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"This book really shines!" --David Kipen, The Madeleine Brand Show, July 12, 2012.
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When postwar movie directors went looking for a gritty location to shoot their psychological crime thrillers, they found Bunker Hill, a neighborhood of fading Victorians, flophouses, tough bars, stairways, dark alleys and a funny little funicular in downtown Los Angeles. Novelist Raymond Chandler had already been there—where do you think he got the term “mean streets”? But the biggest crime was going on behind the scenes, run by the city’s power elite. And Hollywood just happened to capture it on film.
In Los Angeles's Bunker Hill, Jim Dawson revisits this long-lost section of the city and, using nearly 80 vintage photos, shows why it was the perfect film noir location. He also reveals Raymond Chandler's earlier relationship with the neighborhood and how it colored his early short stories and Philip Marlowe novels.
But L.A. history buffs will especially enjoy Dawson's journey back to a kinder, gentler Bunker Hill, where writers like John Fante and Timothy G. Turner wandered the night streets and conjured the ghosts of the mansions; where documentary filmmaker Kent Mackenzie tagged along with aging pensioners and displaced American Indians; and where silent comics like Harold Lloyd staged elaborate sight gags. Bringing it all to a tragic end are the machinations of a few wealthy businessmen and politicians determined to destroy the hillside neighborhood and enrich themselves.
In the final chapter, Dawson lists the many dozens of movies shot on Bunker Hill, their exact locations, and where they're available.
To see hundreds of more movie stills shot on Bunker Hill, visit Angels Flight Goes to the Movies.
The white Alta Vista Apartments at 255 S. Bunker Hill Avenue loomed above the western end of Bunker Hill's Third Street tunnel. John Fante lived there during the Depression in a room on the bottom left, and later wrote about the place (calling it the Alta Loma) in his 1939 novel, Ask the Dust: "It was built on a hillside in reverse, there on the crest of Bunker Hill, built against the decline of the hill, so that the main floor was on the level with the street but the tenth floor was downstairs ten levels." In 1950 director Joseph Losey shot several scenes inside and outside the Alta Vista for his film noir classic, M. To the right of the building are the park benches at the top of Third Street, which appeared in several movies, including M, Angel's Flight, This Rebel Breed, and Little Shop of Horrors. (Photo taken from Kent Mackenzie's Bunker Hill 1956, courtesy of Milestonefilms.com.) The Gladden Apartments at 100 S. Olive Street, on the southeast corner of First Street, played a disreputable flop house in at least two film noirs: The Brasher Doubloon (1947) and The Turning Point (1952). According to Raymond Chandler expert Loren Latker (http://shamustown.com), the hard-boiled writer lived there in 1917, thirty years before his fictional detective, Philip Marlowe, returned to the place in The Brasher Doubloon to find a murder victim. (Photo taken from Kent Mackenzie's Bunker Hill 1956, courtesy of Milestonefilms.com.) The corner of Bunker Hill Avenue and Second Street showed up in several movies. The house on the left, at 201 S. Bunker Hill, appeared in Warner Bros' This Rebel Breed (1960) and MGM's Dime With a Halo (1963). The larger building on the right was the Warncliffe Apartments at 145 S. Bunker Hill, whose interiors were used in The Girls of F Street, also known as The Maidens of Fetish Street (1966). This 1955 view looking down on Angels Flight, Clay Street, and the Third Street tunnel exaggerates the precipitous drop-off from the funicular to Third Street, which created anxiety in many riders. Angels Flight was used in many films to signal viewers that they had entered an unusual neighborhood.
In The Brasher Doubloon, the 1947 film version of Raymond Chandler's The High Window, Philip Marlowe (George Montgomery) drives up First Street, turns south of Olive, and parks across from the Gladden Apartments, which were called the Florence Apartments in the movie. Raymond Chandler himself lived at the Gladden when he first moved to Los Angeles before World War I. Marlowe's voiceover remarked that Bunker Hill used to be a choice place to live in Los Angeles, but now its residents were people who had no choice.
