Dexter Filming Locations: The Skinner's Lair


The location: The Skinner's Lair.

Q. What is it supposed to be on the show?

    A. A small concrete block building.

Q. Where is it supposed to be on the show?

    A. "On 164th, under the highway", in Miami.

Q. When did we see it on the show?

    A. Several times in the third season.

    It was the secluded hideout of "The Skinner", a serial killer who peeled the skin from the bodies of his living victims, also leaving skinned palm trees at his murder sites as a kind of calling card.

    The identity of The Skinner remained a mystery for most of the 3rd season, until it was finally revealed that he was George King, an obsessed tree trimmer searching for Freebo (who owed him money), and killing anyone who got in his way.

    King claimed he was committing the crimes as a matter of respect, to collect the debt he was owned, but Dexter told him that was just an excuse to do what he enjoyed: killing people.

    Over the course of the season, we saw several examples of his handiwork, including the body found at the park, and the tortured body of young Wendell Owens.

    We first see the interior of the Skinner's lair in Episode 9 (of Season 3), "About Last Night", when Debra's boyfriend, Anton, is being held captive inside.

    We see Anton tied to a chair, the skin on his right shoulder already peeled away by the knife-wielding killer, as Anton desperately tells the Skinner that he doesn't know where Freebo is.

    We get a glimpse of it again in the same episode, after the police have temporarily nabbed the Skinner. Alone now in the lair, Anton is still tied to the chair, screaming for someone to help him.

    We finally see the exterior of the lair (a gray cement block bunker, hidden under a freeway overpass), after the police are forced to free the Skinner (because of lack of evidence). We see him walking towards the building, and then unlocking a padlock on the front door.

    But in the meanwhile, Debra & Quinn have persuaded his assistant to talk, and they learn that he has a building "under the highway", where he's hoping to grow palm trees for a profit. As the Skinner is unlocking the door, the police arrive on the scene.  The Skinner, spotting their headlights, runs away before they see him.

    Debra & Quinn smash down the front door with their car, and rescue Anton inside.

    But the Skinner's lair shows up again in Episode 11 (of Season 3), "I Had a Dream", when we see Debra & Quinn back inside the building, searching for clues to the whereabouts of the still-at-large murderer.

    When Debra has trouble receiving a cell phone call. She asks Quinn for change to use a nearby pay phone, and then realizes that the Skinner must have used the same pay phone.

    By checking the telephone records, Debra learns that the Skinner had been hired to do work on a rich woman's yard while she was out of town. Debra guesses that, with the police on his tail, he might use that empty house as a hideout. (She's right, but when they find him at the house, he manages to escape.)

    The Skinner goes on to capture Dexter himself (when Dexter is coming out of a tailor shop with his wedding tux).

    The Skinner finally met his end in a tobacco warehouse where he had brought Dexter.

Q. What is it actually in real life?

    A. A patch of city-owned land under a freeway offramp.

Q. Where can I find it in real life?

    A. The easiest way to see where these scenes were shot is to click on the aerial photo link. It's a hard location to describe in words, but here goes:

    First, let me explain how the freeway is laid out in this part of town:

    When you're heading south on the Long Beach (710) Freeway (and don't want to continue on all the way to the Queen Mary), you take the Shoreline Drive exit to reach the most popular sections of Long Beach. This long offramp crosses the Los Angeles River channel, then continues south for about half a mile before turning east and becoming Shoreline Drive (which will take you past the Aquarium, the Pike, and Shoreline Village).

    But just after you take this Shoreline exit, the offramp splits, offering you a smaller, alternative ramp as an exit to 6th Street in downtown Long Beach. This smaller, 6th Street ramp makes a broad curve up and over the main Shoreline ramp, as the 6th Street exit heads east into downtown.

    It is at this point, where the smaller 6th Street ramp passes over the larger Shoreline Drive ramp, in Long Beach, that they filmed these "Skinner" scenes.

    Just to the west of this 6th Street ramp, between the ramp and the L.A. River channel, is a small triangle of vacant, city-owned land (including the land underneath the ramp as it passes overhead). It's here, in this dirt field, that they set up the scenes. The Skinner's small concrete block building doesn't really exist. They built it underneath this curving 6th Street ramp.

    When we first see the Skinner here, he is walking across what appears to be a small bridge or roadway. That same road is where Debra & Quinn's car first appears (when the Skinner spots them and flees). And it's where they put the (fake) pay phone. There's a good view of it in the last photo above, where Debra and Quinn are running towards the phone.

    This odd roadway is a short ramp/bridge, leading backwards from the main southeast-bound Shoreline Drive ramp, and passing over what looks like it may be a bike path at the tail end of 7th Street. It leads down to that dirt triangle where they filmed the scene. I'm not sure what purpose this bridge/road serves in real life, since it would be completely inaccessible to the cars speeding the opposite direction on the freeway ramp. Perhaps it's a service road for city vehicles already on that land to find their way back out to Shoreline Drive. Whatever its purpose, it is located to the right (southwest) of where they built the concrete bunker, next to a nest of palm trees.

    There is no easy public access to the filming area, so I was unable to go there to shoot my usual photos.

    But here is an aerial photo of the location, with key spots marked. And here is a map link.

Q. How the heck did you figure out where it was?

    A. I didn't. This location eluded me for over a year.

    And, ironically, this offramp cluster was one of the first places I looked.  I knew that they often filmed in the Long Beach/Terminal Island area, so I immediately checked the bridges & offramps down in that part of the world. But I didn't recognize it.

    Why?  Because I was looking for that small concrete building. At the time, I assumed it was real (there are a number of similar small buildings near other overpasses). And when I didn't see it under any of those ramps, I moved on to other possible locations.

    Finally, in late 2009, a fan, Rob, emailed me to let me he had found it.  I thought at first that he might be wrong (since there was no concrete building visible), but when I started looking in earnest at the small details, via Birds-Eye photos, it became clear that this was indeed the right place.

    I found multiple points where details matched what is seen in the Skinner scenes, from the arcs of the various offramps, to the locations of streetlights & telephone poles, to the position of that small road... Even a billboard, barely glimpsed in one scene (where the Skinner is running away), is right where it should be. Except for the Skinner's little lair, of course. (Thanks, Rob!)

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