On a balmy September afternoon in Atwater Village, an art department crew takes measurements at an automotive shop at the corner of Fletcher Drive and Atwater Avenue. It’s a familiar scene for production designer David Wasco, set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, and location manager Bob Craft as they observe from a blue picnic table across the street at Fosters Freeze.
The intersection of Fletcher and Atwater, along with the Crown Pawn Shop in Canoga Park 25 miles away, is a significant onscreen marriage of locations in Quentin Tarantino’s pop-noir masterpiece, Pulp Fiction. Craft tells us that he needed to find an intersection that could be completely controlled as well as a pawnshop that wasn’t concerned about how it was portrayed.
“The city sent out people to do a traffic flow and figure it all out,” says Craft of the Fletcher-Atwater intersection, which was one of the viable locations for over-the-hill boxer, Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), to crash his girlfriend’s Honda into L.A. crime boss, Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). This, after Butch retrieved his father’s gold watch—a family heirloom with an incomparable history—from his North Hollywood apartment. “Quentin wanted to close down Lankershim [Boulevard], which was never going to happen,” says Craft. A quarter of a century later, Tarantino being Tarantino, the filmmaker was able to close a section Hollywood Boulevard for Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood.
It was serendipitous that located at the corner of Fletcher and Atwater was the Fosters Freeze that the film’s art department transformed into the scripted Teriyaki Donut, a donut chain also referenced in the food court of the Del Amo Mall in Tarantino’s follow up to Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown.
For the pawnshop in question, supposedly just around the corner from the crash location, Craft cast a wide net across L.A. “There weren’t that many pawnshops that would let you film,” says Craft. “Pawnshops are robbed a lot. They’re very protective.”
“Not only was it difficult, but I remember scouting things and there was so much security locked into the floors and metal detectors,” says Reynolds-Wasco.
Pulp Fiction fans visiting Crown Pawn Shop, which have included entire Lufthansa flight crews on layover, are often disappointed to learn that the infamous backroom of the Mason-Dixon pawnshop, where Marcellus and Butch have an unfortunate run-in with hillbilly storeowner Maynard (Duane Whitaker), redneck security guard Zed (Peter Green), and the leather-clad Gimp, doesn’t exist. “There are no basements in the Valley,” says Wasco, generally speaking. (Post-WWII tract housing was faster to construct without basements.) Therefore, the pawnshop basement was built as one in a handful of sets constructed in a Culver City warehouse that also housed Pulp Fiction’s production offices.
Craft says that the single most critical aspect to the pawnshop, and every other location featured in Pulp Fiction, was the geography of the space. “Quentin, first and foremost, [is] a writer,” says Craft, who also worked on Jackie Brown. Craft’s experience is that Tarantino knows exactly what he wants in a location before he sees it for the first time, a quality that would seem commonplace for any filmmaker. “There are a lot of directors who don’t do that,” he concludes.
“The locations have to make his writing work. We all went to great lengths to find interiors or exteriors that allowed for his dialogue to move actors from point A to point B,” says Wasco, who, along with Reynolds-Wasco, also designed Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill: Vols. 1 and 2, and Inglorious Basterds.
When pinpointing all of Pulp Fiction’s 20-plus locations on a map, the array represents a cross-section of Los Angeles neighborhoods from the South Bay to the Valley, many of which were written into Tarantino’s screenplay. Brett’s apartment (demolished by the 1994 Northridge earthquake) was penned to be in Hollywood, young Butch’s house in Alhambra, and Jimmie’s house in Toluca Lake. “Quentin wanted to show their world, and the reality of their world, and he had to go where that was,” says Craft.
Pulp Fiction was released theatrically in the U.S. on October 14, 1994, after winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes five months earlier and taking the international festival circuit by storm, propelling Tarantino to the forefront of world-renowned filmmakers. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of the most influential—and copied—films of contemporary cinema, we asked the Wascos and Craft to reflect on their five favorite locations from Pulp Fiction. Though there was some crossover of opinion, they picked distinct locations and commented on each other’s choices.
“Talk about vernacular that is so indigenous to Los Angeles. The coffee shop is really a great way to bookend the movie,” says Wasco.
