Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sunset Boulevard - Film Locations

Sunset Boulevard, a 1950 film directed by Billy Wilder and starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden is probably one of my favorite films. The film tells the story of struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (Holden) who is desperately trying to sell his latest script to a producer at Paramount in order to get out of his dismal financial situation. When Gillis leaves Paramount Studios and begins driving along Sunset Boulevard he is spotted by repo men. Gillis, on the run, pulls into what he thinks is the driveway of a deserted mansion.

At the mansion, Gillis encounters Norma Desmond (Swanson), a forgotten legend of the silent films. Desmond, desperate to get back into pictures, allows Gillis to stay at her mansion if he in returns helps her with a screenplay that will reintroduce her to audiences.

Wilder, wanting to keep his film as authentic as possible, makes reference to many real Hollywood films, people, and places. Below are some images of the places that can be seen in Sunset Boulevard.

Alto-Nido Apartments 1851 N. Ivar Ave
This is the location of Joe Gillis's apartment building.

(Photo: (C) Paramount Pictures)
Holden at his typewriter in what is supposed to be the interior of the Alto-Nido apartments.

This is the entrance to Paramount Studios. The window on the left side of the gate is the old security window. It's here in the film where the security guard greets Norma Desmond. The fountain was not built until the 1990s. During the time of the film this area was still part of Bronson Avenue which is the road the stars drove down to enter Paramount. The new drive-on entrance to Paramount is located on Melrose Avenue.

(Photo: (C) Paramount Pictures)
Above is an image of the Paramount Studios entrance as seen in the film. That's Norma Desmond seated in the back of the automobile. Notice there is no fountain in the foreground.

Stage 18 - Where Cecil B. Demille greets Norma Desmond

(Photo (C) Paramount Pictures)
Cecil B. Demille greets Norma Desmond outside Stage 18

Directly across from Stage 18 is a long 2 story building. It's on the second floor of this building where the writers offices are located in the film.

(Photo: (C) Paramount Pictures)
Above is a photo of William Holden and Nancy Olsen (one of the script girls) inside the writers building across from Stage 18.

(Photo: (C) Paramount Pictures)
Above is a photo of Schawb's Pharmacy. Schwab's was a very popular hangout with the early Hollywood crowd, especially with writers, actors, and other creative types. Holden's character is seen going into Schwab's a couple times in the film.

Schwab's Pharmacy location - 8024 Sunset Boulevard
As you can see in the image above Schwab's pharmacy no longer exists. The building was torn down and a new mall was built in it's location. Interesting enough, the location is changing again. When I took this photo about 3 years ago the main business in the mall was Virgin Megastore. During the last year the Virgin Megastore has since closed it's doors and the mall complex is going through many other changes.

(Photo: (C) Paramount Pictures)
Above is an exterior shot of Norma Desmond's mansion as seen in the film. The mansion was located just 10 blocks south of Paramount Studios. Wilder considered the mansion perfect for his film but it didn't include a swimming pool, so the production constructed one. However, the pool was for show only. It was not capable of operating as a functioning swimming pool.

NW corner of Wilshire and Irving Boulevards
Above is a photo of where the Norma Desmond mansion once stood. Like many historic buildings in Hollywood the mansion met it's demise, just like Joe Gillis in the film.

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Great post Robby! This is one of the greatest films. I didn't know the mansion was near Paramount. When I took the Paramount Tour a few years ago, it was as if you were in the film- hadn't changed.

Mae West NYC said...

Really swell photos of Paramount Pictures. The director wanted MAE WEST to star as Norma Desmond. However, Mae refused to play the role of a washed-up and forgotten actress.

Come up and see Mae - -

Lolita of the Classics said...

I didn't know that Norma Desmond's mansion had been torn down. Looking at the asphalt jungle were it once stood feels just sad.
It's amazing how little has change at the Paramount Studios though! As if you just added colour to Sunset Blvd.

Great post and great comparison between the past and the present!

Unknown said...

Good gravy-- Norma Desmond's mansion was on Irving??

And I just adore the Bronson Gate ... it's one of the prettiest spots in town, in my opinion, and one of the few places that has remained thoroughly untouched by time (or the city of Los Angeles bulldozer ...)

