The VA Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center aka the American Embassy from “Argo”Jan 17th, 2013 | By Lindsay | Category: Movie Locations
There are few things this stalker loves more than opening her mailbox to discover a slew of “For Your Consideration” screeners – something that happens each January shortly before the Screen Actors Guild Awards. This year, the DVDs waiting in my mailbox were Silver Linings Playbook (my pick for best movie of the year), Les Miserables (which I have yet to watch) and Argo (which absolutely KNOCKED MY SOCKS OFF!). I cannot believe that Ben Affleck was not nominated for a Best Director Academy Award. The mere fact that he was able to shoot 90% of Argo, a movie that supposedly takes place in 1970s Tehran, in 2013 Los Angeles is astounding! He deserves an Oscar for that alone. Anyway, a few weeks back, Mike, from MovieShotsLA, sent me a Los Angeles Times article about the Southern California locations featured in Argo and, believe you me, when I read that the Veterans Affairs Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center in North Hills had masqueraded as the American Embassy in the flick, I immediately started chomping at the bit and dragged the Grim Cheaper right on out to stalk the place shortly thereafter.
The Veterans Affairs Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center (try saying that one three times fast!), which is absolutely ginormous, has quite an interesting history. In 1952, Lester and Mary Gentry donated a 160-acre plot of land to the city so that a veterans hospital could be built. The Sepulveda Care Center was the result of that generous donation and by 1993 the site was treating over 275,000 veterans each year. Sadly though, much of the property was damaged during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the main hospital building subsequently torn down, and the majority of the premises shuttered. In a controversial move, the site was deemed “unsafe” to operate as a care center soon thereafter, yet it is constantly used by production companies for filming. According to a 2009 Los Angeles Daily News article, the designation “was all a smokescreen, a chance for VA officials to save some money, downsize and gut Sepulveda.” And while the property does currently house a working outpatient center, a pharmacy, a nursing home, an X-ray lab, a therapy pool, and a methadone clinic, the majority of the buildings remain vacant. As you can see below, though, a restoration project is currently underway. In February of last year, the city began gutting the interior of two of the dilapidated structures, with the plan to turn them both into housing for homeless vets. In the meantime, the Center is still being used for filming. And lots of it.
According to the Los Angeles Times article about Argo, two locations were used to stand in for the American Embassy in the film. The scenes that took place outside of the embassy walls (pictured below) were shot at a building in Istanbul, Turkey – one that I have yet to track down.
The scenes that took place inside of the embassy walls were, of course, shot at the VA Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center. The L.A Times article states, “A Veterans Affairs medical building in North Hills, with its institutional, red brick facade, turned out to be remarkably similar to the U.S. embassy in Tehran from which six Americans escaped and sought refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. ‘It even had the same number of stories as the U.S. embassy in Tehran,’ said Chris Baugh, location manager for ‘Argo.’ ‘It was a huge stroke of luck.’” You can check out some photographs of the actual former American Embassy in Tehran here and here. As you can see, it does look quite a bit like the Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center. Following the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, the embassy site ceased functioning as such and today is used by the Iranian government as a training facility for the Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Because the VA site is so incredibly vast (there are over 18 separate, very similar-looking buildings) and so little of the exterior of the American Embassy was actually shown in Argo, the GC and I had quite a time trying to pinpoint the exact spot where filming took place. Thankfully though, we ran into an extremely nice security guard who was all too happy to help. According to him, a façade of the embassy was constructed in a parking lot on the premises during the shoot, and I am fairly certain that that façade is what is pictured in the screen capture below, as it does not match up to any of the actual hospital buildings.
For some of the close-up angles of the embassy, the security guard informed us that Building 4 was used. Because the shots were so tight, though, the structure is not very recognizable from the film. In fact, the only recognizable element, besides the windows, is the brick wall situated at the front of the building.
That brick wall is pictured below.
The interior of one of the VA buildings (according to the security guard, Building 5) also stood in for the interior of the American Embassy in Argo.
Building 4 also appeared in Rob Zombie’s 2007 Halloween reboot as Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, where a young Michael Meyers (Scout Taylor-Compton) was institutionalized after murdering his family.
The real life interior of the hospital was also used in the filming.
In fact, the very same room that stood in for the Visa Application office in Argo also stood in for the family visiting room in Halloween, as you can see below. So incredibly cool!
Building 4 was also where Brennan Huff (Will Ferrell) and Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) were beat up by kid bullies in the 2008 comedy Step Brothers.
The north side of Building 4 (which I, unfortunately, did not get a picture of) was the main location used in Accepted. In the 2006 comedy, the site stood in for the abandoned Harmon Psychiatric Hospital . . .
. . . which Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) and his friends turned into the fake South Harmon Institute of Technology.
The location was so prominent in the filming that it was even featured in the movie’s poster.
And a pool was even built in the courtyard area for the shoot.
The exterior of VA Sepulveda’s Building 200, which is an actual working medical facility, is also used regularly for filming.
As is the interior. The building was closed when we showed up to stalk it, though, so I could only snap photographs through the front windows, unfortunately.
Building 200 is most notably used on Grey’s Anatomy where it stands in each week for Seattle Grace Hospital.
Because I have never actually watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy (I know, I know), like a dork I accidentally took a picture of the wrong side of the building.
The south side of the building is the side used as Seattle Grace.
While the majority of the interior of Seattle Grace is just a set, the lobby of VA Sepulveda also pops up occasionally on the show.
The interior of Building 200 also masqueraded as a Geneva-area hospital in the Season 2 episode of Alias titled “Salvation”.
The 1981 horror flick Halloween II was also filmed at the VA Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center, although I am unsure of which exact structure was used in the production. I am guessing, though, that it was the main hospital building that was demolished after the Northridge earthquake.
The Season 8 episodes of Falcon Crest titled “Ties that Bind” and “The Last Laugh” were also supposedly filmed at VA Sepulveda, but I could not find copies of either with which to verify that information.
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: The Veterans Affairs Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center, aka the American Embassy from Argo, is located at 16111 Plummer Street in North Hills. Building 4 was used as the exterior of the embassy. Building 200 serves as Seattle Grace Hospital on Grey’s Anatomy. You can check out a map of the Ambulatory Care Center here.