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Cover Story

A Guide to Movie's Many Location Sites

Here's how the 'Chinatown' production crew made '70s L.A. look just like '30s L.A.

July 08, 1999|PAUL IORIO

Sylbert: The lake is the perfect location if you're doing 1939 and you're after something that says "California" so clearly, which that does, with the little bridge in it and the palm trees all around. When you start a movie like this, you begin to understand that you have to go to the old part of town. And that's why I came up with Echo Park, and that's why Ida Session's house ended up in that area, too.

5. City Hall

Near the beginning of the film, Gittes spies on Hollis Mulwray at a public meeting at L.A. City Hall in which Mulwray states his opposition to the building of a risky dam project. Meanwhile, valley farmers, irate over having their land dried up by illegal water diversion, protest by bringing sheep into the meeting.

In real life: The L.A. City Hall, which opened in 1928 and is now being renovated, is located downtown on Spring Street south of Temple.

Sylbert: The meeting was shot in the chamber at L.A. City Hall. All I did was put a huge picture of Roosevelt on the wall.

6. The Pig 'n' Whistle

The Pig 'n' Whistle restaurant appears in the film as the backdrop for an argument between Cross and Hollis Mulwray, captured in clandestine photographs by Walsh, Gittes' associate.

In real life: The longtime downtown L.A. fixture was long gone by the time "Chinatown" was made. Filmmakers used the Pacific Dining Car restaurant (1310 W. 6th St.), at Witmar Street and 6th, just west of downtown L.A. The restaurant was built in 1921, in the heyday of the Mulwrays.

Sylbert: The real restaurant was the city's oldest restaurant, it was near City Hall and it was the most popular. It was the obvious place for these guys to meet. It was the place.

7. The Brown Derby

After Hollis Mulwray is murdered, Gittes and Evelyn Mulwray meet over lunch at this swank restaurant. Gittes spends most of the meeting being unjustifiably suspicious of Evelyn.

In real life: The original Brown Derby, representing the elegance of old L.A., is now gone. In its place is a commercial strip called the Brown Derby Plaza (and a vacant space where the actual Derby used to be) on the 3400 block of Wilshire, across from the old Ambassador.

8. El Macondo Apartments

El Macondo is the so-called "love nest" in which Gittes finds Hollis Mulwray with a mysterious young woman (actually Katherine). Gittes climbs onto the red-tile roof and shoots photos of the two in the courtyard below. (Polanski says he wanted to show the courtyard scene upside down, in the reflection of the camera lens, but the idea was nixed.)

In real life: The apartment building is now called Mi Casa, at 1400-1414 Havenhurst Drive, between Sunset and Fountain. The stylish two- and four-story Spanish structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sylbert: I named it El Macondo after the name of a city in a Gabriel Marquez novel. It was perfect. It was Spanish, it was white, and we could get to the roof tiles and shoot down into the courtyard.

9. Evelyn Mulwray's House

This is Evelyn's house--at the nonexistent 1412 Adelaide Drive--where Gittes discovers a telltale piece of evidence in the backyard saltwater pond. In a later scene here, he's forced to surrender the evidence to Mulvihill.

In real life: The house is in Pasadena, off California Avenue and near the Huntington museum, though sources can't recall its precise address.

Sylbert: The house was an abandoned wreck before it was completely renovated and redesigned by the "Chinatown" crew, who even put in the pond. If you watch the scene carefully, you'll notice that when you're in the backyard, you cannot see nearby buildings. Because in 1939, the whole image I was after was that there was nothing out there. I chose the place because one can see in a straight line from the backyard through the house to the front entrance. At the end of the movie, when Gittes is waiting for Noah Cross, he's standing at that back doorway and you can see the car with Cross pull up at the front door. [The practice of shooting action in one room through the action in another room is virtually a Polanski trademark.]

10. The Oak Pass Reservoir

The Oak Pass is where Hollis Mulwray is found dead and where Gittes has his nose sliced by a thug played by Polanski.

In real life: The location's real name is the Stone Canyon Reservoir, one of the major reservoirs near the L.A. basin. It's in the Santa Monica Mountains above Bel-Air and close to Benedict Canyon (not far from where Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family).

Sylbert: The sluice that the body was in when they pulled Hollis up--that's there, too.

11. Point Fermin Park

Early in the movie, Gittes follows Hollis Mulwray to Point Fermin and watches him walk down a bluff to the Pacific, where fresh water is being dumped in the middle of a drought. Gittes lounges in a suit on the bluff at twilight with a lighthouse in the distance. This is also where Gittes puts stopwatches beneath the wheels of Hollis Mulwray's car in a cul-de-sac.

In real life: This is Point Fermin, a public park on the coast of San Pedro.

Sylbert: I made a cutout of a lighthouse about 25 feet high. . . . It was a quarter-mile away from the camera so you could make it look like a lighthouse. The real Point Fermin lighthouse was not in operation at the time.

12. Chinatown

In the film's last sequence--the only one set in Chinatown--Evelyn is shot to death by Detective Loach and Katherine is whisked away by Noah Cross, in front of Khan's apartment at the screen address 1712 Alameda.

In real life: It wasn't anywhere near Alameda, but was in fact on the west side of North Spring Street in Chinatown, just south of Ord Street.

Sylbert: It was a narrow little street--the only area of Chinatown that could be photographed easily. The other streets were too wide. It had everything. I had to do nothing except block out a modern garage.

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