This is a terrific post, Robby (as usual) and I appreciate the hard work-- Sunset Blvd is in my all time top 3. When I first moved to Hollywood I actually was determined to live in the Alto Nido apartments ... only, well, yeah ... slightly more expensive than when Joe Gillis lived there ... ;)

Unknown said...

Enjoyable post!

I am, however, confused by your statement regarding the pool on the "Desmond mansion" grounds as not being actually built in a way for practical use.

The IMDB trivia entry for "Sunset Blvd. has this to say:

— The "Desmond mansion" had been built by a William Jenkins in 1924 at a cost of $250,000. Its second owner was Jean Paul Getty, who purchased it for his second wife. Mrs. Getty divorced her millionaire husband and received custody of the house; it was she who rented it to Paramount for the filming. The "fee" for renting the Getty mansion was for Paramount to build the swimming pool, which features so memorably.—

Why would Mr' Getty's ex-wife want a pool built on her property as a payment of a rental fee if the pool would be unusable to her?

The IMDB goes on to say:

SPOILER: Originally opened and closed the story at the Los Angeles County Morgue. In a scene described by director Billy Wilder as one of the best he'd ever shot, the body of Joe Gillis is rolled into the Morgue to join three dozen other corpses, some of whom - in voice-over - tell Gillis how they died. Eventually Gillis tells his story, which takes us to a flashback of his affair with Norma Desmond. The movie was previewed with this opening, in Illinois, Long Island, New York, and Poughkeepsie, New York. Because all three audiences inappropriately found the morgue scene hilarious, the film's release was delayed six months so that a new beginning could be shot in which police find Gillis' corpse floating in Norma's pool while Gillis' voice narrates the events leading to his death. Distortion caused by water meant that this scene had to be filmed via a mirror placed on the bottom of the pool. —

According to this, the pool shot was a last-minute alteration to the completed script. So, then, upon rental of the house, it seems that Paramount would have built a functional pool as payment for the use of the house, both to satisfy the owner's wishes, and as there were originally no plans to use it in the film anyway.

When it comes to Hollywood lore, it is difficult to find were the Truth actually lies.

Robby Cress said...

NCeddie - Thanks for dropping by. To answer your question, the studio built the pool on the property for the scene where Holden ends up face down in the pool. However, when they built the pool they did not build it so that the pool could properly circulate water. Because of this it sat empty. In fact you can see this empty swimming pool when it was filmed again a few years later for Rebel Without a Cause.

You're very right, when it comes to Hollywood lore, it is difficult to find where the Truth lies!

Dr Bitz said...

One of my top 5 of all time flicks.

Don't forget to show a pic of Perino's on Wilshire, you can see it through the Men's Store window.

The corner of Sunset and the Bel Air gates too where Gillis gets tagged.

The Palace theater parking lot where his car is stashed.

K.J. Roberts said...

I worked at Paramount in the 1980s. There was a hang-out cafe out the back [artists] gate, and I've forgotten the name of it. Does anyone know which one I'm talking about? I'd really love to recall its name. If you know it, please let me know at Thanks!

Unknown said...

It's kind of sad that more historic Hollywood sites have not been preserved. They would certainly be tourist draws today (Brown Derby, Schwabs, etc.) instead of strips malls and parking lots.

tovangar2 said...

I think John Paul Getty retained title of the house. That property was part of a valuable package he owned bordering Wilshire Blvd at the junction with Crenshaw Blvd. Soon after "Sunset Blvd" was filmed Getty had the land cleared for the world headquarters of the Getty Oil Company. The new building was designed by famous Los Angeles architect Claud Beelman who also designed the Thalberg Building on the MGM lot (see Beelman's wikipedia page).

I don't think Getty placed much value on a recent movie location, especially when it was in the way of some very valuable and prominent commercial property.

tovangar2 said...

I just noticed a typo in my previous post. I meant to say, "Soon after Rebel Without a Cause (1955) was filmed", NOT "Sunset Blvd" (1950).

The Getty Oil building was built in 1956.

Historic Los Angeles said...

Full story of 10086 Sunset/641 S Irving is here:


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