The Lifeguard Tower.
Q. What is it supposed to be on the show?
A. A lifeguard
Q. Where is it supposed to be on the show?
A. On the sands
of Newport Beach.
Q. When did we see it on the show?
A. The lifeguard tower is seen many times during the series, especially in seasons two and three.
It's a place where Marissa retreated to be by herself, and where she sometimes met with Ryan after dark.
In Season 1,
Episode 9, "The Heights", a lifeguard tower is seen at sunset.
In Season 2,
Episode 1, "The Distance", we see Marissa brooding at a lifeguard
tower after dark (she calls Ryan).
Lifeguard towers are also seen in (Season 2) Episode 4, "The New Era", Episode 7, "The Family Ties", Episode 12, "The Lonely Hearts Club" (after Max Dies on Pier), and in Episode 21, "The Return of the Nana" (where Marissa is attacked by Trey).
Q. What is it actually in real life?
A. A lifeguard
tower. (Actually, more than one.)
Where can I find it in real life?
A. There's no single answer. They used different lifeguard towers for different episodes. But none of them were in Orange County. They were all on west-facing, Los Angeles county beaches. (And one was a studio set.)
The lifeguard tower seen in Season 1, Episode 9, "The Heights", for instance, was shot on Hermosa Beach, right next to the Hermosa Beach pier. You can see that sunset shot above to the left (above). To its right, you can see a photo I shot in Hermosa of the same tower (during daylight hours). Map link.
The lifeguard tower seen in Episode 21, "The Return of the Nana" (where Marissa is almost raped by Trey), appears to have been shot at the far south end of Redondo Beach (near where it is renamed Torrance Beach).
And the tower you see to the right, in Episode 12, "The Lonely Hearts Club" (in the scene after Max dies), was shot on either Redondo Beach or Hermosa Beach (you can tell by the Palos Verdes cliffs in the background).
But the most frequently seen lifeguard tower is recognizable by the letter & number "S 49" on its back. (See the upper right photo on this page.) S 49 is seen in a sad scene near the end Episode 1 (of season three), "The Aftermath", where Marissa consoles Ryan (at night) after his brother, Trey, has been forced to leave town.
The producers re-created a fake version of this lifeguard tower (a set) inside the sound stage at Manhattan Beach Studios, where the show is filmed. (Just like they did with the Cohen house and the infinity pool.) But they based that model on an actual lifeguard tower they had previously filmed.
So where is that "S 49" tower?
In a remote, semi-industrial area of Dockweiler Beach, hidden away behind Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), west of approximately 9500 Vista Del Mar, in Playa Del Rey. That's north the city of El Segundo, and less than a mile north of Imperial Highway (and near the west end of the airport's World Way).
The S 49 lifeguard tower is located at the land end of a small, rocky jetty that sticks out from the beach into the water (you can see that in the top photo on this page). They probably initially chose that isolated tower because of its remote location - it made it easier to shoot there without drawing crowds. But given its location, it makes for a lousy tourist stop... Which is probably why they later created the fake version at the studio.
GPS coordinates are: 33.940724, -118.442064.
And here is a really good photo of that tower from the California Coastline site. (You can even read the "S 49" on the tower).
( I believe
that the College Sweatshirt Bonfire/beach party scene in Episode
20 (of Season 3) "The Day After Tomorrow", was probably shot
on the same Dockweiler Beach, but it's a night scene and is so dark that
it's impossible to know for sure. )
UPDATE: In Sept. 2014, a fan of The OC, Holger Dunse, visiting California from Germany,
shot these two photos of the lifeguard tower at Dockweiler beach: (They seem to have
repainted the number, and it now reads simply 49, rather than S 49.)
( Thanks, Holger! )
Q. How the heck did you figure out where it was?
A. Try as I might, I couldn't seem to find that original S 49 tower. But finally, I found it, thanks to an aerial photo I found at the California Coast website. (You can see the photo at http://www.californiacoastline.org.)
Oh yes, I originally found the California Coast website because a fan named Alex sent me a link to a large photo of Holly's beach house, which he had found on that site. Once I saw the site, I decided to do a search of the site for the term "lifeguard tower" and there it was, "S 49" and all.
Why did I have
such a hard time tracking it down? Because it's located at a
very unlikely location. I had checked out all the usual O.C.
beaches: Redondo, Hermosa, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu...
but it wasn't there. The last place I expected it to be was behind LAX
- but there it is.
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