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Thursday November 30th 2023

Los Angeles for Film Fans: Pasadena 1

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Gamble House, Westmoreland Place, Pasadena
Doc Brown's house – the Gamble House, Westmoreland Place, Pasadena

LA’s genteel eastern neighbour is reached by the spectacular arched Colorado Street Bridge over the gorge of Arroyo Seco (‘dry creek’). The bridge, which dates from 1913, appeared onscreen as early as 1921, as Edna Purviance contemplates leaping from it in Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid. In 2008, Jim Carrey really does jump from it – albeit attached to a bungee line – as one of the experiences to which he won’t say ‘no’ in Yes Man.

Once across this fairly spectacular gorge, you’ll find yourself in a comfy mix of florists and coffee shops, set among vast areas of comfortable homes. With more reasonably priced film permits than Los Angeles and fewer palm trees, Pasadena is a regular stand-in for middle-class America, its grander mansions easily passed off as the much more expensive (to film in) Beverly Hills.

Entering Pasadena from LA by the Ventura Freeway, you’ll find the historic Fenyes Mansion, 470 West Walnut Street, on your left. The mansion (itself, inevitably, a film location – it supplied the interior of the ‘Washington DC’ mansion in Being There) houses the Pasadena Museum of History, if you want to gen up on the area’s past.

One of Pasadena’s architectural treasures you won’t want to miss is just north on North Orange Grove Boulevard. The 1908 Arts and Crafts-style Gamble House, 4 Westmoreland Place, quirky enough to be used as the house of Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in Back To The Future. Built for the Gamble family (as in soapsuds empire Proctor and...), this charming, Japanese-influenced wood shingle house is open to the public for guided tours.

The Doc's workshop, where the time-travelling DeLorean is stored, is actually the Gamble House bookshop, alongside the main house.

The front door on which Marty knocks, though, and the interior of the house, is the 1907 Robert R Blacker House, a similar Japanese-inspired design by Charles and Henry Greene, at 1177 Hillcrest Avenue, Oak Knoll. If you've seen the deleted scenes on the DVD of Michael Bay's Armageddon, you'll recognise the Blacker as the house where Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) bids goodbye to his dad before setting off to save the world from a rogue asteroid. Please note that this is a private home.

The area west of South Orange Grove Boulevard, between Bellefontaine Street and Madeline Drive were once the original ornamental Busch Gardens, where parts of Citizen Kane and The Adventures of Robin Hood were filmed. The extensive landscaped gardens are long gone, though traces can be glimpsed in the grounds of some houses in the district.

On Bellefontaine Street itself stands a screen veteran. Mayfield Senior School, 500 Bellefontaine Street, is probably best-known as the mansion of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), where Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) has his arm twisted to travel out to the previously unmentioned ‘Isla Sorna’, in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

Now a Catholic girls' school, Mayfield can be seen also in the 40s-set Devil in a Blue Dress, with Denzel Washington, the Steve Martin noir-pastiche Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and the Eddie Murphy remake of The Nutty Professor.

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