What was scripted to a be A Normal Denny’s, Spires-like coffee shop in Los Angeles transformed into much more iconic setting for two average thieves, Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer), discussing the increasing challenges of their criminal profession while also contemplating retirement. An impromptu decision is made to rob the coffee shop they’re patronizing because it’s deemed to be of minimal risk.
Though Tarantino’s previous film, Reservoir Dogs, includes references and certain visual iconography that place it in Los Angeles—it also opens with characters sitting in a restaurant over breakfast—the style of coffee shop featured in Pulp Fiction makes it a heavy hitting L.A. film from the start.
When Craft scouted the Hawthorne Grill at the corner of Hawthorne Boulevard and 137th Place he found it closed down and mysteriously abandoned.
Wasco recalls scouting the diner, which had appeared frozen in time after being shuttered for four years. “It had so many great elements to it and the fact that it looked like it was a functioning diner and it looked like something happened; [the owners] left everything in place and just walked out of it,” says Wasco. “There were napkins and place settings on the tables. It was really odd.”
Originally opened as Holly’s in 1956, the Hawthorne Grill was a prime example of Googie architecture made famous by John Lautner, as well as Louis Armet and Eldon Davis of the architecture firm, Armet & Davis. The angular, Space Age buildings that are synonymous with L.A. were meant to capture drivers’ attentions (and patronage) among the monotony of other storefronts.
“That was a great way to open the movie with that architecture, with the Dick Dale music,” says Reynolds-Wasco.
The interior of the Hawthorne Grill provided the filmmakers a lot to work with, especially on an estimated $8 million budget. Wasco says there was no need to reupholster any of the banquettes. Reynolds-Wasco was able to use many of the materials left behind by the owners in order to dress the set. Complimenting the Googie features of the coffee shop, and clearly visible across the street over Amanda Plummer’s shoulder, was an auto shop carport with a roof set at an oblique angle. “And that’s all part of picking the location. It’s what you see out the windows,” says Wasco.
Due to the popularity of Pulp Fiction, a Hawthorne resident reopened the restaurant in 1995, even adding a mural dedicated to the film and setting cardboard cutouts of Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in the booth where they sat. The restaurant filed for bankruptcy a year later and the Googie structure was demolished in 1999. Today, an AutoZone stands in its place. The Hawthorne Grill also appeared in the 1994 Chevy Chase-starring comedy, Cops & Robbersons.
There’s a slight variation of recollections as to how the filmmakers ended up using a number of locations in Atwater Village.The neighborhood provided some of the noir aesthetic the filmmakers were after, says Wasco, but he adds, “I won’t hide the fact that we’re all working within a budget and some of the big, driving force for picking where we shoot is driven by convenience.”
Craft says that he doesn’t recall there being one key location in Atwater Village, just that they knew they could find a number of options to convey the timeless quality the film possesses.
“I think that we may have picked Lance’s house…first and then maybe these other things sort of fell into place,” says Wasco, “because it was complicated.”
“Sure,” Craft acquiesces.
Craft recalls driving around the streets of Atwater Village to locate the house owned by Vincent Vega’s (John Travolta) easygoing heroine dealer, Lance (Eric Stoltz), and his wife, Jody (Rosanna Arquette). “I remember very clearly that the guy who owned the house was sitting on the front porch reading the Sunday New York Times,” says Craft. “So I stopped and I talked to him for a bit and he said, ‘Yeah, come on in.’” The home was a 1912 craftsman bungalow.
“It was kind of a ramshackle, tree-lined neighborhood that a drug dealer can kind of meld away into the background. It wasn’t your cliché apartment building that screams out drug dealer,” recalls Wasco. “I would almost have to say that the bungalow vernacular wasn’t the sought after, go-to thing that it is today where people go nuts and tender lovingly restore bungalows.”
Trying to pitch a homeowner that their house would be suitable for this type of character is a sensitive matter, says Craft. “When you choose a house like this, you can’t tell the owner, ‘I like your house because it’s rundown; it looks like a great place to put a drug dealer,’” he says, laughing. Also, Craft couldn’t necessarily drop Tarantino’s name as enticement when scouting locations for Pulp Fiction. “And at this time you have to remember, no one knew who Quentin was. I mean, maybe some film fans and things like that.”
