10 Oscar-Worthy Landmarks

Some of Hollywood’s most memorable scenes aren’t stolen by actors—but by the scenery itself. In several of my favorite films, the setting plays as vital a role as the leading lady. In others, the location comes into focus only once I learn its history. That’s been the case with the Gamble House, a Pasadena architectural treasure that served as the rambling home of Doc Brown in the 1985 blockbuster Back to the Future. Film journalist and Los Angeles Film Critics Association president Claudia Puig details the Gamble House’s architectural splendor in her Alta article “Arts and Crafts Icon.” And as Puig reveals, not only does the house at 4 Westmoreland Place represent a pinnacle of the Arts and Crafts movement; it was also the birthplace of the flux capacitor.

To celebrate my newfound Gamble House knowledge, I’ve rounded up some other California buildings worthy of stars on Hollywood Boulevard. Let’s roll the opening credits as I present you with the 9 other entries in my list of the top 10 California architectural landmarks in film:

Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael: Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and completed in 1962, the Marin County Civic Center provided a futuristic setting in the 1997 film Gattaca. The sleek government building has been used as a backdrop for other movies, notably 1971’s THX 1138, but I maintain that it served the filmmakers best in Gattaca.

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles: Despite its appearance in dozens of movies, including Rebel Without a CauseGriffith Observatory, a 1935 domed art deco planetarium that sits high above the glittering lights of downtown Los Angeles, looked best in La La Land (2016).

Cabazon Dinosaurs, Cabazon: Does a roadside attraction of concrete-and-steel dinosaurs count as an architectural landmark? Yes. And anyone who’s seen Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) knows why the Cabazon Dinosaurs deserve a spot on this list.

Los Angeles City Hall, Los Angeles: The easily recognizable 28-story white concrete tower of Los Angeles’s city hall is one of the most popular spots to film movies. The building’s best scene takes place in the stylish 1997 Oscar winner L.A. Confidential, when Russell Crowe’s battered and bruised Bud White drives away from the corruption of L.A. politics and into the sunset with his leading lady.

Filoli Gardens, Woodside: This stunning estate and grounds on the outskirts of Silicon Valley is the former home of Matson shipping magnate William Roth and his family. Today, the world-famous gardens and home are open to the public—and they served as the San Francisco compound of Michael Douglas’s sad millionaire Nicholas Van Orton in The Game (1997).

Fab Forties, Sacramento: The Fab Forties isn’t so much one building as it is an upscale neighborhood of classic colonial homes in Sacramento. The idyllic cedar-lined residential streets, and specifically the big blue mansion on 44th Street, set the scene for Lady Bird’s fantasy and humiliation in the 2017 film Lady Bird.

Bixby Creek Bridge, Big Sur: This oft-photographed open-spandrel arch bridge along the Pacific Coast Highway might stun in the opening of the HBO series Big Little Lies, but the Bixby Creek Bridge secured its spot on this list with its appearance alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in The Sandpiper (1965).

Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco: Here’s another iconic skyscraper that has appeared in a number of films. But it was Zodiac (2007) that so perfectly used the construction of the Transamerica building to demonstrate the passage of time. Watch the 44-second clip.

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego: Formerly the Naval Air Station Miramar (or to some, Fightertown, USA), this military installation was home to the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School—known to many as the setting of Top Gun. Today it serves the Third Marine Aircraft Wing, and the real-life “Top Gun” has moved to Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada.

You may disagree with some of the picks on this, my highly subjective list—maybe even all of them! Educate us on the best California landmarks to appear in film by emailing Your comments may appear in a future Alta newsletter.    

—Beth Spotswood

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The Spy Case That Made Adam Schiff a Russian Hawk — Politico

A Century of Muslim Misrepresentation in Hollywood — the Ringer

The Rock Legends Who Populated Laurel Canyon in the ’60s Listen Back to the Echo of Their Influence — Los Angeles

• Dublin—Yes, Dublin—Is One of America’s Fastest-Growing Cities — Curbed SF

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Support Alta and our event partners at these upcoming events:
TONIGHT: Alta and Books Inc. present Mason Funk, founder and executive director of OUTWORDS, an award-winning nonprofit that documents the history of LGBTQ people all over the United States. Funk will discuss The Book of Pride: LGBTQ Heroes Who Changed the World. The book captures the true story of the gay rights movement from the 1960s to the present through richly detailed, stunning interviews with the leaders, activists, and ordinary people who witnessed the movement and made it happen. By shining a light on these remarkable stories of bravery and determination, The Book of Pride not only honors an important chapter in American history but also empowers young people today (both LGBTQ and straight) to discover their own courage in order to create positive change. Details: Books Inc., 601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, 7 p.m., free.
Friday, May 31: A onetime small-town girl dreaming big in West Virginia who became a Walt Disney executive in California, Eva Steortz truly lived out her own modern Cinderella story. After college, Steortz moved across the country on a whim to seek better opportunities, answered a Disney job ad in a leap of faith, and progressed from assistant manager to vice president, eventually starting her own company. Mining her own experiences, Steortz crafts a fun, relatable, and actionable career-advice book. Designed more like a keynote presentation than a daunting textbook, From the Outhouse to the Mouse House provides important tips, ideas, reminders, and quotes to inspire your next move. Details: Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, 6 p.m., free.
Sunday, June 2: When Gina was deported to Tijuana, Mexico, in 2011, she left behind her parents, siblings, and children, all of whom are U.S. citizens. Despite having once had a green card, Gina was removed from the only country she had ever known. In Deported Americans, legal scholar and former public defender Beth C. Caldwell tells Gina’s story alongside those of dozens of other Dreamers, who are among the hundreds of thousands who have been deported to Mexico in recent years—many of whom now have no hope of lawfully returning. Showing how U.S. deportation law systematically fails to protect the rights of immigrants and their families, Caldwell challenges traditional notions of what it means to be an American and recommends legislative and judicial reforms to mitigate the injustices suffered by the millions of U.S. citizens affected by deportation. Details: Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 5 p.m., free.
Wednesday, June 5: Join 826LA for a special evening to raise crucial funds for the organization’s free writing and tutoring programs, which support more than 9,000 students from under-resourced Los Angeles communities each year. Raise a Voice honors the powerful voices students develop with the help of 826’s dedicated volunteers and celebrates the power of one-on-one attention. Alta is proud to be one of the sponsors of this event, which will feature 826 students and volunteers, Dave Eggers, Jackson Browne, Kelly McCreary, and more. Details: Vibiana, 214 S. Main St., Los Angeles, cocktails 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:30 p.m., tickets start at $500.
Saturday, June 8: Join Alta and Book Passage for a punk rock conversation with X’s John Doe and author Tom DeSavia. Picking up where their book Under the Big Black Sun left off, Doe and DeSavia’s More Fun in the New World explores the years 1982 to 1987, covering the dizzying pinnacle of L.A.’s punk rock movement, as its stars took to the national—and often international—stage. Detailing the eventual splintering of punk into various subgenres, the second volume of Doe and DeSavia’s West Coast punk history portrays the rich cultural diversity of the movement and its characters, the legacy of the scene, and how it affected other art forms and ultimately influenced mainstream pop culture. The book also pays tribute to many of the fallen soldiers of punk rock, the pioneers who left the world much too early but whose influence hasn’t faded. Details: Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, 4:30 p.m., free.
Thursday, June 27: Join Alta and Book Passage for a look back at Berkeley in 1969. Through eyewitness testimonies and hundreds of photographs, The Battle for People’s Park, Berkeley 1969 commemorates the 50th anniversary of one of the most searing conflicts that closed out the tumultuous 1960s: the Battle for People’s Park. In April 1969, a few Berkeley activists planted the first tree on an abandoned, University of California–owned city block near the campus. Hundreds of people from all over the city helped build a park there as an expression of a politics of joy. On May 15, which would soon be known as Bloody Thursday, a violent struggle erupted. Hundreds were arrested, martial law was declared, and the National Guard was ordered to crush the uprising. One man died; another was blinded. Fifty years on, the question still lingers: Who owns People’s Park? Alta’s Beth Spotswood will moderate a discussion with author Tom Dalzell, Heyday Books’ Steve Wasserman, and Book Passage owner Bill Petrocelli. Details: Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, 7 p.m., free.
Tuesday, July 16: In his new novel, Deep River, author Karl Marlantes crafts a stunningly expansive narrative of human suffering, courage, and reinvention. In the early 1900s, as the oppression of Russia’s imperial rule takes its toll on Finland, the three Koski siblings—Ilmari, Matti, and the politicized young Aino—are forced to flee to the United States. Not far from the majestic Columbia River, the siblings settle among other Finns in a logging community in southern Washington. The brothers face the excitement and danger of pioneering this frontier wilderness, while Aino, foremost of the book’s many strong, independent women, devotes herself to organizing the industry’s first unions. As the Koski siblings strive to rebuild lives and families in an America in flux, they also try to hold fast to the traditions of a home they left behind. At its heart, Deep River is an ambitious and timely exploration of the place of the individual, and of the immigrant, in an America still in the process of defining its own identity. Marlantes will be in conversation with Alta managing editor Blaise Zerega. Details: Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, 7 p.m., free.
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