodley, Lynch on Lynch (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005 edition), excerpted in Criterion Collection booklet for Mulholland Drive, 24. 6Johnson City (TN) Chronicle, April 2 and 3, 1931. 7 Frank Clifford, “The Beverly Center,” Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1984. 8 Aaron Betsky, “It’s Big, Chic and Famous, but Beverly Center’s Not a Pretty Site,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 14, 1991. 9 “Drive Great Pipe Line Through to Lower Dam,” Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1913. 10 David Thomson, “Uneasy Street,” in Sex, Death and God in L.A., ed. David Reid (New York: Pantheon, 1992), page 363 in the e-book. Follow links in the text for additional sources.
Photos by Robert Loerzel except where noted otherwise.