Los Angeles for Film Fans: South Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Pedro 1
Although South LA covers a vast area, much of it is urban housing and the city’s industrial heartland so movie related sites tend to be concentrated in Long Beach and the harbour of San Pedro. Unless, of course, there’s a movie about LA street gangs.
It’s unfair to dismiss a whole area, but South Central has undeniably acquired a bad reputation over the years. It’s not all gang territory of course, but if you’re not familiar with the neighbourhoods, use your street smarts.
Daytime and main roads are fine, but territoriality operates to its own rules. The Dennis Hopper-Sean Penn cops’n’gangs movie Colors was largely filmed around Venice, but John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood and Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day both filmed in South Central.
For Training Day, particularly, the drive for authenticity led to some pretty dodgy areas of South Central LA – so visiting is not advised. The production got unprecedented cooperation from local gangs, allowing filming for the first time in areas of Crenshaw; Hawthorne, and Rampart (home of the infamous LA police corruption scandal which inspired the movie) rarely seen in feature films.
The Sandman’s apartment, where Alonzo (Denzel Washington) serves a fake warrant on Sandman's wife (Macy Gray), is in the Imperial Courts Housing Project, Croesus Avenue at Imperial Highway, in Watts.
Despite easy assumptions you might make, the ‘Jungle’ (“You don’t come in here with anything less than a platoon”) got its fearsome-sounding nickname from nothing more than the lush plantings by early developers. Officially it’s Baldwin Village, the area south of Coliseum Street between South La Brea Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard.
Your starting point to explore the city is likely to be South LA – from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). If you need an airport hotel, you can start the movie location theme at Hilton Los Angeles Airport, 5711 West Century Boulevard. You might recognise its gleaming black towers from the climax of Michael Mann’s Heat – it’s here that Waingro finally gets his dues and Hanna (Al Pacino) catches up with McCauley (Robert de Niro) for a final confrontation on the LAX runways.
Which shows that there is much more than the poverty-stricken ghetto image. Just north of LAX the area of Baldwin Hills has been dubbed the ‘Black Beverly Hills’ – home to such celebrities as Ray Charles, Tina Turner, director John Singleton, and the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.
Tina Turner's former home at 4263 Olympiad Drive, View Park, between Baldwin Hills and Windsor Hills, was found to be virtually unchanged since the 1960s and was able to be used for Brian Gibson’s 1993 biopic, What’s Love Got To Do With It?, with Angela Bassett as the singer.
New kid on the block Jim Stark (James Dean) is subjected to some not-too-good-natured joshing from his new schoolmates when his family moves into South Citrus Avenue, just north of West 62nd Street in Ladero Heights, in Nicholas Ray’s seminal Rebel Without A Cause.
Ray Charles lived in a modest home at 3910 Hepburn Avenue, at West 39th Street in Leimert Park, before moving to a grander mansion at 4863 Southridge Avenue, View Park. Both houses were seen in Taylor Hackford’s 2005 biopic, Ray, with Jamie Foxx in the title role.
The area is also home to dozens of ‘nodding donkeys’, which have been mechanically pumping oil from the Inglewood oil field since the Twenties. See them on-screen around the deserted ‘Victory Motel’ (which was a set built for the movie) in L.A. Confidential.