The open floor plan of the home’s interior also worked for Tarantino’s dialogue, says Wasco. “I was surprised when we just looked at the film again, how many pages of dialogue were done in the house, how every inch and every room, every tiny little nook and cranny corner you’re seeing in that house.”
A critical element of Lance’s house was the front porch where Vincent had to crash his car with an unconscious Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) overdosing in the passenger seat. Wasco, who built a section of breakaway porch for the crash, says that the location was perfect for the stunt because the house had a low curb for the car to jump and no trees that had to be removed.
The Wallace House
Considering that you can’t see any part of Marsellus and Mia Wallace’s house from its driveway on Summitridge Drive in Beverly Hills, Craft says, simply, he found the crime boss’s home through a location service. The house, built in 1960, provides panoramic views over almost the entire west side of Los Angeles.
Reynolds-Wasco says she liked the house for the Wallaces because it conveyed the characters’ sophisticated taste and it added to the array of varying architecture featured in the film. She adds that the title of the film and the idea of interlocking storylines and “chapters” created an incentive to pair dissimilar visual concepts. Humor and violence, donuts and teriyaki, Googie and craftsman are all present within a non-linear structure.
Wasco points out that the art department kept these variations in mind because it reflected the flow and dialogue of Tarantino’s script. “What we were learning is that when you do a Quentin movie, you kind of work in a world of Quentin, or a Quentin world, which is not necessarily a period film, not necessarily a contemporary film. It’s using elements that he wants to bring to it even if a proper location, or a proper period art direction [element], might be not right. It’s what he wants and it becomes Quentin’s world.”
“The look of the city backed Quentin’s words,” adds Wasco. “L.A. is a city where you have a beautiful, interesting craftsman bungalow sitting next to a futuristic house,” says Wasco. “In many ways, L.A. alone is an incongruous juxtaposition.”
The Wallace house, as Wasco recalls, had a lot of existing artwork that the filmmakers could use, which was not problematic for legal clearances at the time. “It was a different rule then. The rule then was if the owner of the artwork gave you the okay, you could use it. Where now it’s not true,” says Reynolds-Wasco.
Some artwork was brought into the location including a pair of African funerary sculptures positioned along the front walkway. Twenty years after making the film, Reynolds-Wasco got a call asking where those statues came from and Wasco adds that it’s fairly commonplace. “We still get people calling us at home asking, ‘Where did you get that piece of artwork in this one house,’ and it’s always [about] Pulp Fiction,” say Wasco.
Not much came of that call, says Reynolds-Wasco. The funerary guardians, as she calls them, seen at the Wallace house were rented from a prop house. The call, however, prompted further research on the web and she learned that the statues should have been tribally protected. “Things like this had been stolen from Africa and they were very coveted by their original locations,” says Reynolds-Wasco. “They’re beautiful.”
Other original pieces of artwork like Isamu Naguchi light sculptures were brought into the Wallace house for practical lighting. When it’s pointed out that you can find knock-offs of those lamps at IKEA, Wasco says, “We brought the real thing.”
The control room where Mia watches Vincent meander through the house via a panel of security monitors was built on a stage.
The impact of Pulp Fiction’s nostalgia-filled restaurant, Jackrabbit Slim’s, was palpable with audiences for at least a decade after the film was released, says Wasco. Fans visiting L.A. would seek out the location only to discover it wasn’t a real place. In fact, there was so much interest in the pop culture diner that Disney, who acquired Miramax in 1993 and therefore owned Pulp Fiction, wanted to recreate Jackrabbit Slim’s as an actual restaurant at Disney World in Orlando. Wasco and Reynolds-Wasco were approached to work on the project, but they walked away as they felt it wouldn’t live up to what had been captured in the film. The project never materialized.
Jackrabbit Slim’s, which Tarantino describes in a handful of paragraphs in the script, is a masterful combination of a constructed set and a practical exterior location.
