As the June sun heats up the L.A. basin, farther south at the Port of Los Angeles the murky marine layer won’t loosen its grip over the quiet Sunday morning stillness. Without the constant rumble of semi-trucks, Terminal Island is a ghost town aside from a security patrol that roams the vacant streets. Amidst massive shipping container yards and unkempt, fenced-off parcels of property, a lonely wooden bench sits surrounded by overgrown weeds and discarded pieces of trash. An advertisement for a local Italian restaurant painted on the bench’s back, chipped and nearly illegible from years of exposure, publicizes its specialty: Catering to the Movie Industry. Twenty years ago, Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker revved their engines just feet away from this bench for a high-octane drag race that set in motion a mega-blockbuster franchise that’s going strong two decades later.
The Fast and the Furious was released on June 22, 2001, and made over $207 million at the worldwide box office on an estimated $34 million budget. Loosely inspired by a 1998 VIBE magazine article, the first film in the series was raw and somewhat grounded in reality; then the movies turned into world spanning, James Bond-like CGI spectacles. The 2,000-word article by journalist Kenneth Li acknowledges the Asian American roots of underground street racing in Southern California, but instead focuses on the New York City racing scene.
Veteran location manager Bob Craft recalls that at the time he was hired for The Fast and the Furious, the script for was written for New York. The studio planned to shoot it there, but director Rob Cohen wanted to shoot it in L.A.
“There was this culture here that we really tied into,” says Craft. “I spent two weeks driving around [L.A.], taking scenes from the screenplay and saying, ‘This is where we could shoot this, this is where we could shoot that,’” says Craft. “Scenes that were written for New York transferred here, so we didn’t have to go to New York, and it worked.”
Los Angeles became the home of the film’s antihero, career criminal and unbeatable street racer Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Diesel), and his crew.
Not only was it convenient—and probably less expensive—to keep the film in L.A., but at the core of The Fast and the Furious was the idea that car culture and street racing transcends differences between ethnic groups. Craft says that the sprawl of little communities around the L.A. region, as opposed to the condensed geography of New York, helped convey this idea.
“Different groups live in different areas. It’s more contained. You can see where they are,” says Craft. “Rob wanted to show that L.A. is made up of all these different communities. … It affects the story and how you tell it—the communities working with each other.”
The intricacies of the races and practical car-to-car stunts meant that The Fast and the Furious had to venture outside the boundaries of the 30-mile studio zone on a couple of occasions. For scenes at the officially sanctioned Race Wars competition, the production used the San Bernardino International Airport, later seen in films like Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German (2006) and Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (2014). A pulse-pounding, six-minute truck hijacking scene was shot in Riverside County, on the outskirts of the city of Hemet. For the most part, however, filming kept to the L.A. area.
The mark the 20th anniversary of The Fast and the Furious, here are some of the film’s most critical L.A. locations.
The Fast and the Furious is bookended at the Port of Los Angeles.
The film opens in a shipping container yard where an inventory of Panasonic electronics departs for its intended retail distributors. The truck carrying the merchandise is hijacked on the freeway by a group of masked individuals driving black vehicles, in a highly coordinated fashion, at high speed. The freeway is surrounded by the pipes and smokestacks of the Valero oil refinery—a steampunk aesthetic that punctuates the film.
As we pointed out in our recent look into the filming locations of 1986’s Cobra, the Terminal Island Freeway has often been used for freeway scenes that require a complete shut down for filming.
“It’s easier to get [CalTrans’s] ‘yes’ for the Terminal Island Freeway than for something else,” says Craft. “It’s not as busy. You don’t piss off as many people when you close it down.” The oil refineries are just a visual bonus, adds Craft. “It doesn’t have anything to do with getting the location. The location is chosen by where you can do it. That’s the bottom line: where you can do it and it’s not going to cost you a fortune.”
The Fast and the Furious concludes just a few miles away with a drag race down a wide, half-mile stretch of Terminal Way between Tuna Street and Ferry Street. Dom’s customized 1970 Dodge Charger and Brian’s (Walker) tricked-out 1995 Toyota Supra sail through a set of active train tracks, narrowly beating out an oncoming train, before Dom’s car slams into the front end of a semi truck, sending his Charger flipping through the air and slamming down onto the asphalt.
Dom’s House and Toretto’s Market & Cafe
Halfway through the film, Dom introduces Brian to the 1970 Dodge Charger that he built with his dad. It’s clear that he has an attachment to his roots, and that sentiment is on display in the Angelino Heights house that he shares with this his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster).
