Over the years, I have had the pleasure of getting to know you. I particularly enjoy the views of the shadows of the clouds over the San Gabriel Valley Mountains; the art deco details on some of the buildings in Old Pasadena; and the brightly colored red-headed woodpeckers at the Rose Bowl.
By Susana Porras
I realize, however, that I am not the only one who has eyes for you – Hollywood has had an interest in you that has spanned many decades. There have been countless occasions where I sat down to enjoy a film, only to discover the distant locations portrayed were none other than my dearest Pasadena. The Napa Valley Town Square in the romantic drama A Walk in the Clouds is Pasadena City Hall. Harvard University in the romantic comedy Legally Blonde is All Saints Episcopal Church, and the Washington, D.C. pizza joint of the television series comedy 1600 Penn is a former longtime Pasadena restaurant.
What is it about you, Pasadena, that Hollywood finds so desirable? Is it your bountiful rose gardens, your reliable sunshine, or your vintage charm? Nah! That is too cliché. In my opinion, it has to be your eclectic style and your multifaceted personality. Where else do you find a gingerbread Victorian, a Craftsman, and a Mediterranean bungalow court all on the same block? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were you.
It is not rare to see the Pasadena landscape dotted with Star Waggons, only to find out months later at the movie theatre that during one of your afternoon walks, you were only yards away from Leonardo DiCaprio. Television and film stars are no strangers to Pasadena; some have been born here while others settled here of their own volition. You may recognize some famous names like actress Sally Field, film director John Singleton, and television chef Julia Child, just to name a few.
Some of your sites are iconic on or off the silver screen, such as the Colorado Street Bridge in La La Land, Smith Alley, a notable passageway in The Sting, Pasadena’s City Hall as the Beverly Hills Cop II police station, or the familiar tree-lined neighborhood of the 1991 film Father of the Bride. You can be anything you want to be.
You managed to take and preserve the best of every decade. Nowhere is it more apparent than in your attention to detail. The original slate rooftop shingles on the First United Methodist Church, which, by the way you can catch a glimpse of in the 2007 film Transformers. The Tiffany stained-glass windows at All Saints Episcopal Church, featured in the 2008 Angelina Jolie mystery crime drama Changeling. And moreover, the triple front door made of Japanese black pine in plated, leaded art glass at the Gamble House, which Doc Brown closes behind him in the 1985 original film, Back to the Future.
Of greater note is your uncanny ability to make our imaginations soar when admiring your exotic architecture. Hollywood agrees, of course. Modeled after some of Europe’s most iconic buildings, including London’s St. Peter’s Basilica, Paris’s Hôtel National des Invalides, and Venice’s Santa Maria della Salute, is the city’s most exemplary building, Pasadena City Hall. The appropriate question to ask is what hasn’t been filmed here? Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars have graced its courtyard and hallways, including Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Aniston, and Kevin Costner. Where was I?!
Equally exotic is Pasadena’s celebrated Castle Green, designed with Moorish, Spanish, and Victorian elements. This well-preserved architectural gem has been the on-site location for films just as mysterious as she is, including The Last Samurai, Bugsy, and The Prestige.
Alas, it is not just about your bold and magnificent architecture but also about your unassuming nooks and crannies. Those ordinary areas around the city that no one would think to give a second look, like the modest storefront on Green Street, where scenes from the 2007 film License to Wed starred Robin Williams, and Kendall Alley where Bruce Willis filmed a scene of the fourth installment of the Die Hard series.
In conclusion, my dearest Pasadena, as much as I would like to keep of all your beauty, mystique, and riches to myself, I know I cannot. Hollywood has made sure to divulge all your intimate details to the world and as such, I have resolved to do the same.
> For a sampling of Pasadena’s famous film locations, visit one the City’s library branches, or the Pasadena Visitor’s Center and ask for a copy of ‘The Pasadena Hollywood Backlot Walking Tour,’ which features 30 movies filmed in and around Pasadena City Hall. For a free downloadable copy, click here.Pasadena Hollywood Brochure
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