The “Empty Nest” HouseMar 31st, 2017 | By Lindsay | Category: Michael's Guest Posts
Today’s post is a looooooong-time coming, friends! Easily the location I get asked to track down most often is the supposed Miami, Florida-area house where Dr. Harry Weston (Richard Mulligan) lived on the television series Empty Nest. I have searched for the contemporary two-story residence off-and-on over the years, but never had any luck. I even got fellow stalkers Mike, from MovieShotsLA, Owen, from the When Write Is Wrong blog, and Michael, our resident Brady Bunch aficionado/guest poster extraordinaire, in on the hunt, but we were all at a loss. Until recently that is, when Michael did the impossible and found the house! He was even nice enough to offer to write up the story behind the search for IAMNOTASTALKER – along with a few notes from me (they’re denoted in red). So take it away Michael!
I distinctly remember my inaugural viewing of The Golden Girls and Empty Nest. I was in the first grade and my bedtime had just been extended by an extra hour on the weekends. Looking back, they seem like both an unusual viewing choice for a six-year-old and maybe a little inappropriate, but hey, I needed something to balance out all those Brady Bunch reruns. Although the fourth season of The Golden Girls took up the first half of this uncharted hour of television for me, the second half was filled by a new sitcom, Empty Nest. Both fast favorites of mine, they’ll always be intertwined in my memory and evoke a time when there wasn’t anything quite as exciting as an extra hour added to your bedtime.
With that said, it seems only appropriate that I begin this post not with the topic at hand, but a cursory look at the Golden Girls house(s). The Golden Girls, which premiered in 1985, originally used footage of a ranch-style house in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles to stand in for the girls’ Miami-situated home. Capitalizing on the show’s success, Disney replicated the Brentwood house on a new backlot in Orlando, Florida. Their theme park and production studio, part of Walt Disney World and originally known as Disney-MGM Studios, opened to the public in spring of 1989, but its backlot and Residential Street were already being used to film Splash, Too and Ernest Saves Christmas as early as 1988.
Also in 1988, the creators of The Golden Girls premiered their new show, Empty Nest. The sitcom, set in the same universe as The Golden Girls, would intermingle characters (simple, as they were all neighbors) and occasional storylines. Because Empty Nest premiered the same year that Disney-MGM Studios was constructed, along with its Golden Girls facade, I always assumed that the home shown in EN’s opening titles and establishing shots was only ever a studio-backlot creation. That turned out not to be the case. And It wasn’t until last year when Lindsay offhandedly asked if I’d ever researched the original Empty Nest house location, that I knew what I’d been missing—the exterior of a real house had been shown in the early seasons of the show and was eventually replicated on the Disney-MGM Studios backlot.
Making up for lost time, I dove into research mode to fill in the specifics. Although the Golden Girls house facade was on the backlot on opening day in Orlando, the Empty Nest facade was added years later. An ad in the Orlando Sentinel confirmed that it wasn’t until January 24, 1992, during the show’s fourth season, that Richard Mulligan and Bear (the dog who played Dreyfuss) were on hand at Disney-MGM Studios for a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly completed facade, followed by a parade, and a hand/paw-print ceremony in Disney’s version of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre forecourt. Then in 2003, Disney-MGM Studios, now known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios, demolished, among other parts of the backlot, the entirety of Residential Street, including the Empty Nest and Golden Girls facades.
Since Empty Nest isn’t available on DVD or streaming, I was limited to reviewing episodes on YouTube. But, as far as I could tell, the backlot facade was first seen in the late-season episode of the fourth season, “Charley for President.” Then, starting with the fifth season, the opening titles were updated with a shot of the Orlando replica.
Disney did a commendable job recreating the exterior, but upon closer inspection I noticed a few differences. For example, the original house maintained some mundane elements that a backlot shell would have no use for, including a rain diverter and vent pipes on the roof. The backlot version also appeared to exclude a right-side balcony that that was just barely visible in some early-season establishing shots. Moreover, I’ve found the easiest way to tell the houses apart is by looking at the roofline on the garage; only the backlot replica had squared off the eave with a soffit.
