Seeing Stars: Where the Movies Were Shot (on Location)


Since the 2001 blockbuster "PEARL HARBOR" is about the attack on the U.S. base at Hawaii, you'd assume that most of the scenes were shot in Hawaii, right? Guess again.

Try San Pedro, Long Beach and downtown Los Angeles.

Sure, many of the actual air raid scenes were filmed on the island, but the majority of the movie was actually filmed at locations right here in L.A. The producers chose local buildings that were actually standing in WW2, particularly those with a distinctive Art Deco look - and then used them to create that authentic 40's atmosphere. For instance:

  • When 'Rafe' and 'Evelyn' are out in a small boat at night in "New York Harbor", floating past the huge Queen Mary ocean liner, it's not really in New York. It's Long Beach, California (just south of L.A.), where the real Queen Mary has been permanently docked for years as a tourist attraction. (The public can take tours of the historic ship.) Since the liner was built in 1936 - five years before Pearl Harbor, the ship fits the role. The liner was even painted gray during the war and helped ferry U.S. soldiers across the Atlantic to the battle (they nicknamed the ship "The Gray Ghost" at the time). In the scene 'Evelyn' remarks that she has always wanted to go aboard such a ship and dance in the Grand Salon, so 'Rafe' pulls them up the side of the ship on a rope winch. But they never make it on board.

  • Ironically, the scene immediately before that Queen Mary night scene - where 'Rafe' and 'Evelyn' are dancing to a Big Band in a New York night club, was shot in the grand Queen's Salon aboard the landlocked Queen Mary in Long Beach! (I know, I've had brunch there - you can't miss it.) It's a gorgeous Art Deco room with a stage for the band and murals of unicorns fighting. So since the filmmakers were already there filming the exterior of the ship, they decided to just shoot the club/dance scenes there as well. But for those in the know, it seems somewhat comical that 'Evelyn' is pining about never getting aboard the big ship, when, in fact, they had just left it. ;)

    When 'Rafe' (Ben Affleck) decides to volunteer to join the air war in England, he packs his bags and takes a train from what is supposed to be a New York station, but it is actually L.A.'s Union Station (at 800 N. Alameda Street, in downtown Los Angeles). We see 'Evelyn' (Kate Beckinsale) wandering the marble halls of the grand Art Deco lobby of the train station, looking for 'Rafe', but failing to find him (although he spots her through the train window as the train pulls out of the station). Built in 1939, just two years before Pearl Harbor, Union Station fits the bill perfectly.

    After 'Rafe' is presumed dead, there is a scene where 'Eveyln' and 'Danny' (Josh Hartnett) go to a movie theatre in Hawaii, where they watch a newsreel about Hitler's rise to power in Europe. The characters later meet outside the theatre (under a marquee which reads "Charlie Chaplin in 'The Great Dictator'") and then go for lunch at a nearby 'Black Cat Cafe'. During this time, the stuttering 'Red' (Ewen Bremner) proposes to his girlfriend across the street.

    That bijou is actually the Warner Grand Theatre, down by the Los Angeles harbor in San Pedro, CA (not in Hawaii). The address is 478 W. 6th Street.

    Both sides of 6th Street were "dressed" to pose as Oahu St. The 'Black Cat Cafe" was actually an elaborate set created in an empty storefront just two awnings down (east) from the theatre marquee. (In the above photo, it's hidden behind the parked postal truck and the tree.) *

    The Warner Grand was built back in 1931 (ten years before Pearl Harbor) and is one of the last remaining movie palaces from that era. And yes, the theatre is currently open to the public and showing movies (mostly classics) on a daily basis. They've also had other productions film at the theatre, including "The Ghosts of Mississippi," "Melrose Place" and "7th Heaven." It even stood in as the Apollo Theatre for "What's Love Got To Do With It."

    While in San Pedro, they also filmed scenes up at Angels Gate Park in San Pedro, at 3601 S. Gaffey Street.

    This hilltop park (with a breathtaking view of the ocean below) is best known today as home of the Korean Friendship Bell (shown above left), an impressive shrine-like monument with a distinctive Asian motif. At first, I assumed they shot the scenes here where the Japanese generals planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the movie, the generals stand near a large Asian gate, partially covered with a Japanese flag (which I guessed they might have used to cover the actual bell).

