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Grand Central Air Terminal from “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”

Sep 27th, 2012 | By | Category: Movie Locations

Grand Central Air Terminal Glendale (11 of 11)

While doing research for yesterday’s post (which you can read here), I came across a page on IMDB that stated that the bus station scene from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was filmed at the Glendale Amtrak Station.  I knew from previous cyber-stalking, though, that the Pee-wee bus station scene was actually filmed a few miles north of the Amtrak depot at the now-defunct Grand Central Air Terminal (a location that I first learned about way back in March 2011 while writing my post on the nearby former bowling alley that stood in for the exterior of Jack Rabbit Slim’s in Pulp Fiction).  Ironically enough, I had actually stalked both the Glendale Amtrak Station and Grand Central Air Terminal on the same day in early May.  So to clear up the confusion about the Pee-wee bus station, I thought now would be as good a time as any to blog about the place.

Grand Central Air Terminal was designed by Henry L. Gogerty in the Spanish Colonial Revival/Art Deco-style on the site of what was formerly a private airport for millionaire Leslie C. Brand.  The property was officially opened to the public on February 22, 1929 and featured the first paved runway west of the Rocky Mountains.  The airport was also the first to offer transcontinental passenger air service from Los Angeles to the East Coast and the premiere flight took place in 1929 with none other than Charles Lindbergh at the helm.  Hollywood luminaries Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were also onboard.  Other stars who took flights to or from Grand Central over the years include Shirley Temple, Gary Cooper, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Jack Warner, Louis B. Mayer, Carole Lombard, and Jean Harlow.  Such aviation pioneers as Howard Hughes, Glenn L. Martin, Eddie Rickenbacker, Amelia Earhart, and Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan are all counted as having piloted flights from the airport.

Grand Central Air Terminal Glendale (3 of 11)

Grand Central Air Terminal Glendale (1 of 11)

In 1947, following World War II, Grand Central’s runway was cut down to 3,400 feet to make room for a road.  When the runway was later deemed too short for jet planes to use in 1959, the 125-acre property was closed and most of its hangars and runways demolished or removed.  All that remains of the original airport is the actual terminal building and its three-story Zigzag Moderne-tower.  The site was subsequently purchased by Prudential Insurance, who transformed it into an industrial park named Grand Central Business Park.  In 1961, The Walt Disney Company leased the vast majority of the property and subsequently purchased it in 1997.  The Park is currently used as Disney corporate offices and as the headquarters of Walt Disney Imagineering.  And while the Walt Disney Company has an agreement with the city of Glendale to restore the air terminal building, which suffered damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, back to its original grandeur by the year 2015, it has, sadly, been left to deteriorate in the meantime.

Grand Central Air Terminal Glendale (4 of 11)

Grand Central Air Terminal Glendale (8 of 11)

In Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Grand Central Terminal stood in for the supposed San Antonio bus station where Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) ran into Simone (my former acting teacher Diane Salinger).


Grand Central Air Terminal Glendale (6 of 11)


Grand Central Air Terminal Glendale (5 of 11)

You can even see a portion of a sign reading “Grand Central Building” in the background of the scene.


Grand Central Air Terminal Glendale (2 of 11)

Thanks to its proximity to several different Hollywood studios, Grand Central Air Terminal has been the site of countless filmings over the years.  In the beginning of 1933’s Air Hostess, it was the Los Angeles airport where the TWA flight from Albuquerque landed.




Grand Central was also the airport where saxophonist Ronny Bowers (Dick Powell) landed upon first coming to Southern California in 1937’s Hollywood Hotel.



In 1943, Grand Central stood in for Transatlantic Airways’ London Terminal in the movie Sherlock Holmes in Washington, although it only appeared very briefly.



The north side of Grand Central Terminal stood in for the Carson Police Department in 1985’s My Science Project, although such a small portion of the building was shown that it is virtually unrecognizable.



You can see below, though, that the front of the police station matches the area where Pee-wee sat in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.



Grand Central Air Terminal also looks to have been the inspiration for the painted backdrop that was used to portray Genovia International Airport in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.  While the layout of the terminal was, for whatever reason, flipped in the movie, the resemblance is undeniable.  You can check out a historic photograph of Grand Central, in which its similarities to the Genovia airport are obvious, here.  Being that the movie was produced by The Walt Disney Company, it makes sense that the former terminal served as the model for Genovia International.


Grand Central Terminal was also supposedly used in 1923’s Going Up, 1930’s Hell’s Angels, 1933’s Lady Killer, Captured and Central Airport, 1934’s Bright Eyes, 1936’s Hats Off, 1938’s Sky Giant, and 1941’s Sky Raiders, but, unfortunately, I could not find copies of any of those productions with which to verify that information.

Grand Central Air Terminal Glendale (7 of 11)

You can find me on Facebook here and on Twitter at @IAMNOTASTALKER.  And be sure to check out my other blog, The Well-Heeled Diabetic.

Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Stalk It: Grand Central Air Terminal, from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, is located at 1310 Air Way in Glendale.  The former bowling alley that was used as the exterior of Jack Rabbit Slim’s restaurant in Pulp Fiction is located right around the corner at 1435 Flower Street.



Leave a comment »

  1. Constant says:

    The air terminal was also used in the 1939 RKO movie “Five Came Back”. It features some nice shots of interior as well. You can see the clip here:

  2. Dexter Francis says:

    It’s May 2015, and the GCAT renovation project is coming along nicely. The approved project proposal can be seen at:

  3. Troy S. says:

    According to a friend who was often the designated driver for folks like WC Fields and John Barrymore, this location also housed a speak easy in the basement.

  4. That is a great building. Loved all the pics!

  5. John (Bay Area) says:

    Very interesting post. I would have driven right past that fenced off building and not realized it was a former airport terminal. Disney is doing so much construction work in that area… hopefully they will make good on that agreement to restore the building.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. […] Ronald Reagan, among many others, all filmed at GCAT. Imagine walking on the hallowed ground where Pee Wee had part of his Big Adventure. Chills. How this place wasn’t declared a National Historic Landmark after the filming of […]

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