Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Valley

When we first moved to L.A., I wasn’t sure I wanted to live in the San Fernando Valley. Known simply as “the valley” to Angelinos, the moniker is synonymous with middle-class suburbia (remember "Valley Girl" with Nicholas Cage?) and the porn industry. Suffice it to say that the valley has a somewhat déclassé reputation, especially among its neighbors to the south.

I have a feeling that this has always been the case. The valley was scarcely livable before the turn of the 20th century, when a few ruthless businessmen bought up the land, and irrigated it with water from an aqueduct that was unknowingly financed by the residents of Los Angeles. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because the L.A. “water wars” served as a backdrop for the movie “Chinatown.”)

Once the aqueduct was completed (in 1913), the Valley was quickly annexed by the City of Los Angeles – much to the chagrin, one imagines, of city residents. The Valley has been growing ever since, becoming a city in its own right. Beginning in the 1970s, there have been numerous attempts at secession. In the 2002 city elections, supporters argued that Valley residents are paying equal taxes for unequal public services. Opponents to the south blocked the secession... but, despite the technicalities, the Valley and the City of Los Angeles seem to exist independent of each other - two cities, divided by the Santa Monica Mountains.

After a few weeks in L.A., we eventually settled in Studio City on the southern fringe of the valley. Most of our trips in the past few months have taken us south or west, but this weekend we decided to explore the north side of the mountains – following a map of forgotten filming locations.

Suburban Hell (the Brady Bunch house)

The Los Angeles "River"

Forget it, Jake...

We started in Tujunga, on a residential street that hugs the edge of the San Gabriel Mountains in the northwest corner of the valley. This was the location of Elliot’s house in Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial” (1982). The forest scenes were filmed in Northern California (hence the redwoods) and the neighborhood bike chase was shot in Northridge, but Tujunga was E.T.’s home away from home – with the mountains out back and a nice view of the valley in front. The early morning fog was a nice touch.

Next, we headed south to Pasadena, to see The Gamble House, a genuine tourist destination that appears on the National Historic Register. Most people visit this oversized 1908 bungalow for its unique architecture… but not me. I visited it because it was Doc Brown’s 1955 house in “Back to the Future.”

From Pasadena, we headed east to North Hollywood, and visited two locations that only a true movie geek could appreciate. First: the 7-11 at the corner of Magnolia and Tujunga. This is where Lloyd Dobler’s first date with Diane Court ended in Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut, “Say Anything.” As they were walking across the parking lot, Lloyd pointed out some glass for Diane to walk around. Later in the movie she says, “I always think of that whenever people say ‘What are you doing with Lloyd Dobler?’”

I remember that because I watched the movie at least 8 million times when I was in high school. Like I said, it takes a true geek... someone who would make his girlfriend accompany him to a sketchy 7-11 in North Hollywood and snap photos while a homeless guy stares at them.

Next stop: The Fox Fire Room cocktail lounge on Magnolia Boulevard. This is where “quiz kid” Donnie Smith met the love of his life (a male bartender with braces), in Paul Thomas Anderson’s opus “Magnolia.”

I can practically hear the jukebox playing old Supertramp hits, while Donnie whines, “I have lots of love to give… I just don’t know where to put it.”

If you continue east to Reseda and go up a few blocks, you can also visit the electronics shop where Donnie absent-mindedly drove his car through the front window. A block away from that is another P.T. Anderson shooting location – La Iglesia Christiana Nuevo Empezar, which doubled as the Hot Traxx disco in “Boogie Nights.”

In the afternoon, we took the 101 to the far western side of the valley, and found that Canoga Park lives up to the cliché that everything in suburbia looks exactly the same.

This is also where we found Brad and Stacy’s house from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” written by Cameron Crowe. Scenes set at the school were filmed at two locations in the valley: Canoga Park High and Van Nuys High. The front of Van Nuys is recognizable from the beginning of the movie.

Other nearby locations for this film include the Encino Little League Field (“The Point”), the Sherman Oaks Galleria (unrecognizable from the film, now that it has been converted into an outdoor mall), the Santa Monica Promenade (featured as the front of Ridgemont mall), and a coffee shop in Brentwood that doubled as the “All-American Burger” where Brad worked.

We headed back east, through Reseda, and passed by the apartment building where Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi lived in “The Karate Kid.” It looks pretty dingy these days but, as I recall, it looked pretty dingy in 1984 too. (I suppose the point of this drive-by was not to scout a future place to live, but to celebrate the fact that we are living in the same city where some of my favorite films were shot.)

Another fan has compiled an exhaustive list of filming locations from "The Karate Kid," including Allie's house in nearby Encino.

With a proper amount of nostalgic thoughts, we headed back to our street in Studio City…

… which is currently the shooting location of “Bratz: The Movie,” starring Paula Abdul. Instead of turning on the TV, we just look out the window… and get a casual reminder of just how BORING production can be.

That said, I have no doubt that “Bratz” will be an instant classic, and that we’ll soon have movie geeks trolling through our own neighborhood, snapping photos and saying “This is where…”

Then again, maybe not.

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