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After Face Lift, City Hall Wins New Film Roles

Landmark: Popular with Hollywood producers, the renovated building is back in the limelight.


Filmmakers are again clogging the marble corridors of Los Angeles City Hall, which was off-limits for three years while it underwent a massive refurbishment.

Earlier this year, Ben Affleck shot scenes for his upcoming movie "Daredevil" on the second floor. The actor and film crew were cordial enough. But the looky-loos drove coffee clerk Jennifer Barnych nuts.

"Yeah, I was here," she said, rolling her eyes from behind the counter at Giuliano's Delicatessen & Bakery, where Affleck set up his chair for part of the day. "I wish I wasn't. Word seemed to get out among the entire female population of the building, and they all came down here to see him."

Such commotion--which crowds hallways, can disrupt city business and annoys or thrills employees--is a common sight at City Hall, a popular filming location for Hollywood producers.

In addition to its proximity to the studios and the stars, the recently rehabilitated landmark can take on many looks, from a solemn courtroom to the halls of Congress to the Vatican.

"It's extremely popular," said Morrie Goldman, vice president of Entertainment Industry Development Corp., a Hollywood-based organization that coordinates filming throughout Southern California. "The rotunda and the council chambers and the Public Works boardroom--they have tremendous versatility. It's a great building."

The site--full of Italian marble, gleaming bronze, Malibu tiles and ornately painted ceilings--has been a convenient and popular filming locale since it opened in 1928.

The 452-foot tower was the headquarters of the Daily Planet in the 1950s "Superman" television show. Among City Hall's other credits are the movies "War of the Worlds" and "L.A. Confidential," and the TV shows "Kojak," "Cagney & Lacey" and "Spin City."

Before it closed in 1998 for a massive, $299-million restoration and earthquake retrofitting, filming occurred more than once a week on average.

Since the rehabilitation was finished last year, part of the "West Wing" season premiere was shot there, as were scenes for "Anger Management" with Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler and "Time Cop 2" with Jean-Claude Van Damme.

City employees' reactions run from starry-eyed to annoyed.

Cuba Gholston, a senior clerk typist with the Board of Public Works, falls into both categories.

"It's disruptive," she said. "Some people are obnoxious. They kind of take over. They think they can do whatever they want."

She said that a trip down the hall to the ladies' room can become an expedition and that the crews often wander into areas where they are not allowed.

After a day's filming in the ornate Public Works boardroom, which has church-like pews, the board's property is often moved around, and sometimes missing.

But Gholston softens when she talks about encounters with some celebrities, such as getting her picture taken with James Earl Jones.

Geraldine Rodriguez, an executive secretary in the building, agreed that filming can be disruptive. But she says it's understandable--and can be exciting.

Rodriguez was one of three Public Works employees chosen to be extras in a Cinemax made-for-TV movie in 1988. They played nuns in a movie about "Saturday Night Live" character Father Guido Sarducci. After an audition, makeup and wardrobe--"They made us wear glasses to look more nun-like"--the three spent more than four hours on the set.

Even though they may shoot a scene that lasts mere minutes during a movie--or one that winds up on the cutting room floor--filmmakers pay the city $300 a day to shoot at City Hall.

They must also pay for any damage they cause, which is routine, said Kevin Jew, chief operating officer for Project Restore, the nonprofit group responsible for the restoration.

Heavy equipment often scratches marble floors, or worse. After one shoot, there was a hole in a marble baseboard near a third-story stairwell. Making matters worse, the chunk that had been knocked out could not be found.

Luckily, some leftover marble from another floor looked somewhat similar and was carved to fill the slot, Jew said.

That stairwell leads to the ornate rotunda, which was one of three City Hall locations that appeared in John Travolta's "A Civil Action," and was turned into the Vatican in "The Thorn Birds."

Hilda Delgado, who works in Mayor James K. Hahn's press office on the third floor, said watching this transformation is the best part. "It gives you perspective on the magic of Hollywood," she said.

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