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Sunday June 16th 2024

Los Angeles for Film Fans: Los Feliz & Silverlake 1

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Batcave, Griffith Park, Los Angeles
The 'Batcave' – it's a Bat-tunnel! – Griffith Park | Photograph: Erik Hollander

Forget Area 51. Griffith Park is unquestionably the centre of extra-terrestrial activity on earth. When aliens arrive, this is where they touch down.

The most terrifying creatures known to mankind have trod these grounds: Ro-Man – the body of a gorilla, the head of a deep-sea diver, the budget of a school play (Robot Monster); Gargons – hideous clawed monsters disturbingly indistinguishable from lobsters (Teenagers From Outer Space); and the giant octopus ‘borrowed’ from the Paramount lot by Edward D Wood, but sadly lacking its animating motor (Bride of the Monster). You’ll also find the Batcave (from the Sixties TV Batman series) here, and it’s where the penal colony for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was built.

“Just film it in Griffith Park!” has been the cry of penny-pinching producers determined to dissuade directors from swanning off to costly locations. Even John Ford ended up here for the climax of The Searchers.

As the romance between Mia (Emma Stone) and Seb (Ryan Gosling) blossoms in Damien Chazelle's La La Land, they dawdle through the shady green and shady Griffith Park Fern Dell, Western Canyon Road, of Los Feliz Boulevard in the Park. Further north, the stretch of road overlooking the city where the couple tapdance to A Lovely Night is a bend called Cathy’s Corner on Mt Hollywood Drive, just north of Vista Del Valle Drive. Try not to be disappointed – the bench, along with the Mulholland Drive-style street lamps, was added just for the film.

The park gives its name to the Griffith Observatory, 2800 East Observatory Road, heavily featured in Rebel Without a Cause, and so obviously grateful for the fame that its grounds now boast a bust of star James Dean.

Opened in 1935, the Observatory building itself is a deco icon, and entry is free, though there’s a (pretty minimal) charge to visit the 285-seat Samuel Oschin Planetarium Theater.

Grifith Observatory, Griffith Park, Los Angeles
Griffith Observatory

The Observatory offers not only fantastic displays of the heavens, but its terraces give a pretty terrific view over the city – as you can see in The Terminator, when nude Arnie gets his set of clothes from the gang of punks (what a different film it would have been if the cyborg had stumbled across a bunch of nuns).

Despite what you might have gathered from La La Land, it’s not left open all night for romantic trysts. Yet.

Its jazzy exterior was passed of as a disco in Julien Temple’s 1988 sci-fi comedy Earth Girls Are Easy (which launched the big-screen career of Jim Carrey); in 2007, Autobots clambered over it in Michael Bay’s Transformers; and with a bit of CGI, it was transformed into the exterior of The House on Haunted Hill in the kitschily enjoyable 1999 remake of William Castle’s classic schlocker, though it’s not far down to Glendower Avenue to see the original House.

Ennis House, Glendower Street, Los Angeles
The House on Haunted Hill – Ennis House, Glendower Street

The Ennis House, 2607 Glendower Avenue, on the slopes below the Observatory overlooking Los Feliz, was the original House on Haunted Hill in 1958. Frank Lloyd Wright’s innovative 1924 design (taking inspiration from Mayan temples), using pre-cast concrete blocks, made the house a screen natural. Oddly, the studio-built interiors remained staunchly and traditionally Gothic.

The house has since been seen as the home of movie producers in both John Schlesinger’s Day of the Locust and Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon, as well as a villain’s hideout in Karate Kid III, Rush Hour and Ridley Scott’s Black Rain, but – most famously – as the home of Deckard (Harrison Ford) in a much more famous Scott film – Blade Runner.

For Blade Runner, extra storeys were added to the exterior of the house using FX. Casts were made from the geometric design of the building's trademark concrete blocks to recreate the apartment interior in the studio.

Until recently, the house was owned by the Ennis House Foundation, which offered occasional tours, but the mounting cost of repairs after earthquake and rainstorm damage meant that it was put on the market. In 2011, billionaire Ron Burkle, founder of the Burkle Foundation and a trustee of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, bought the house so hopefully its future is assured. A condition of the transaction guarantees that Burkle will provide some form of public access to the house a minimum of 12 days per year.

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