Establishing shots of the original house provided subtle clues to its location: a neighboring house to its left and a garage that opens to the right, suggesting the house was on a corner lot. Yet, most interesting to me was a shot framed to include a saucer-style street light in front of the house. It’s not a particularly common style and I hoped that would help me zero in on the neighborhood.
Although Lindsay had seen a tip suggesting the home was in Bel Air or Beverly Hills, those neighborhoods’ scarcity of wide sidewalks didn’t leave me with many areas to investigate. Not only did the Empty Nest house have a sidewalk running in front of it, it had a strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road. I moved on and investigated as many neighborhoods with sidewalks as I could find, but always came up empty. Undeterred, I continued to search on-and-off for months. Then, last week Lindsay emailed me to say she’d met David Leisure, who played the Weston’s zany neighbor Charley Dietz on the series, at an event. And with that, I’ll pass the baton to Lindsay to fill in the, ahem, “dietz.”
Lindsay here. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a charity event in the desert and was beyond elated to run into David Leisure. Literally. While walking around a corner, I almost bumped into the actor and his wife and just about had a heart attack. While I asked for a photo and he happily obliged, I was so flustered over our rather abrupt meeting that I failed to inquire if he knew the whereabouts of the Empty Nest house. The Grim Cheaper was in the bathroom at the time and when he came out, I told him about my chance encounter and how upset I was that I failed to ask about the home. He immediately grabbed my hand, marched over to where David was standing and said, “My wife wants to ask you a question.” Leisure couldn’t have been more kind, once again, and when I brought up the Weston house, he immediately started laughing and said, “So you do know who I am! As soon as we walked away from you earlier, I said to my wife, ‘I wonder who she thinks I am.’” LOL Regarding the Weston pad, he said that he had never been asked about its location before, but found the query fascinating and thought it might be in the Hancock Park/Larchmont area. I immediately passed the intel onto Michael. I’ll let him tell you the rest.
Emboldened by the fresh tip, I surveyed Larchmont. Having no real luck again, I decided to do a little more research. This time, I came across a 1993 article in the Orlando Sentinel. In the article, a reader wrote in to ask about the exteriors shown on Empty Nest and Golden Palace (The Golden Girls’ short-lived replacement). The paper’s reply noted that the Empty Nest house used that season was located at Disney in Orlando, but the original was in Brentwood.
Cautiously optimistic—I feared the author mixed up the original location of the Empty Nest house with the original Golden Girls house—I once again pulled up an aerial map of Brentwood. I’d already investigated the immediate area around the Golden Girls house, so I thought I’d try a different area and look near the border of Pacific Palisades and Brentwood. As I scrolled across the map, Paul Revere Middle School jumped out at me. I’d remembered the name of the school from the O.J. Simpson trial and never really knew where it was located. Looking at it, I noticed a clump of houses nearby that seemed a little less grandiose than many of the mansions winding through Brentwood, and most importantly, I could see sidewalks.
To get a feel for the neighborhood, I plopped myself down in Google Street View and immediately noticed a saucer-style street lamp. Back on the birds-eye view, I started to look at homes on corner lots. Unbelievably, the first corner I zoomed in on, I found exactly the layout I’d imagined staring back at me.
Dumbfounded that I’d finally rooted it out, I immediately sent Lindsay the details, and as luck would have it, she said she’d be in LA the following week and would be able to check it out in person. And without further ado, a final pass of the baton to Lindsay to wrap things up.
Me, again. I could not have been more excited as the GC and I pulled up to the home. I knew from looking at Street View imagery that virtually none of it had been altered in the years since filming took place, but being there was like a shock to my system. I felt like I had stepped right into my 1988-era television set. The residence is completely frozen in time and brought to mind another classic TV home – that of The Golden Girls. Ironically enough, that residence, too, remains absolutely pristine in its onscreen state. Two Brentwood properties, featured in classic shows created by same production team, preserved like museum pieces all these years later.
Big THANK YOU to Michael for not only finding this location, but for writing up the story of the hunt! You can check out his other guest posts here.
Stalk It: The house from Empty Nest is located at 1457 Jonesboro Drive in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles.