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Wednesday September 26th 2018

Se7en | 1995

Seven filming location: I Street, Lancaster, California
Se7en filming location: "What's in the box?": powerlines on I Street, Lancaster, California

"This isn't going to have a happy ending." says Detective Lt. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), as the body count mounts in David Fincher's grimly atmospheric thriller.

But it nearly did have. There was a struggle with the studio to keep screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker’s dark vision. It took Brad Pitt’s threat to walk away from the project to keep the nasty secret of the box.

The dismal, rainswept city where detectives Somerset and Mills (Brad Pitt) work to track down a serial killer, left deliberately vague in the movie, is neither New York nor Philadelphia, as has been claimed.

It’s downtown Los Angeles, with the relentless California sunshine carefully screened out and with rain machines in overdrive.

Seven filming location: South San Pedro Street, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: the 'crime of passion' murder: South San Pedro Street, Downtown Los Angeles | Photograph: Google Streetview

It’s Sunday and the opening murder scene (that’s scriptwriter Walker making a cameo as the victim), at which Somerset and Mills first meet, is 746 South San Pedro Street at Agatha Street, in the area of small businesses southeast of Downtown toward the old Fashion District.

As the two walk past the neighbouring shopfronts you can see that, despite a general renovation of the buildings, the distinctive iron grillwork on the doors hasn’t changed at all.

Monday, it’s still raining and Somerset is getting a little tetchy with Mills’ constant interruptions as he investigates the suspicious death of an obese man discovered lying face-down in a bowl of spaghetti sauce.

Seven filming location: Beacon Avenue, Westlake, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: the first victim – 'Gluttony': Beacon Avenue, Westlake, Downtown Los Angeles

This roach-infested house is 720 Beacon Avenue south of 7th Street in the Westlake district east of MacArthur Park. This isn’t Beverly Hills but it’s not at all as dreadful as it’s made to look in the film.

Seven filming location: Pacific Electric Building, South Main Street, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: the police station interior: Pacific Electric Building, South Main Street, Downtown Los Angeles

As with L.A. Confidential, Se7en’s police HQ is knitted together from three separate locations, one of which is common to both films. As with Curtis Hanson’s 1997 neo-noir, the interiors are the third floor of the Pacific Electric Building, 610 South Main Street at Sixth Street, a frequent filming site, also seen in John Woo’s Face/Off and in Allison Anders’ 1996 Grace Of My Heart.

The ‘Fourteenth Precinct’ exterior is 673 Mateo Street, north of 7th Street down in the industrial area southeast of Downtown. Originally the HQ of the National Biscuit Company, it was developed in 2006 as the Biscuit Company Lofts (though the chosen address is now 1850 Industrial Street. Nicolas Cage owned an apartment here and it obviously impressed Kevin Spacey who is reported to have bought an apartment in the complex in 2008.

The spacious police station lobby in which John Doe wrong confusing everyone by surrendering, is neither of these buildings. This is the lobby of the old Rosslyn Hotel, 112 West 5th Street. Seriously rundown for many years, when it was the setting for Wim Wenders’ quirkily whimsical Million Dollar Hotel, with Mel Gibson, back in 2000. I hardly need to add that the old place has been gussied up to become the upscale Rosslyn Lofts apartments.

Seven filming location: South Figueroa Street, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: the second victim – 'Greed': South Figueroa Street, Downtown Los Angeles | Photograph: Google Streetview

Tuesday, and it’s still raining as Mills attends the murder scene of a wealthy lawyer in his luxurious office, the high-rise at 801 South Figueroa Street on the junction with West 8th Street in Downtown’s smart New Business District.

A grisly message written in the victim’s blood links this to the previous murder and Somerset perceives a dreadful pattern emerging.

Seven filming location: South Spring Street, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: Somerset researches in the library: South Spring Street, Downtown Los Angeles

The gloomy library in which ever-diligent Detective bones up on the Seven Deadly Sins is the old disused Bank of America building at 650 South Spring Street. It’s a much-used location not surprisingly seen as a bank in such films as Jim Carrey comedy The MaskAdam Sandler romcom The Wedding SingerWhoopi Goldberg romance Ghost and John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man – it’s the ’New York’ vault where the Nazi Szell (Laurence Olivier) accesses the huge stash of diamonds.

Seven filming location: South Spring Street, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: Somerset researches in the library: South Spring Street, Downtown Los Angeles

It shows up in films as diverse as All Of Me, L.A. StoryPrizzi’s HonorSt Elmo’s Fire and Spider-Man 2. More recently, you may have seen it as the exterior of ‘Belle en Blanc’, the impossibly posh bridal store from Bridesmaids or as the archive which gets blown up in Star Trek Into Darkness.

Seven filming location: South Grand Avenue, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: Mills gets Cliff's Notes delivered: South Grand Avenue, Downtown Los Angeles

Mills, not keen to plough through the complete works of Dante and Chaucer, gets a set of Cliff’s Notes delivered to him as his sits in his car outside the entrance to the underground car park on South Grand Avenue at the rear of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. This same spot was used as the exterior of the’Brown Derby’ restaurant were Gittes and Mrs Mulwray part company after a meal in another dark LA thriller, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.

One of the few locations outside Downtown, is the ‘safe house’ in which the widow of the murdered lawyer is interviewed by Somerset and Mills. This was one of the bungalows of the old Ambassador Hotel which stood at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard at Catalina Street, Midtown. The historic landmark, seen in films from the 1954 A Star Is Born to The GraduateThe Wedding Singer (again) and S.W.A.T., used in latter years only as a movie set, was disgracefully demolished in early 2006.