Upon scouting, Craft came across a mid-century exterior with a Folded Plate roof on the corner of Flower Street and Sonora Avenue in Glendale. It turned out that the building, originally a 1959 bowling alley called Grand Central Bowl, was, coincidentally, part of Disney’s Glendale campus.
“When we expressed interest in it, doors sort of opened. I believe it became a no-cost location, besides the security or something,” says Wasco. No other locations were even considered. “That was the perfect place to lead people into Jackrabbit Slim’s.”
The interior of Jackrabbit Slim’s was built entirely inside the production’s warehouse on Hayden Place in Culver City. Elements of period fine art, architecture, and film were incorporated into the set. A series of TV monitors display ‘40s and ‘50s black-and-white footage of buzzing Los Angeles streets, which Wasco and Tarantino found in a rear projection archive. As Vincent makes his way through the restaurant, patrons race slot cars, an element inspired by a restaurant setting in Howard Hawks’ race car film, Red Line 7000 (1965). Classic cars were transformed into tables and booths, an homage to Speedway (1968) starring Elvis Presley. “Quentin wanted it to be like a Hard Rock Café on heroin,” says Wasco of Jackrabbit Slim’s.
Young Butch’s House
Pulp Fiction’s most tranquil moment is perhaps it’s most memorable because of its slow disclosure and dramatically shifting tone.
Vietnam War veteran Captain Koons (Christopher Walken) visits 5-year-old Butch Coolidge at his suburban home to bestow upon him a family heirloom, a gold watch purchased by Butch’s great-grandfather during WWI. The watch was then passed down to Butch’s grandfather, who wore the watch in WWII, and his father, who died with the watch in a Vietnamese POW camp. Koons’s story begins as a sort of formal military-death notification, but quickly goes off the rails when he tells young Butch that his father had to hide the watch up his ass so his captors wouldn’t discover and confiscate it.
Craft says of the location, “I was looking for an interior; that the house would be frozen in time.” What initially attracted him to the house that was eventually chosen was that it had topiaries in the front yard. “There were older people who lived there and it hadn’t changed.”
Wasco recalls that the house was in Mar Vista or nearby.
Riffing off the wood paneling of period-accurate bar, Reynolds-Wasco brought in furniture made of rattan. “It made me feel, watching it again, sort of like the war movies about Pearl Harbor on Honolulu or something,” says Reynolds-Wasco. “It was sort of military-wife’s-home-near-a-base type of look is kind of what we were going for.”
River Glen Motel
After breaking his deal with Marsellus to throw a fight, Butch escapes the boxing arena and heads for a motel where’s he’s holed up with his French girlfriend, Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros), until the two of them are scheduled to leave L.A. the next day.
The River Glen Motel just off the corner of Riverside Drive and Glendale Boulevard caught Craft’s eye because of a classic peripheral element more so than the actual motel. “When you leave that motel and you turn on Riverside you see the bridge in the background,” says Craft. “It’s just visually striking. When you see that, it says L.A.” The bridge to which Craft is referring is the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge, originally named the Victory Memorial Bridge, which began construction in 1927 and opened in 1929. Tarantino did capture the visual of the bridge as Butch and Fabienne pull out of the motel’s driveway while making their getaway on Zed’s chopper. The bridge was also seen six years earlier in another onscreen getaway as Eddie, Roger, and Benny the Cab escape the Weasels in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).
The motel was an old, shabby location that had to be cleaned up for filming. “We actually had to go in there and clear away hypodermic needles and condoms because it was a really rough location,” says Craft.
Even though the room interior was built as a set at the warehouse, the art department modeled it off an actual room at the motel.
By 1996, the River Glen Motel was demolished and in 1999 a cinderblock office building was built on the empty lot.
“There’s such a thing as a tail location and a dog location,” says Craft. “The dog location was the apartment, the rest was the tail.”
Perhaps the most geographically specific location featured in Pulp Fiction was Butch’s North Hollywood apartment. After Fabienne forgets to bring Butch’s treasured gold watch to the motel, he’s forced to return to his apartment building to collect it, knowing full well that Marsellus’s assailants are most likely waiting for him there.
