Where and When is CHINATOWN set?

I know L.A., I know late 1930s (according to IMDB) but can we pin the time down any closer than that whole half decade? And are there any indications in the script where various locations (like Gittes’ office, or the Mulwrays’ house) might be?

More generally, I’m interested in looking up more wheres and whens myself (I’m trying to research LA in 1939-40) in films, just to get a feel for what the city might have looked like, what various neighborhoods looked like at the time, etc. Is there a good reference for this sort of thing–particular places at particular times, or do locations people on films research this stuff from scratch for every film?

I don’t know LA at all, or neighborhood or distances, so if you have information, the more explicit, the better. Thanks.

Starthere: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071315/locations

then here: http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/c/chinatown.html

I’m fairly sure that film is set in 1938.

Those are two cool sites, Silenus. How do you get “locations” at IMDB? I’ve always thought they needed that, and now it turns out they have it, but where?

Some of my friends say they’ve eaten at the Pig and Whistle where Noah Corss got into a hell of an argument with Hollis Mulwray but that’s not mentioned. Any idea where that would be?

And as to the “1938” is there a reason to think so? Any mentions of current events? And is there a way to tell what season this takes place? How would you know a movie set in LA in February from a movie in LA in August?

William Mulholland, the model for Hollis Mulwray, died in 1935 if that is any help.

You can get a lot of period photos of L.A. from the LAPL catalog.


Then search in “photo collection”. You can limit the search by years. You may get more than you want to look through.

I own a copy of Towne’s first draft (honestly, the Polanski rewrite is much better!), and it tags the first scene as October, 1937.

Sir Rhosis

I would suggest looking at ward maps from LA at the time (1937-8, apparently), as much of the city didn’t exist then. Also, if you look at legal notices (including the foreclosure notices in the paper), you can find out if a specific area was one tract of land, perhaps a farm, at the time it was sold to the developer.

Los Angeles County is really big and has a lot of parcels. It would take a long time to figure out where everything was with any certainty. The San Fernando Valley was still predominantly agricultural in the 1930s (as it is depicted in the film), but that was changing.

There was a Pig and Whistle in Hollywood on Hollywood Blvd. in the 1930’s. But I think there were Pig and Whistle’s all around the USA, so there could have been more than one in L.A.