Craft says that the 1906 house was chosen due to its vantage point on a hill that overlooked downtown L.A. It also had some age to it, which speaks to the nature of the character.
“He’s lived there a long time. His family has lived there. He has roots. He hasn’t just moved in and he’s a newbie. This is his hood. He knows where everything is,” says Craft. “It looks like his father lived there and his grandfather lived there.”
The timeworn garage where Dom reveals the Charger to Brian was constructed at the top of the driveway.
The house later appeared in Fast & Furious 6 (2013) and was blown to smithereens via CGI in Furious 7 (2015). Over the last 20 years it’s become a frequently visited location for fans, sometimes to the chagrin of the neighborhood. Consequently, the house has been blurred on Google street view.
Just a stone’s throw away from the house is a neighborhood grocery store that was transformed into Toretto’s market. Craft says that the house was found first, and the market, built in 1913, happened to be within walking distance.
“I didn’t choose it because of how the building looked. I shot it because of its geography to our hero location,” says Craft. “It was a lucky find.”
Though there’s never a shot that ties in the proximity of the house to the market, Craft says it was important to create a believable geography.
“It’s for the actors. It’s for them, so that they get an idea that it’s a neighborhood. If you had to go from this house down to San Pedro, and they were supposed to be in the same neighborhood, it would be harder,” says Craft.
Bob’s Market on Bellevue Avenue was also used as the interior of the Korean grocery store in Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down (1993).
In an attempt to keep off the radar of the authorities, dozens of drivers and their custom-built vehicles converge on a trio of out-of-the-way industrial commercial buildings.
The location was originally opened as the Los Angeles Terminal Market, a produce and manufacturing complex built between 1917 and 1923. It served as a distribution center for goods and a hub for the Southern Pacific Railroad that connected L.A.’s port with downtown. Later known as Alameda Square, two of the six historic buildings were home to American Apparel from 2001 to 2017, before the company went bankrupt. The timing places The Fast and the Furious at the location immediately before the L.A.–based clothing manufacturer and retailer moved in.
“They were empty [buildings], but I don’t think they were abandoned,” says Craft. “If I recall correctly, the electricity wasn’t working.” The size, scope, and depth were immediately appealing, says Craft.
Today, the 30-acre complex is known as ROW DTLA, a mixed-use space that opened in 2017 to great fanfare. The wide establishing shot of the location, as seen in the film, would be impossible to shoot today, as a ten-story parking structure now stands adjacent to the early 20th century, warehouse-style buildings featured in the scene.
The Street Race
After assembling in downtown L.A., the racers travel about 13 miles south to the city of Hawthorne where spectators line the curbs of Prairie Avenue near 120th Street—adjacent to the Hawthorne Municipal Airport—for a late-night, adrenaline-fueled street race.
“We needed a long, straight piece of road with not a lot of intersections. You didn’t want it to be chopped up a lot. That’s expensive because you have to have police everywhere,” says Craft. “It’s all dictated by price.”
It helped that Hawthorne had a film friendly mayor in Larry Guidi. For Jackie Brown, on which Craft worked as location manager, Guidi used his influence to open up the shuttered Cockatoo Inn in exchange for a meet-and-greet with Robert De Niro. “The mayor really [liked] filming and always [wanted] to get a photograph with the star,” says Craft.
With a budget of $34 million—a fairly low price tag for a movie of this scope at that time—Craft’s team had to be conservative when paying the dozens of businesses lining the street to keep the lights on while filming took place.
Evading the Police
When the cops converge on the Hawthorne street race, Dom is tailed in his modified 1993 Mazda RX-7. He pulls into a parking garage to stash the car.
For horror film fans, the parking garage ramp might be recognizable as the spot where suave neighborhood vampire Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) follows Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse) into a nightclub in 1985’s Fright Night. Last year, we looked at the filming locations of Fright Night for the film’s 35th anniversary and we learned that the building at 7th Street and Union Avenue opened in 1925 as a specialty market, later becoming a hardware store that closed up prior to the filming of Fright Night. Subsequent to Fright Night, the building became the home of the Union Swap Meet, signage of which can be seen in The Fast and the Furious. The location suffered substantial damage during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. A WSS shoe store now occupies the space.
