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The Hartunian House from “Alpha Dog”

Jul 29th, 2011 | By | Category: Movie Locations


Another Palm-Springs-area locale that fellow stalker/location scout Scott Trimble, of the STS Locations website, helped me to find recently was the residence where Frankie Ballenbacher’s (aka Justin Timberlake’s) good friend/”Witness #11”, Susan Hartunian (aka Dominique Swain), lived with her utterly clueless and apathetic mother, Tiffany Hartunian (aka ER’s Alex Kingston), in the 2006 movie Alpha Dog.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post about the Koerner House , while I did not exactly love me some Alpha Dog, darn if the flick’s location scouts did not choose some FABULOUS and COMPLETELY UNIQUE locales to feature in it, one of which was the exquisite, mid-century-modern-style Hartunian abode.  So I, of course, just had to drag the Grim Cheaper right on out to stalk the place while the two of us were vacationing in the Coachella Valley two weekends ago.

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As stated yesterday, Alpha Dog is based on the harrowing true story of the kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz, whose brother, Ben, owed $1,200 in drug debt to infamous West-Hills-area marijuana dealer Jesse James Hollywood.  During the three-day-long ordeal, which more closely resembled a vacation than a kidnapping, Markowitz hung out and partied with Hollywood’s small group of low-life cronies in the Santa Barbara area and was seen by no less than 38 witnesses, none of whom reported – or for the most part even realized –  that anything out of the ordinary was going on.  In the movie, the character of Susan Hartunian, who was based on 17-year-old Santa-Barbara-resident Natasha Adams-Young, was the only one of those 38 witnesses who expressed any sort of concern over the fact that the boy, whose character was named Zack Mazursky and who was portrayed by Anton Yelchin, had been kidnapped.  She was also the one who finally reported the involvement of the Jesse James Hollywood character, Johnny Truelove (aka Emile Hirsch), and his best friend Frankie to the police shortly after Zack’s body was found.  Susan’s incredible house was featured several times in Alpha Dog and both the exterior . .

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. . . and the interior of the property were used.

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In real life, the Hartunian residence is known as the Burgess House or the Bougain Villa house, a play on the term “bougainvillea”, which is the name of a hearty, brightly-flowering plant that thrives in hot desert climates. The Burgess House, which was originally built in 1958 and boasts 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and 2,932 square feet of living space, is situated on a one-acre plot of land that is nestled into a rocky mountainside located about 200 feet above Downtown Palm Springs. The altitude of the lot affords for some amazing mountain and city views and architects Hugh Kaptur and William Burgess took advantage of the lot’s unique position by fashioning the home with huge, floor-to-ceiling windows made of mirrored glass which reflect the surrounding landscape.  They also installed numerous sparkling pools and ponds, large boulders located both inside and outside of the residence, large open patios, and huge canopy overhangs, which protect the residence and its occupants from the desert’s intense heat.  In 1986, Albert Frey, the legendary Swiss-born architect who is largely regarded as the father of the Desert Modernism Movement, added a large guest home to the property.  Sadly though, as fabulous as the house is, as you can see above very little of it can actually be seen from the street.

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But I did manage to spot the patio where filming took place for the scene towards the beginning of Alpha Dog in which Susan told her mother that she was heading off to a party at Frankie’s house.

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Aerial views of the property, which are sadly not that great either, are pictured above.  And you can check out some FABULOUS photographs of the place that Martha Stewart took – yes, that Martha Stewart – on a 2009 trip to the desert here.  If you would like to read a more in-depth account of the Nicholas Markowitz murder, you can check out a fabulous LA Magazine article titled “The Last Ride of Jesse James Hollywood” here.

I would like to send out a very big HAPPY BIRTHDAY wish today to my dear friend and fellow stalker Kerry up in Anacortes, Washington.  I hope you are having fabulous day!  I love you, girl!

Big THANK YOU to Scott Trimble, from the STS Locations website, for finding this location!  Smile You can follow Scott on Twitter, and learn all about his many location scout adventures, here.

Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Stalk It: The Burgess House, aka the Hartunian residence from Alpha Dog, is located at 550 West Palisades Drive in Palm Springs.  Palisades Drive is a private, gated road that is not accessible to the public, but you can catch some good views of the residence from West Tahquitz Canyon Way, just east of where it meets Palisades Drive.



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  1. LAVONNA says:

    It was a dark movie but I love true stories. Good post – great find!

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