by Scott T.S. Trimble

I provide information on filming locations as a historical archive of what happened where and when. Even though the crew often changes the look of a place prior to shooting, the overall result is still a permanent record of that place at that point in time. While photographs remain static and old news footage is not easily accessible, it is usually quite easy to obtain old motion pictures for viewing these places.

All one has to do is go to the video store to rent, for example, Charlie Chaplin's A Jitney Elopement to see moving footage of San Francisco's Murphy Windmill before it fell into total disrepair in Golden Gate Park. Or, watch Buster Keaton's classic The Navigator to see Divisadero & Broadway almost eighty years ago — some buildings are the same and some are long gone.

Movies bring back to life locations that we can no longer visit. In 1915, the great Panama-Pacific International Exposition was held on what is now the Marina District, San Francisco. All of my ancestors alive that year were living in the San Francisco Bay Area and would certainly have visited. The only way I can see what they experienced was through Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand's documentary Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco. Going back just one generation, Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai is the only way I can see what Playland-at-the-Beach was like for my mother who used to visit there frequently as a child.

Even our current filming locations will change and our modern movies will become historical record. This happened with High Crimes, the Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman movie which was the very last to film at the incarnation of Union Square that lasted through the turn of the 21st century. Just after filming ended in December 2000, the place was gutted and completely redesigned, later re-opening in July 2002. Our great-grandchildren will be able to watch this film to see how the place once appeared.

Beyond historical record, knowledge of filming locations is also unique from a filmmaking perspective. It's really an exciting experience to walk past a place and know that this is where a particular scene was filmed. It is an opportunity to imagine everything that went on at the place on that long-ago day. Why did they choose this location? What logistics might have needed their concern? What else was in the neighborhood that might have grabbed their attention between shots? What kind of sights and views were they looking at that the camera didn't pan over far enough to see?

There's more to movies than just what one sees on the screen. Regardless of whether the filming of the scenes excites or angers local residents, the presence of the crew always leaves a mark. Sometimes it is physical, like the cracked steps at Alta Plaza Park for What's Up Doc or the restored schoolhouse used in The Birds, but there is always an economic impact too — like the steak feast for the homeless at St. Anthony's from Sweet November money, or the many jobs and sales brought about by big productions like Metro or The Matrix Reloaded. Filming is great publicity for the tourism industry, thus further bringing in money to our local economy. Finding filming locations helps keep alive knowledge of where these films had an impact.


Okay, so we've established that finding film locations is fun. What you must remember, though, is that if you choose to visit any of the locations, do not disturb the occupants. This is very, very important! Do not approach anyone, do not knock on the door, do not peer in the windows. If you choose to take a photograph, do it discreetly, from far away, and when nobody but the location is in the shot. Do not loiter! Drive by once, maybe circle the block for a second pass, but move on after that. Also, do not ever trespass on private property! Imagine that it was your home that has become a cinematic icon and treat the occupants with the respect that you would want.

The only exception to this rule is if the location is a business. For example, if you're visiting the grocery store that Freddie Prinze Jr. used in Down to You, then buy something. If you're visiting the restaurant that Eddie Murphy ate at in Doctor Dolittle, then stay for dinner. If you're visiting the national park where Captain Kirk went rockclimbing in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, then visit the ranger station and buy some souvenirs. You can even let the manager, waiter, or other employee know you're there because you saw the place in such-and-such movie — they'll love to know about the advertising they're still getting!

Information on this website is only to be used for the purposes of research, personal education, and entertainment. The info provided is only accurate to the best of my own knowledge or that of the various contributors and sources that I have consulted. I fix errors as they become known to me, but there might always exist various mistakes due to lack of particular research or typographical errors.

I disclaim any and all warranties, expressed or implied, as to the accuracy of content or information or services on the Film in America collection of websites. In no event will the website collection, its owner, or affiliates be liable for any damages or losses caused by the information provided or not provided on this website. Also, I accept no responsibility for the external links from this website. These links, as well as details on particular locations, do not necessarily constitute a personal endorsement, but are provided as is for your own information.

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