Craft says, per Tarantino, it was crucial that the apartment interior be configured so that the bathroom was in sight of the kitchen. In fact, Tarantino wrote in the screenplay, Butch looks up to the bathroom door, which is parallel to the kitchen. There is someone behind it. That someone is Vincent Vega, who has been in the bathroom reading his hardback copy of pulp novel, Modesty Blaise, since the time Butch entered the apartment. Armed with a submachine gun Vincent carelessly left on the kitchen counter, Butch shoots Vincent as a pair of Pop Tarts suddenly eject from the toaster.
“He wanted that geography and that was 99.99 percent of the driving force behind that location,” says Craft.
“I mean, Quentin really has it thought out,” says Wasco. “There has to be a bathroom behind that door. It has to sort of be laid out how it works for him to be able to have his words occur.”
“We begged Quentin to build it because I had to hire additional staff whose sole job is to find that location,” says Craft. “All he did was call apartment managers to see if they had that configuration until finally we found one in the Valley that worked.”
The first part of the sequence sees Butch park his car a block away from the apartment to avoid detection. From there, in a single minute-and-20-second Steadicam shot, Butch walks down an alley, through a hole cut in a chain link fence, and across an empty lot before spying on his apartment building across the street.
Butch’s apartment became a combination of two separate locations, something Tarantino didn’t want, says Craft, but there were no options that provided the perfect scenario of interior apartment layout and the exterior visuals that Tarantino desired.
Today, a new apartment complex stands on the once-vacant North Hollywood lot that Butch traversed on the way to his building.
When Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face—“I told you it was an accident. You probably went over a bump or something”—Jules and Vincent have to get their blood-soaked, 1974 green Chevy Nova off the street. Having just left Brett’s apartment in Hollywood, Jules calls his partner, Jimmie (Quentin Tarantino), who lives in Toluca Lake.
Reynolds-Wasco says the house was a difficult location to find. “That one had to be a feminine house because this guy was pussy-whipped by his wife,” she says. Jimmie, if you recall, buys his own gourmet coffee because his wife, Bonnie, “buys shit.” “I remember looking a long time. Because of the budget, we couldn’t change a lot,” says Reynolds-Wasco. “Not only did it want to be very feminine, but we wanted it to be very Beaver Cleaver.” There needed to be a quality of innocence to the house that was in direct contrast to the blood-spattered car and dead body stashed in the garage.
Wasco says the house, written to be in Toluca Lake, was actually found in nearby Studio City on a tip from filmmaker, Paul Thomas Anderson. As Wasco and Craft remember it, a friend of Anderson’s father, radio and television personality Ernie Anderson, owned the house. Thinking back, they recollect that the owner was somehow also involved in radio. An internet search of the address, however, revealed that a family by the name of Mullen owned the house. A 2007 Los Angeles Times profile of the family, which mentions the Pulp Fiction location, further characterizes patriarch and widely known Hollywood publicist, Jack Mullen.
The exterior of the house was already painted pink and various prints of floral wallpaper varied from room to room. Furniture was brought in for emphasis and to “get frillier,” says Reynolds-Wasco, but the location was perfect, she adds. “I just remember we all went in and looked at it and it was like, Oh my God.”
Wasco says it was beneficial that they didn’t have to cheat different parts of the house at multiple locations. “The big scene in the bedroom with Harvey Keitel and Quentin talking, it was all in this house,” says Wasco. “The backyard was the same place. The garage was the same place, the kitchen, and we milked it and took advantage of every inch of that.”
IMDb incorrectly lists the house as 4149 Kraft Avenue, which is the address seen on the curb as fixer Winston Wolf’s (Harvey Keitel) Acura NXS races up to the house. The actual address is next door at 4145 Kraft Avenue, and realty websites make a point to mention that the house, built in 1936, was used in Pulp Fiction. Though the interior has been completely renovated, recent photos clearly match elements seen in the film. A distinctive range hood over the kitchen stove still appears to be in place and you can imagine Winston Wolf sitting in the bedroom window nook as he talks to Jimmie.
Please keep in mind that some of the locations are on private property. Do not trespass or disturb the owners. Follow Jared on Twitter at @JaredCowan1.