Fingerprints discovered in the law office turn out to belong to one of the lawyer’s shady clients. Raiding his apartment, the cops are disappointed to find, not the killer, but yet another victim – though still barely alive.

Seven filming location: Pan American Lofts, South Broadway, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: home of the 'Sloth' victim: Pan American Lofts, South Broadway, Downtown Los Angeles

The home of the comatose ‘Sloth’ victim is in what was the Pan-Am Building, now – do I really need to say this? – the Pan American Lofts, 253 South Broadway at Third Street, seen also in Ridley Scott's  Blade Runner and just across from that movie’s most famous location, the Bradbury Building – the exterior of which you can see as the ambulance crew arrives with a stretcher.

More recently, the Pan-Am became the apartment of John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) in Francis Lawrence's 2005 supernatural thriller Constantine. Sadly, since its spruce-up, the canopy and the striking red and yellow ‘Giant Penny Stores’ lettering has now gone.

Feeling isolated in this hellish city, Mills’ wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), turns to the sympathetic Detective Somerset as a confidant and reveals she’s pregnant. They meet up in what was the Quality Coffee Shop, 1238 West Seventh Street, Westlake again, downtown, a place you might also have seen in Training Day, the 2000 remake of Gone In 60 SecondsGhost World and Mr & Mrs Smith. Closed and shuttered for years, the cafe was used only for filming but it's now been incorporated into The Teragram Ballroom a recent expansion of what was the old 1913 Playhouse movie theatre next door.

Somerset arranges a clandestine meeting with an ex-FBI agent to trace, none-to-legally, library computer records for anyone checking out books on the Seven Deadly Sins. The cafe in which they meet up is another non-Downtown location. It was New York Pizza, long since gone. The premises at 6302 Hollywood Boulevard on the southwest corner of the famous Hollywood and Vine junction has now been incorporated into Katsuya Japanese restaurant, which also swallowed up another movie location – Erny’s Best Deli around the corner on Vine Street, which was featured in Sam Raimi’s underrated Darkman, with Liam Neeson.

Seven filming location: Salon Pure, East 6th Street, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: Somerset and Mills wait for their contact in the barber shop: Salon Pure, East 6th Street, Downtown Los Angeles

The barbershop in which Somerset and Mills wait for their contact to drop off the records is, surprisingly, still in business, though as a beauty parlour. It’s Salon Pure, 117 East 6th Street at South Main Street. This is a popular locale for filming, directly across 6th Street from the Pacific Electric Building and next door to the sandwich shop, used as the site of the ’Nite Owl Massacre’ in L.A. Confidential and a only few doors from another important Se7en location.

The library records yield up a promising address and when the two detectives find themselves shot at when they turn up to interview the occupant, it seems like they’ve found their guy.

Seven filming location: Alexandria Hotel, West Fifth Street, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: John Doe's gloomy apartment block: Alexandria Hotel, West Fifth Street, Downtown Los Angeles

John Doe’s apartment block is the Alexandria Hotel, 218 West Fifth Street at the southwest corner of South Spring Street. Once one of the great luxury hotels of Los Angeles, with the likes of Enrico CarusoSarah BernhardtDouglas FairbanksWC Fields and Rudolph Valentino among its guests, it suffered as this stretch of Downtown became unfashionable and became a welfare hotel. Like so many other places, it’s recently been given a major makeover and is now used for mixed residential housing.

That's the hotel's Mezzanine Ballroom, with its wildly elaborate molded ceiling, through which Somerset and Mills run.

Doe escapes from an upper window of the hotel to be chased across 5th Street by Mills, seemingly into Frank Court, the narrow alleyway opposite.

In fact, the alleyway in which Mills is cornered at gunpoint by the killer only to be mysteriously spared, is the one which runs east from South Broadway back towards the rear of the Alexandria.

Seven filming location: Chester Williams Building, West Fifth Street, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: Somerset chases John Doe: Chester Williams Building, West Fifth Street, Downtown Los Angeles

Somerset, somewhat mysteriously, emerges from the Chester Williams Building, 215 Fifth Street, which stands opposite the Alexandria.

Another popular spot for filming. The Chester Williams Building was the apartment block of Karen (N’Bushe Wright) in the original 1998 Blade, became a ’New York’ subway station entrance for Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth (the titular booth was erected alongside) and its from a ledge of the building above Frank Court that Mal (Marion Cotillard) encourages Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) to take a leap of faith with her in Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Seven filming location: East Sixth Street, Downtown Los Angeles
Se7en filming location: 'Wild Bill's Leather': East Sixth Street, Downtown Los Angeles

A clue in John Doe’s creepily cluttered apartment leads them to ‘Wild Bill’s Leather – Accessories and Specialities’, where the horrendous contraption used for the ‘Lust’ murder has been made to order.

The store (which as of April 2018, seems to be empty) is 123 East 6th Street, just a few doors away from Salon Pure and the ’Nite Owl Cafe’ site.

It’s now that John Doe wrong foots the cops by handing himself in to the authorities before his ‘work’ is complete and agreeing to plead guilty to his crimes if Somerset and Mills – alone – accompany him to discover the remaining two victims.

Seven filming location: I Street, Lancaster, California
Se7en filming location: the secret of the box: powerlines on I Street, Lancaster, California

The excruciatingly tense ride takes the three out into the desert way north of Los Angeles. The area of high-tension lines can be found on West Avenue I, just east of 110th Street, west of Lancaster. This is near-featureless desert – the ‘street’ numbers are purely imaginary, the land having been mapped out in a grid ready for the day developers overwhelm the desert with high-rise blocks – and presumably, more luxury lofts.