The New Grand Hotel, located at 257 Grand Avenue at the northwest corner of Third Street, was called the Crosley Hotel in RKO's Cry Danger (1951), starring Dick Powell as an ex-con trying to find out who framed him. The New Grand Hotel's corner delicatessen (at 291 Grand), exterior, lobby, interior stairway and second floor were used as locations. In the pan shots below, the car is driving north on Grand and turning west on Third. To see Charles W. Cushman's photo from 1952, click HERE. For more information on the New Grand Hotel, visit http://www.onbunkerhill.org/comment/reply/210#comment-form. (Thanks to Rick Mechtly.)
A couple of important scenes were shot in the lobby shop of the New Grand Hotel.
The Amigos bar and upstairs rooms at 500 W. Third Street were the headquarters of gangster William Conrad in Cry Danger (1951). The bar was located on the southwest corner of Olive Street, directly across Olive from the Angels Flight Station. The Angels Flight Cafe on the northwest corner is visible in several shots.
One of Cry Danger's most prominent locations was the "Clover Trailer Park," which many viewers have assumed was located on Bunker Hill. However, a closer inspection puts it several blocks north at 650-700 N. Hill Place, north of Sunset Boulevard (now Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard), on a hill above Chinatown. The street’s only survivor from 1951 is the house just below the trailer park, at 644 N. Hill. The old Clover Trailer Park location is now a newly-built, ugly apartment building and its driveway, but the eastern view toward downtown Chinatown and the double-domed Post Office Annex on Alameda looks roughly the same as it did from the trailer park scenes sixty years ago. (Color photos taken 6/2/2010 by Earl P. Reinhalter.)
The same year as Cry Danger, a film called The Ring used the old house across the street from the trailer park at 701 N. Hill Place, standing behind the actors, above. Note the same duplex at 644 N. Hill Place as seen in Cry Danger. The young actor below is Lalo Rios.
* Left-hand photo below: In director Joseph Losey's 1951 remake of the German classic, M, David Wayne (seen here with a young victim at the foot of Angels Flight) stars as a child murderer on Bunker Hill.
* Right-hand photo below: The crew of M sets up a shot at the Alta Vista Apartments at 255 S. Bunker hill, where the murderer's first victim lived. John Fante lived at the Alta Vista in the early Thirties and wrote about it in Ask the Dust. (Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.)
Parole officer Lizabeth Scott drives recent parolee Jane Greer to her new apartment at 116 N. Hope Street on Bunker Hill, in The Company She Keeps (1951).
Chicago Calling (1951) stars Dan Duryea as a desperate, unemployed man who lives at the Sunshine Apartments on Third Street, across from Angels Flight. Most of the action takes place on the Sunshine's back porches and steps adjacent to the utility stairway connecting Olive and Clay. Only toward the end of the film does the action move to the front porch, the Third Street steps and the ramp that ran down to Hill Street. The Sunshine appeared in many films, but it never got such intimate coverage as you see in Chicago Calling. Another scene, at a diner coach, was filmed at Second and Clay, near the balustrade above the east portal of the Second Street tunnel. The house where the little boy (Gordon Gebert) lived was 242 N. Hope Street, just south of Temple Street and the new freeway in the background. (Thanks to Rick "eagle-eye" Mechtly.)
Bunker Hill stood in for San Francisco in the final scenes of Sudden Fear (1952), a Joan Crawford noir melodrama. Jack Palance chases her in his car to the corner of Third and Cinnebar (#1), before running after her on foot down the back utility stairs between Olive Street's Hillcrest Apartments and Astoria Hotel (#2). Getting back into his car, he turns left from Grand Avenue onto Second Street (with the Dome Hotel Apartments in the background, #3), and mistakenly runs down Gloria Grahame in front of the Mission Apartments at 504 W. Second, at the corner of Olive (#4).
1. 2. 3. 4.
Tom Tully (left) is gunned down in front of a grocery store at 427 W. Second Street, and the man who shot him is killed in front of the Rio Grand Apartments at 425 W. Second, in The Turning Point (1952).
