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Monday April 22nd 2024

National Treasure | 2004

National Treasure filming location: Buena Vista Avenue, South Pasadena
National Treasure filming location: Ben Gates' dad's 'Philadelphia’ home: Buena Vista Avenue, South Pasadena

While high-minded symbologist Robert Langdon went in search of the Holy Grail, down-to-earth historian Ben Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) solves a series of cryptic clues to find the earthly treasure of the Knights Templar, keeping one step ahead of his one-time backer turned ruthless competitor Ian Howe (Sean Bean).

For the backstory, told by to Ben by his grandfather (Christopher Plummer), the ‘White House’, of 1832 is the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Constitution Hall, 1776 D Street NW. Coincidentally, the Hall provided the interior of the present-day ‘White House’ in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.

A mysterious clue leads the grown up Ben Gates to the ‘Arctic’, where ‘Charlotte’ turns out to be a ship buried in ice. The snowy wastes were filmed at Chicken Creek West on the northern shore of the frozen Strawberry Reservoir, off I-40 southeast of Heber City in Utah where, for once, the weather co-operated and obligingly cloaked the set in a blanket of snow.

To get a suitably frosty appearance for the bowels of the ship, the interior was built inside the huge freezer of the Union Ice Company in Van Nuys, Los Angeles.

Discovering that the next clue may is probably written on the reverse of the Declaration of Independence, Ben has something of a disagreement with his associate when he realises the determined Howe has set his sights on the grabbing the precious document.

Ben hares off to Washington DC to warn the authorities that the priceless antiquity may be under threat.

National Treasure filming location: J Edgar Hoover FBI Building, 10th Street, Washington DC
National Treasure location: the FBI are not impressed with Ben Gates' story: the J Edgar Hoover FBI Building, 10th Street, Washington DC

Along with his pal Riley (Justin Bartha), he gets short shrift from the FBI at the J Edgar Hoover FBI Building, 10th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, downtown Washington DC, one of several locations the film shares with 1970s classic, All The President’s Men.

National Treasure filming location: National Archives Rotunda, Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC
National Treasure filming location: Ben and Riley check out the Declaration of Independence: National Archives Rotunda, Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC

Ben gets barely a better reception from Dr Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) at the National Archives, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. There’s free entry to the National Archives Museum, Constitution Avenue NW between 7th and 9th Streets, where, in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, you can indeed cast your eyes on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights.

Ben and Riley discuss their strategy on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in front of the Reflecting Pool, where it seems the only option is to take the Declaration into their own protective custody. The fact that the pool had been drained for routine maintenance on the day of filming is no longer a problem for Hollywood – the rippling water was added digitally.

National Treasure filming location: Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, First Street SE, Washington DC
National Treasure location: Ben and Riley research the Archives building: Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, First Street SE, Washington DC

Another location from All The President’s Men turns up in the form of the magnificent circular reading room where the pair research blueprints of the National Archives building. It’s the domed, marble Main Reading Room in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, First Street SE between East Capitol Street and Independence Avenue (metro: Capitol South, Union Station), which is where Bernstein and Woodward conducted their research, too, in the Alan J Pakula film.

Riley sneaks down into the bowels of the Archives-Navy Memorial Station in US Navy Memorial Plaza to access the Archives’ security conduit.

One more President’s Men reference: as Ian Howe prepares his own plan to steal the document, the establishing shot cheekily implies he’s planning his robbery in the Watergate Complex.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t feasible to film an elaborate heist sequence in the real archives, so a meticulous recreation was built in the studio in Hollywood.

Finding Ben has beaten him to the prize and believing Abigail is in possession of the precious artifact, the thwarted Howe abducts her from in front of the Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Ben and Riley give chase to the rival crew’s truck as it thunders down that staple of road chases, South Hill Street around 6th and 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles (there are a few convenient LA locations scattered throughout the film).

Rescuing Abigail, the three stop briefly in front of the Jefferson Memorial to consider their options now that Ben’s apartment, ready and set up to examine the delicate document, is now obviously compromised.

National Treasure film location: Starkman Building, Mateo Street, Downtown Los Angeles
National Treasure film location: Ben Gates's apartment: National Treasure, Mateo Street, Downtown Los Angeles | Photograph: Google Maps

Yes, it’s LA again as the FBI under Agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) do indeed raid Ben’s place. It’s the Nate Starkman Building, 544 Mateo Street, at Palmetto Street, in the industrial area east of downtown Los Angeles. It's a frequently used location, also seen in Justin Lin's 2009 Fast And Furious (Fast And Furious 4). Well done if you noticed as the 'Stygian Street' building in the black-and-white photo discovered by Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) in James Wan's Saw.

