Famous Hollywood locations
What if I told you that there was a place within the City limits of Los Angeles, in a very public park, just beneath the Iconic Hollywood sign that is the site where over 300 films and TV Shows were filmed. The place is in Bronson Canyon, in a very small cave, accessible from both sides called Bronson Cave.
It is located in the Southwest section of Griffith Park. To get to it is a pleasant drive through an area of well-kept homes and tree lined streets. The pavement gives way to a dirt road and a small concrete bridge. Shortly it becomes a path that suddenly comes to a rock outcropping and what seems to be an other-worldly sight—a deserted and lonely-looking cave that has been featured in films since 1919 and is used up to this day.
Its remote setting and easy access has been a blessing to many low budget (and some high budget) film makers. Mostly Westerns and cheap Sci-Fi films were shot here.
In 1903 it was a very profitable rock quarry and it supplied the rocks used in streets for the fast growing City of Los Angeles. In 1920, the quarry ceased operations, leaving a series of caves that still stand. Eventually Hollywood location scouts found the place and after a few minor alterations, it was ready and safe enough to use for making films.
Over the years, body-snatching pods from the original Invasion of The Body Snatchers hung from it’s walls; Batman and Robin used the entrance every week for the famous bat cave. The Werewolf of London was partially filmed there, as was Lost Horizon, where it substituted for the Himalayas.
Story has it, that in 1956, John Ford, took John Wayne, a horse and a single cameraman to Bronson Cave to film a quick pick up for a scene in the classic Western, The Searchers.
My personal favorite Bronson Cave shots were in the endless cheap Sci-Fi films that shot there. How can anyone forget Robot Monster, where a gorilla in a space helmet threatened people using a sophisticated bubble machine? Flash Gordon regularly used the cave in the 1930s to hide or be attacked by mummies sent out by Ming the Merciless. Captain Kirk also used the cave countless times to beam up to the Enterprise.
Scenes using the cave are mostly filmed on an angle, because the cave is actually a short tunnel. The other side is 17 feet away and is easily seen when viewed straight on. Many times, sequences had to be re-shot because the cameraman inadvertently included The Hollywood Sign some five miles away.
Today the cave is constantly in use, mostly for television. Scenes from NCIS and 2 1/2 men recently shot there. But I have to think fondly of all the low budget monsters and creepazoids that slithered in and out of Bronson Cave during the 1950s—Killers From Space, Teenage Caveman, Invasion of the Star Creatures, and The Brain From Planet Arous, just to name a very few.
Next time you catch a re-run of Bonanza, Gunsmoke, or even Rawhide, pay attention and you are bound to see the one and only Bronson Cave. Most of all—realize the action is happening in a city park, smack in the middle of Los Angeles.
Next Month: Another famous Hollywood Location—Vasquez Rocks.
Ric Pantale writer and director, is an independent film maker.