In the classic 1955 noir Kiss Me Deadly, the exterior and interior of The Castle, at 325 Bunker Hill Avenue, stood in for the boarding house residence of Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman), whose violent death early in the film launched detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) on a search through Los Angeles to find her killers. The twenty-room, Queen Anne-style mansion was built in the 1880s. Daniel F. Donegan, a contractor who paved many of Bunker Hill’s streets, bought the house a decade later and lived there for many years afterwards. The most picturesque house on Bunker Hill’s most picturesque street, The Castle was among the last ones left standing when, in 1969, the City of Los Angeles’s Community Redevelopment Agency hauled it a couple of miles north to Heritage Square, just off the Pasadena Freeway. Vandals burned it down a few months later.
The Johnson house at 601 W. Sunset, on the northwest corner of Hill Place, was where "Ray Diker" lived in Kiss Me Deadly, even though the address given in the film was "121 Flower Street, Bunker Hill." Director Robert Aldrich effectively used editing to blend Bunker Hill locations with other locations that looked like they should have been on Bunker Hill. This Victorian was actually several blocks north of Bunker Hill, and was torn down in the 1960s. The Clover Trailer Park in Cry Danger is just up Hill Place on the right.
In Robert Siodmak’s Universal Pictures classic Criss Cross (1949), several external and interior scenes were shot at a white hillside home at 215 N. Hill Street where Burt Lancaster lived with his mother. The house stood above the Hill Street tunnel that ran north-south between First Street and Temple Street; in the scene below, Lancaster gets off a streetcar at the corner of Temple and takes the stairs up to where a block of Hill Street ran above the tunnel. As you can see from the bottom photo taken from the Los Angeles City Hall, the house (just to the right of the center of the photo) was one of the last surviving structures north of First Street, just before the hill and the tunnel were removed in 1955.
The close-up shot, above, of Burt Lancaster is looking east toward the off-kilter Los Angeles Hall of Records on Broadway (now gone) and the City Building. Just below him is the elevated section of Hill Street and the walkway above the northern exit of the Hill Street tunnel. The photo at left, taken probably in the early fifties, is a reverse shot taken from the tower of the City Building, with the Hall of Records in the foreground, and the house at 215 N. Hill just beyond.
Cornel Wilde picks up girlfriend Patricia Knight in front of 507 W. Second Street in Shockproof (1949).
In My Gun Is Quick (1957), Mike Hammer (Robert Bray) parks on Olive near the Astoria Hotel and hears a commotion on the utility stairway that runs down to Clay Street behind the Hillcrest Hotel and Sunshine Apartments. He hurries down to find that the man he is searching for has been thrown to his death from a window of the Astoria. This stairway was used in The Impatient Maiden (1932), Once a Thief (1950), Sudden Fear (1952), Chicago Calling (1952), Kiss Me Deadly (1955, in which Ralph Meeker's Mike Hammer literally walked the same steps as Bray's Hammer), The Indestructible Man (1956) and Angel's Flight (1965). In the right photo, the Sunshine Apartments' rear stairway is on the left.
In the uncut 1954 version of A Star Is Born, Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) lives at the Lancaster Hotel at 121 N. Flower Street, where Norman Maine (James Mason) shows up one day to rekindle their relationship. This scene was cut from the general release to make way for a last-minute music number, but later restored for the 1983 video and the subsequent DVD/Blu-ray.
Bunker Hill stood in for Phoenix in 20th Century Fox's Bus Stop (1956). Don Murray and Arthur O'Connell get off the bus at Third and Grand, cattycorner to the New Grand Hotel and Delicatessen (see Cry Danger, top). Later they go looking for Marilyn Monroe, who lives across the street from the rambling, filigreed Brousseau mansion at 238 S. Bunker Hill Avenue (which was later used in the 1966 Glenn Ford film, The Money Trap, just before it was torn down). Like most Victorians in the neighborhood, the Brousseau mansion was an apartment building in 1956. (For a history of the house, see http://onbunkerhill.org/brousseau_mansion.)