    But it's not. The real location, it turns out, is in the park just a few hundred yards to the north. The park was originally part of the Fort MacArthur Army base, and back in the 20's they had installed 16" cannons to defend the coast. These circular gun emplacements still exist (although the guns are gone). For the movie, one of these gun emplacements was flooded to create the pool in which Yamamoto maneuvered model ships when planning the attack. *

    Here's how you can find that gun emplacement (click here for a local map): from Gaffey Street, instead of turning into the park at the Korean Bell, go about 250 feet north to a second entrance on Leavenworth Drive and turn west into the park, then quickly hang a right turn on the first road you come to inside the park (Leary Mirriam Drive), go north about 500 feet and stop at the flagpole. The gun emplacement will be on your left, about 150 feet to the west.

    And remember the scene where President Franklin Roosevelt (John Voight) is in the White House rose garden, when he hears news about the Doolittle raid? Think that was shot on location in Washington, D.C.? Nope. It was actually filmed at the Exposition Park rose garden next to the Natural History Museum, near the corner of Figueroa Street and Exposition Blvd, south of downtown L.A. But at least its age is right: the garden's 15,793 rose bushes were planted in 1928, 13 years before Pearl Harbor.

    Other scenes of vintage planes taking off, Jimmy Doolittle lectures and general airfield scenery were shot at the Van Nuys Airport in the San Fernando Valley, the same place where they filmed the famous farewell scene for the ending of "Casablanca." It's located at 16461 Sherman Way, just west of the 405 Freeway.
    Some of the many shipboard scenes, presumably filmed at Pearl Harbor, were actually shot aboard the S.S. Lane Victory, an historic ship docked near the Vincent Thomas Bridge, at Berth 94 (just off Harbor Blvd) in the Los Angeles  Harbor at San Pedro.

    The Lane Victory was a merchant marine ship, outfitted with guns, which participated during the closing chapters of WW2. It is now sort of a floating museum (recognized as a National Historic Landmark), one of the last surviving Victory ships - and is open for tours. The Victory also occasionally offers nostalgic cruises to Catalina and back, featuring (appropriately enough), mock attacks from enemy aircraft!

    Some of the hospital scenes from "Pearl Harbor" (with 'Evelyn' and the other nurses)  were shot at Linda Vista Hospital, located at 610 S. St. Louis, in East L.A.

    This hospital has appeared in a number of other movies, including "Inspector Gadget," "End of Days," "13th Floor" and TV shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

    And you know those farm scenes from 'Rafe' and 'Danny's childhood? The scenes with the red barn and the crop dusting planes, which bookend the beginning and end of the movie? That farm was supposed to be in Tennessee. In fact, those scenes were shot at Disney's Golden Oak Ranch, a private movie ranch located at 19802 Placerita Road in Newhall, CA, north of the San Fernando Valley.

    Disney Studios (which made "Pearl Harbor") originally leased the ranch for their old "Spin & Marty" episodes on the 1950's "Mickey Mouse Club." They bought it in 1959 and made movies such as "Old Yeller," "The Parent Trap" and "The Shaggy Dog" there.

    Other "Pearl Harbor" locations included:

    • The historic Blimp Hangers in Tustin (at the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station) were seen in a training scene featuring Alec Baldwin. A 1943 California Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, the huge hangars once housed coast-patrolling blimps. At 17 stories high, 1000 feet long and 298,199 square feet, they are among the largest wooden structures in the world. Here's a map.

    • the L.A. Fire Dept.'s Training Center (formerly the Naval & Marine Corps Reserve Center) near Dodger Stadium at 1700 Stadium Way,

    • the Los Angeles Design Center in downtown L.A. (at 433 S. Spring Street),

    • Westward Beach near Point Dume in Malibu,

    • the Eagle Rock Recreation Center (at 7500 N. Figueroa St.),

    • and the Luna Park Auto Court (at 2101 Parkside Avenue, in the Lincoln Heights district of L.A., northwest of downtown), which I believe was transformed into the "Haleiwi Motor Lodge," where 'Rafe' and 'Danny' meet after the attack.

    * [Thanks to San Pedro location expert Ray Kaufman for his assistance.]

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    * Locations marked by an asterisk (*) may be located in areas with high crime rates.
    Exercise reasonable caution.

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