Located about four miles outside the southeast rim of the studio zone, in the city of Westminster, lies Little Saigon. The Vietnamese American enclave in northern Orange County has long been celebrated for its vast offerings of authentic Vietnamese restaurants and cafes, large shopping centers, and Vietnamese supermarkets. Visually, there’s a lot to like about Little Saigon, but it wasn’t often filmed before The Fast and the Furious.
“I got a lot of compliments about this location from the public and from other location managers because they hadn’t seen it before. It is slightly outside the zone,” says Craft.
Craft’s team hired a Vietnamese translator when working in the neighborhood, which was critically important when communicating that car was going to explode at Cultural Court, a local monument that had previously hosted ceremonies memorializing the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Tucked away behind a shopping center, the site was once lined with 72 statues depicting the Chinese philosopher Confucius and his students. It’s here that Dom and Brian are forced into a confrontational meeting with Johnny Tran (Rick Yune), the leader of a rival street racing crew and organized crime syndicate. As of 2016, the statues were removed to make way for a larger parking lot.
The FBI House
A day after the street race, Brian is pulled over by an unmarked police car on 7th Street near Union Avenue. He is detained by the detectives and driven to a mid-century modern home high up on a hill in the Bel Air-Beverly Crest neighborhood. It’s revealed that Brian is an undercover cop and the home is being used as headquarters for an FBI sting operation targeting the street racing crews.
The house that was once perched at 1261 Angelo Drive was known as Ridgetop. It was designed by David Lyle Fowler and built for his mother in 1963. A small swimming pool in the entry courtyard could be traversed by a concrete footbridge. The circular floor plan of the home provided panoramic views from its hillside location, the perfect vantage point for a team of undercover cops.
“It’s just a good mid-century modern house,” says Craft. “It contrasts nicely with the rest of the movie. It’s the only mid-century modern house we have in the movie.”
Craft previously used the house as the family home in Diane Keaton’s Hanging Up (2000), which was also designed by Fast and the Furious production designer Waldemar Kalinowski.
Not long after the release of The Fast and the Furious, Ridgetop was demolished to make way for the controversial and obscenely large Pritzker Estate.
DT Precision Auto Shop
Along with owning the neighborhood market, Dom is also the proprietor of his own auto body shop. The garage was filmed at one of the oldest substations in the city. Located in Cypress Park, Huron Substation was built in 1906 for the purpose of converting electricity for the city’s Yellow Car trolley system. The loft-like brick structure at the corner of West Avenue 28 and Huron Street is used today almost exclusively as a film and photography studio and event space.
Though Huron Substation is not right around the corner from Dom’s house and Toretto’s market, Craft says that the location is still indicative of the age and architecture reflected in Angelino Heights, therefore it’s believable that the auto body shop is in Dom’s neighborhood.
Huron Substation was named Los Angeles Cultural Monument No. 404 in December of 1988. Not long after, the building sustained fire damage when a hot plate was inadvertently left powered on. The location can also be seen be seen as the office of E. Edward Grey, Esq. in Secretary (2002), Mark Ruffalo’s restaurant in The Kids Are Alright (2010), and the interior of Central Park’s boat house—complete with pools of water—in Date Night (2010).
When Hector (Noel Gugliemi), the leader of another rival street racing gang, shows up at the Racer’s Edge asking for parts to upgrade three Honda Civics, Brian suspects that they might be responsible for the string of truck hijackings.
While Hector and his crew party at El Gato Negro, a bar set that was constructed on an empty piece of property at the corner of El Segundo Boulevard and Arena Street in El Segundo, Brian breaks into Hector’s auto body shop across the street to obtain evidence. The pipes and smokestacks of the Chevron oil refinery can be seen in the background, tying together the location with the hijacking scene along the Terminal Island Freeway.
The Motorcycle Chase
When Dom’s close friend and associate, Jesse (Chad Lindberg), is assassinated by Johnny Tran and his cousin Lance (Reggie Lee) outside of the Angelino Heights home, Brian and Dom pursue them through the neighborhood, their rivals driving two off-road sport motorcycles. The chase ensues through the steep hills of Silver Lake along Micheltorena Street near Effie Avenue and ends when Johnny Tran crashes into Ruben Soto’s Echo Park mural, Eyes, located on Glendale Boulevard underneath the Sunset Boulevard overpass.
Please keep in mind that some of these locations are on private property. Do not trespass or disturb the owners.
Follow Jared on Twitter at @JaredCowan1.