Several scenes from Stakeout on Dope Street (1958) were shot on the west side of Bunker Hill. The story: When three teenagers find a briefcase containing a tin can of heroin, they also find trouble, because the local mob boss wants his dope back. Three locations, all within a block of each other, are the Hope Street stairs (also seen in M and Kiss Me Deadly), the steps alongside the Alta Vista Hotel (used in M), and the corner of Third and Hope (used in The Unfaithful). Many thanks to eagle-eye Ray Ottulich for spotting the locations.
How realistic was Warner Bros' 1960 teen drama, This Rebel Breed? Well, a young Dyan Cannon played a mulatto girl passing for white, Mark Damon played a black Latino in brownface, and Bunker Hill was billed in the studio press releases as East Los Angeles, the city's Mexican-American barrio. But in a scene where white hoodlum Richard Rust confronts Richard Laurier about dealing drugs, they're definitely at the benches at the top of Third Street on Bunker Hill Avenue. That's the Alta Vista Apartments on the right and Third Street heading west in the distance (#1), and in the reverse shot (#2) that's the McBurney house at 256 S. Bunker Hill behind Laurier. It would later be the home of serial killer Indus Arthur in Angel's Flight (1965). A longer scene was shot at the corner of Third Street and Grand Avenue: Rita Moreno visits a doctor's office at 523 W. Third (photos #3 and #4), then walks west past the Lovejoy Apartments (#5) and turns the corner onto Grand Avenue (#6), where the Dome Hotel Apartments are visible a block away.
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The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) is Roger Corman's ultra-low-budget classic comedy about a flower shop worker named Seymour Krelboyne (Jonathan Haze) who creates a carnivorous plant, Audrey Jr., that feeds on human flesh. Looking for a fresh victim for Audrey, he arrives on Bunker Hill at the Angels Flight Station, goes across the street to the Angels Flight Cafe and treks up to the benches at the top of Third Street, next to the Alta Vista Apartments on Bunker Hill Avenue. (Photos compliments of Nathan Marsak.)
Detectives Ricardo Montelban and Glenn Ford wait for a killer in front of the Julius Brousseau mansion at 238 S. Bunker Hill Avenue in The Money Trap (1966). This house is also in Bus Stop, above.
In the final scene of The Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Lee Remick visits Jack Lemmon at the Chaspeak Apartments, 512 W. Second Street. Olive Street and, beyond, the Los Angeles Times Building are in the background. Bunker Hill stood for San Francisco.
In The Outsider, a 1968-69 NBC-TV show, private eye David Ross (Darren McGavin) visits Bunker Hill as it's being hauled away, hoping to find a cache of money hidden in an old house. He rides up Angels Flight, talks to the station agent about its history, then walks over to what's left of the Castle, the mansion that once stood at 325 S. Bunker Hill Avenue. The house has been cut into several pieces to await removal to Heritage Square (where it would later be torched). The episode, which ran in 1969, was called "Through a Stained-Glass Window." (Courtesy of Gene Sculatti)
Click to view an excerpt of the program at LA Observed.
Looking west on 3rd Street. Looking down the Third Street steps toward the
Hillcrest Hotel (left) and Hill Street circa 1907.
BUNKER HILL LINKS
Gordon Pattison presents "Old Bunker Hill: One Family's Perspective" at the LAVA Sunday Salon, May 2013 | Los Angeles Visionaries Association - The page includes a 93-minute video.
On Bunker Hill | a lost neighborhood found
David Kipen remembers Bunker Hill's film noir past (The Madeleine Brand Show, 7/12/2012)
The Exiles (Shot on Bunker Hill, 1958)
A Drive Through Bunker Hill and Downtown Los Angeles, 1948 (YouTube video) - This 1948 "process shot" for the film noir Shockproof, taken from a film car, begins near Second and Olive, turns south on Grand Avenue, turns west on Fifth (you can see the Biltmore Hotel and the City Library), right on Flower, and finally right again on First Street.
Raymond Chandler: Shamus Town
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