The “Pretty Woman” Opera HouseJul 31st, 2013 | By Lindsay | Category: Movie Locations
Today’s locale is one that I have been trying to track down for over a year and a half now – ever since discovering that pretty much every other location website out there had gotten it wrong. I am talking about the exterior of the supposed San Francisco opera house featured in the 1990 classic romantic comedy Pretty Woman. Last January, while on a Pretty Woman kick, I dragged the Grim Cheaper out to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, where filming of the opera scene is said by several websites to have taken place. And while the interior of the museum did, in fact, appear in the movie, I took one look at the exterior and knew without a doubt that it was not the exterior shown in Pretty Woman.
As you can see below, the Pretty Woman opera house and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, while somewhat similar, are most definitely NOT one and the same. Which begs the question – how does erroneous information like this get published? Yet again, the answer is shoddy research and lazy reporting. Once upon a time, someone made the claim that the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles was used as the exterior of the Pretty Woman opera house and everyone else just jumped on the bandwagon without doing any of their own investigating. I call that “spaghetti-style stalking” – let’s just throw some locations out there and see what sticks – and it is maddening! Anyway, while I knew that the Natural History Museum did not stand in for the exterior of the Pretty Woman opera house, I had no idea what location actually was used and spent the next year and a half trying to figure it out. Then on Monday afternoon, I got a text from my good friend Nat letting me know that she had found the site – in Pittsburgh of all places! (I should mention here that Nat is not AT ALL into stalking, so this truly was a feat!)
I originally got Nat, who is a native San Franciscan, involved in the hunt because I had assumed that the building used in Pretty Woman was located somewhere in the City by the Bay. In a bad twist of fate, while the scene was originally set to be lensed at S.F.’s iconic War Memorial Opera House, a few days before the shoot date, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck, rendering the city, and War Memorial, unfilmable. So director Garry Marshall and his team had to scramble to find a different last-minute location at which to film. They wound up using three different locales to stand in for the opera house. The Natural History of Museum of Los Angeles was used as the interior of the concert hall’s lobby area.
In the scene, Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) and Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) walk through the main entrance of the Natural History Museum and head to the right.
I am fairly certain that the curved wall panel pictured below was a set piece that was added for the filming, as the actual walls of the museum are not rounded.
As you can see in the screen capture below, the tiled floor pattern also seems to be cut off by that rounded panel, further leading me to believe that it was a set piece.
Edward and Vivian then walk past an usher handing out programs . . .
. . . and up a flight of stairs.
Had the camera panned just slightly farther to the right in the scene, the museum’s famous dinosaurs would have been visible.
For the interior of the actual theatre, production designer Albert Brenner constructed a set at The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, where Pretty Woman was lensed. In Garry Marshall’s DVD commentary featured on the Pretty Woman (15th Anniversary Special Edition) DVD, he states that the set was built against a soundstage wall and that the cast and crew had to climb a ladder to gain access to the balcony area.
While the lobby and theatre areas were easy finds, it was the exterior of the opera house that had me in the dark. Because the building shown in Pretty Woman did bear a striking resemblance to the War Memorial Opera House (which you can see a picture of here), I figured that it was also most likely located somewhere in San Francisco. So after asking fellow stalkers Mike, from MovieShotsLA, Owen, from the When Write Is Wrong blog, and John, from the Silent Locations blog, for their help in tracking the place down, I emailed a screen capture of the building to Nat to see if she recognized it at all. She did not, but kept the picture on hand in case she ever came across it in her daily travels. Then yesterday, Nat’s boyfriend headed out to the San Francisco Natural History Museum, which reminded her of my quest, so she started doing some cyber-stalking and, lo and behold, found the place! As it turns out, the Pretty Woman opera house is actually Carnegie Music Hall (which is a part of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, oddly enough!) at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. My hat is DEFINITELY off to her being that she did what we “professional” stalkers could not. And had she not found the locale, it would have remained a mystery because never in a million years would I have EVER thought to search for it in Pennsylvania! (Please pardon the rather poor-quality Google Street View image pictured below.)
Nat also informed me that Carnegie Music Hall was used in the 1983 classic Flashdance, where it masqueraded as the prestigious Pittsburgh Dance and Repertory Company that welder Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) dreamed of attending. The building shows up several times throughout the movie, most notably in the scene in which Alex chickened out of auditioning for the school’s ballet program.
The interior of Carnegie Music Hall and Carnegie Museum of Natural History were also utilized in the filming.
In a very ironic twist, I was SHOCKED to discover that the establishing shot shown in Pretty Woman was actually a still from Flashdance! Towards the middle of Flashdance, Alex attended a black-tie dance recital with her mentor, Hanna Long (Lilia Skala), at the Pittsburgh Dance and Repertory Company. The exterior of Carnegie Music Hall was shown several times throughout that scene, with tuxedo-clad men and cocktail gown-clad women milling about on the stairs outside. Garry Marshall simply used a shot from that scene for Pretty Woman.
The first screen capture pictured below is from Flashdance, while the second is from Pretty Woman. As you can see, the gala sign pictured on the bottom left-hand side of both of the images is a perfect match, as are the man and woman standing just to the right of it. Several of the other people in the screen captures match up, as well, including the man standing with his back against the wall of the middle archway and the white-haired woman in the bottom right-hand corner. Too bad I have never seen Flashdance, otherwise this would have been a much easier find!
The interior of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was also used in The Silence of the Lambs, as the spot where Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) met up with an entomologist.
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Big, HUGE THANK YOU to my good friend Nat for finding this location!
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: Carnegie Music Hall, aka the exterior of the opera house from Pretty Woman, can be found at the Carnegie Institute, which is located at 4400 Forbes Avenue in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The area used in the scene is denoted with a pink arrow below. You can visit the Carnegie Institute’s official website here. The interior of the Pretty Woman opera house is the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, which is located at 900 Exposition Boulevard in the Exposition Park area of Los Angeles. You can visit the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles’ official website here.