Ben reluctantly accepts that he has no choice but to head for the home of his disapproving father, Patrick Gates (Jon Voight), who’s long since given up wasting time on the pointless treasure hunt.

The caption reads ‘Philadelphia, Pa’, but the smart white mansion might as well have Pasadena written all over it. In fact it’s 1030 Buena Vista Street at Fairview Avenue in South Pasadena, where conservationists will shudder as Dr Chase daubs lemon juice on the back of the fragile treasure to reveal – yet more clues.

These apparently refer to a series of letters once owned by Gates Sr, written by ‘Silence Dogood’, an alias of Benjamin Franklin, which Ben's dad is reluctantly forced to admit that – dammit – he’s only gone and donated the letters to Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute.

Is there another caper on the cards? Ben and co drive into the real city of Philadelphia, fittingly, across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River. To avoid attracting attention, Riley slips a few dollars to a young boy to copy out important characters from the letters for him.

National Treasure filming location: Franklin Institute, North 20th Street, Philadelphia
National Treasure filming location: finding the Silence Dogood letters: Franklin Institute, North 20th Street, Philadelphia | Photograph: wikimedia / Joseph Fernandes

Although the Franklin Institute, 222 North 20th Street, is a science museum, it does also house a Frankliniana Collection. Surprisingly, the missives of ‘Mrs Silence Dogood’ were real – written by the teenage Franklin to the New England Courant paper, which was published by his brother, James. When the ruse was discovered, the originals were destroyed so, no, you won’t find them on display in the Institute.

National Treasure filming location: Urban Outfitters, West Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena
National Treasure filming location: Ben and Abigail get new threads: Urban Outfitters, West Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena | Photograph: wikimedia / Minnaert

Riley quickly figures out that the next stop is the Liberty Bell, catching up with Ben and Abigail as they kit themselves with new threads at Urban Outfitters, though this is not a Philadelphia branch. It’s Urban Outfitters, 139 West Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena – which should at least be convenient for Mr Gates Sr.

Howe intercepts the final clue from the kid and also heads off to visit the famous Bell at the Liberty Bell Center, 6th Street at Market Street.

Ben, being cleverer, realises that at the time the clues were written, the Liberty Bell was housed in the steeple of Independence Hall (formerly Pennsylvania State House), 520 Chestnut Street, which is where the Centennial Bell now hangs. The Liberty Bell was moved to a nearby glass pavilion in 1976, and then to the Liberty Bell Center in 2003. In fact, the movie was shot a few days before the actual Bell was installed, and a replica is used onscreen.

While Howe is faffing about at the Liberty Bell Center, Ben has discovered Franklin’s ‘ocular device’ in a hollow brick in the Independence Hall wall, with its cryptic message: “Heere at the wall”.

Once Howe wises up, there’s a rooftop chase. But why risk damaging a national monument or building an expensive set when an accurate facsimile already exists? And in California too. The sequence was filmed on the brick-for-brick recreation of Independence Hall built in 1966 at Knott's Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Boulevard, Buena Park, southeast of Los Angeles.

The three split up, with Abigail and Riley ducking into Reading Terminal Market, 51 North 12th Street, while Ben is getting shot at in the ancient churchyard of Old Pine Street Church, 412 Pine Street.

Abigail and Riley head toward Philadelphia City Hall, but when Abigail trips over, Ian finally gets his hands on the Declaration.

Ben doesn’t fare much better, getting arrested by the cops and being monitored by the FBI as Ian Howe sets up a meeting in New York, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, moored in the Hudson River.

USS Intrepid is part of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, Pier 86 West 46th Street at 12th Avenue, a non-profit, educational institution founded in 1982 and featuring alongside the legendary aircraft carrier, the space shuttle Enterprise, the world’s fastest jets and a guided missile submarine.

Ben evades the FBI surveillance with an unexpected dive into the Hudson River, before making his way to the mysterious ‘Heere’, which turns out to be a reference to de Heere Straat – the Gentlemen’s Street – the old Dutch name for Broadway. You can’t say this film is not educational.

And near the junction of Broadway with Wall Street in the Financial District, stands the final destination, Trinity Church, 75 Broadway.

It’s finally back to Los Angeles again for the climax of the film. As you might assume, the vast underground crypt, oddly unnoticed for decades in Manhattan’s packed business district, was naturally built in the studio, but even the church interior is in California.

It’s the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, 540 South Commonwealth Avenue, between 5th and 6th Streets, Downtown near MacArthur Park.

A screen regular, First Congregational supplied the interior of New York’s ‘Riverside Church’, where Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) leaves her husband-to-be in the lurch in Spiderman 2, as well as the church in which Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) finally confronts Bullseye (Colin Farrell) in Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil.