(500) Days of Summer | 2009
Marc Webb’s endearingly quirky non-romance is filmed largely around the untouristy downtown district of Los Angeles – not the familiar screen LA of Hollywood bungalows or South Central 'hoods. Yet ironically, this unfamiliar look at the city uses some very familiar locations. It’s rather like watching a slew of dependable character actors suddenly elevated to starring roles.
For instance, the stretch of Main Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets is a frequent backdrop to action sequences – though it’s often passed off as ‘New York’.
It’s here you can find the apartment of sadly lovestruck Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), in the Canadian Building, 432 South Main Street at Winston Street. You might recognise the block as the site of ‘Joppy’s bar’, where Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington) hangsout in Carl Franklin’s excellent 1995 neo noir Devil In A Blue Dress.
Right across Main Street, the store where Summer reveals her fondness for Ringo Starr, and the couple rents Sweet and Shower from the ‘adult section’, is the Farmers and Merchants Bank Building, Main and Fourth Streets.
On the opposite corner, the lobby of the Barclay Hotel,103 West Fourth Street, was transformed into the coffee bar in which Tom and his mates hang out. You’ve probably seen the Barclay dozens of times without noticing – remember the ‘New York’ meteor shower at the beginning of Armageddon? the monster stomping past it in Godzilla? Or the ‘Manhattan’ cafe where Jack Nicholson annoys Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets?
Just to confuse things, the apartment of Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) is also a Barclay, although in Koreatown, midtown Los Angeles. It’s the Barclay, 706 South Normandie at West 7th Street, just south of Wilshire Boulevard.
Alongside Main Street runs Spring Street. The ‘New Hampshire Greeting Card Company’, where Tom writes profound verses for a living, is the Fenton Building, 833 South Spring Street, between Eighth and Ninth Streets – which, in the interests of economy was also used for the interior of Tom’s apartment. In the Thirties, the building housed a ‘taxi dance’ hall (“Ten cents a dance”) called the Roseland Roof.
The karaoke bar in which Summer sings Sugartown is the Redwood Bar & Grill, 316 West Second Street, west of South Broadway, downtown. Once a watering hole for local journalists – as well as John F. Kennedy and a young Richard Nixon, the venue has recently expanded into a proper restaurant. The Redwood serves as a ‘Milwaukee’ bar in Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids.
The day after Tom and Summer spend the night together sees Tom leading a rapturous dance routine in LA’s spanking new Civic Center Mall, running between Hill Street and Grand Street, linking Bunker Hill to the Civic Center. Bursting into life is the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain.
In downtown Los Angeles, Tom wisely advises Summer to “look up”. Above the bustle of markets and discount stores, the historic heart of the old city stands some glorious, if often decayed, architecture from its heyday in the Twenties.
Among his favourite buildings, Tom points out the 1925 Fine Arts Building, 811 West Seventh Street at Wilshire Boulevard. Remember this place as the ‘Swiss Embassy’ in the 1997 fantasy Spawn, with Michael Jai White and John Leguizamo? No? Well it was. Trust me.
Tom’s favourite spot, with the bench, was Angel’s Knoll, a small green space overlooking downtown LA and the old Angels Flight Railway. The film’s bench was even graced with a plaque commemorating the park’s place in cinema history. But no more. As of July 2013, the park has been fenced off, apparently pending redevelopment.
The bar in which Tom springs to Summer’s defence and gets a smack in the face for his troubles, is the Broadway Bar, 830 South Broadway between West Eighth and West Ninth Streets – alongside the famous Orpheum Theatre (itself a screen regular). A single punch, though, seems to be getting off lightly, compared with the squabble that the Transformers get into immediately outside the Broadway Bar.
Tom appears to travel by train up the coast to attend Millie’s wedding. In fact, the nuptials are celebrated at the Point Fermin Lighthouse, 807 West Paseo Del Marin, San Pedro, south of the city. Built in 1874, the Victorian-style Lighthouse was the first navigational light into San Pedro Bay and its light beamed until the blackout ordered after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The lantern was removed during WWII, but in recent years, the lighthouse has been restored, and on November 1, 2003, was opened to the public.
Tom and Summer watch Vagiant ("Half vampire! Half giant!") at the Million Dollar Theater, 307 South Broadway.
Directly opposite the theater stands the wonderful Bradbury Building, 304 South Broadway. This is the office at which Tom attends the job interview at the end of the film. Its elegant interior is famous from Blade Runner, among many other films.