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Sunday July 22nd 2018

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure | 1985

Pee-wee's Big Adventure filming location: Pasadena
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure filming location: Pee-wee’s house: Oxley Street, South Pasadena

Fun first feature-film outing for Tim Burton, and all the director’s trademarks are well in evidence, from the quirky design to animated sequences and a wonderful pastiche score from Danny Elfman that ranges from Nino Rota to Bernard Hermann.

Amazingly, Pee-Wee’s (Paul Reubens) gizmo-filled house is real – and though it boasts a white picket fence, disappointingly it’s not painted pillar-box red and the lawn is not alive with brightly coloured figures. It’s 1846 Oxley Street, a leafy sidestreet in South Pasadena (and be aware that this is a private home).

The shopping mall, where Pee-Wee shops for magic stuff and gets his bicycle stolen, is the Third Street Promenade, Third Street at Broadway, in Santa Monica. And guess what? With a real Tim Burton touch, the pedestrianised mall is now dotted with bushes neatly clipped into dinosaur shapes.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure filming location: South Hudson Avenue, Hancock Park, Los Angeles
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure filming location: Francis’s ivy-covered mansion: South Hudson Avenue, Hancock Park

Pee-Wee races off to confront the obnoxious Francis (Mark Holton) about the theft at his ivy covered mansion, 401 South Hudson Avenue at West Fourth Street in Hancock Park. Built in 1929, the old Tudor-style Ahmanson Estate could have been yours a couple of years ago for a trifling $12,500,000 (down from its original asking price of $17,500,00 – that’s recession for you).

The rainswept streets, where Pee-Wee consults Madam Ruby, only to discover his bike is in the Alamo’s basement, is the Warner Bros backlot in Burbank.

Hitching to Texas, Pee-Wee is dropped off by Large Marge (Alice Nunn) at the Wheel Inn Restaurant, 50900 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, on I-10 near Palm Springs.

Alongside, you can hardly miss the World’s Biggest Dinosaurs, the pair of concrete reptiles built to advertise the inn.

The 150-foot-long concrete apatosaurus (the trendy new name for the brontosaurus) was built by one-time owner Claude Bell. He subsequently began work on a T Rex, which was left uncompleted on his death in 1988. It's been completed – you can now climb all the way up – and plenty more modest sized dinosaurs have been added.

Wonderful as they are, the poor dinosaurs are now sadly being used to peddle the bonkers American fad of ‘creationism’.

Pee Wee's Big Adventure location: the Alamo, San Antonio
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure filming location: Pee-Wee’s house: Pasadena

Pee-Wee finally makes it to San Antonio and, yes, that really is the The Alamo on Alamo Plaza. Briefly.

The Pee-Wee Herman version of the Alamo tour is loads more fun than the solemnity of the real thing, basement or no basement (see John Wayne’s The Alamo for more details), but it’s not in Texas – it’s back in California.

The interior is Mission San Fernando Rey de España, 15151 San Fernando Mission Boulevard in Mission Hills, to the north of Los Angeles. Comedian Bob Hope is buried in the Mission’s cemetery.

Also in California is the ‘Texas’ bus terminal from which Pee-Wee phones Dottie (Elizabeth Daily). It’s the old Grand Central Air Terminal, 1310 Air Way between Grandview and Sonora Avenues, in Glendale. Way back when it was still a functioning airport, Grand Central was a popular location, seen in films such as Busby Berkeley’s 1937 Hollywood Hotel and the 1943 Sherlock Holmes in Washington, with Basil Rathbone. It’s now owned by the Walt Disney company.

Pee-Wee finally tracks his bike down to the film studio, which is – of course – Warner Bros, 4000 Warner Boulevard, Burbank. You can tour the studio, too. Unlike the vast Universal Studios theme park approach, WB has a small but excellent tour, the Warner Bros VIP Studio Tour.

One last little disappointment. The drive-in, where the Hollywood version of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (with James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild) premieres, is no more. It was the Studio Drive-In, which stood at 5250 Sepulveda Boulevard in Culver City. It closed in 1993, and was demolished five years later.