With its highway trestles, taco stands and strip malls, “Starsky and Hutch” is remembered as the ultimate L.A. ’70s cop show.
But it took place in the fictitious locale of Bay City.
Even though a shot of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion slipped into the 1975 TV pilot, helmer Todd Phillips (“Old School,” “Road Trip”) and his crew are ensuring that the same mistake doesn’t happen in the Warner Brothers-Dimension bigscreen version, starring Ben Stiller (Starsky) and Owen Wilson (Hutch).
Their m.o.: Keep Bay City as authentic as possible. “We’re trying to look like somewhere else,” says location manager Michael Neale, “Flint, Mich., with palm trees.”
For starters, stucco and Spanish tile-roof houses were barred from the shot — too City of Angels. Production designer Edward Verreaux used a subdued color palette of earth tones, and drew inspirations from old Playboys for Starsky’s white-walled bachelor pad (shot in Venice Beach).
In conveying the opulence of the film’s villain, Reese (played by Vince Vaughn), Neale and second location manager Rob Frank chose such sites as Pasadena’s 1932 Panic mansion for the bad guy’s digs, and San Marino’s Huntington Library for his golf club. The gold-ceiling ballroom at downtown’s 1923 Biltmore Hotel serves as the club’s interior for a charity ball that Starsky and Hutch crash.
One location that screamed ’70s was the nightclub of Huggy Bear (played in the pic by Snoop Dogg), a pimp who feeds Starsky and Hutch the inside dope. However, in the film, Huggy’s bar gets revamped into a velvet-clad strip club.
For the interior, Verreaux used the Alexandria Hotel bar, built circa 1905. Booths were reupholstered, red velvet curtains hung and a ministage with a stripper’s pole served as the centerpiece.
When Neale scouted the bar, it brought to mind a place where he once worked: Chuck Landis’ World Famous Largo Strip Club on Sunset Boulevard (currently the Roxy). “Huggy’s Bar is one of the few places that gets colorful,” says Verreaux. “We used his costume tone of violet throughout the club.”
Overall, hardly any ’70s architecture was used in the film. Instead, Verreaux and Neale preferred locations such as the Alexandria: buildings that had lived through the decade but were worn.
To transport downtown back to 1975, Verreaux embellished the area around Grand, Spring, 5th and 3rd streets with 42 neon signs along with porn theater marquees reading “Ranger Doug’s Furry Safari” and “Hold the Meat.”
Yet as Verreaux wrestles with keeping certain L.A. landmarks out of the picture, the creators of the small-screen show never bothered. But there were practical reasons to setting the show in Bay City as opposed to Los Angeles.
“We didn’t have to consult the LAPD on procedure,” says original “Starsky” creator William Blinn. “Starsky and Hutch were loose cannons, guys who were unfathomable with the police establishment, and the LAPD’s favorite show was ‘Dragnet.’ By setting the show in Bay City, it afforded us artistic license.”