Rose Red -- A Slideshow of the Film's Seattle Locations

  • By Paul Dorpat
  • Posted 1/24/2002
  • Essay 7036

Washington locations regularly attract a variety of film and video production companies to create movies, commercials, music videos, and industrial films, with a lot of local help. The help starts at the Washington State Film Office which, since its origin in 1972, has been fattening a catalogue of attractive sites and nurturing a state-wide network of knowledgeable volunteers to play host to visiting producers and free-lance professionals -- grips, carpenters, drivers, location directors -- to help with productions. Since much of this work comes to Seattle, Suzy Kellett, director of the state's office since 1996, works regularly with Donna James, the director of Seattle's own Mayor's Office of Film and Video.

Two years ago the producers of Rose Red spent 141 days in the state, most of it in Seattle. Horror-master Stephen King wrote the script especially for television, and once Seattle was chosen hometown for the mansion Rose Red, he tailored the script for our locations.

It is the film's historical re-creations that makes Rose Red of particular interest to a history Website. As one merchant on 1st Avenue remarked upon noting how lovingly Main Street had been redressed during the filming of an early-twentieth-century scene, "Well at last someone is using Pioneer Square the way it ought to be used."

During its stay, the oversized production infused about 20 million dollars into local pockets. Hundreds of Seattle residents -- including actors -- were hired. When the work was done the film's location manager, Seattle resident Dan Dusek, could buy his wife Helen a new car.

I talked extensively with Dusek, Kellett, and James about Rose Red, and it is from those conversations that I learned how the film used local sites. The Seattle office also shared copies of the permits issued to the production companies, including maps and schedules drawn and described by Dan Dusek.

With maps in hand I visited nearly all the locations. I either took photographs of the sites or collected historic photos of the locations. Next I joined Donna James to run through Rose Red in search of the locations I had just visited. Most of these are established in the "first reel" of the film -- its first (of three) nights.

The great majority of the 86 days of shooting was done in a Sand Point hangar abandoned by the Navy years ago. The sets built inside Hangar 27 were the largest ever constructed for a television production. They included an ornate greenhouse and garden and, most lavishly, the interiors for the mansion itself. The exterior was found and rented in Lakeview.

State film director Suzy Kellett credits her associate Cathy Sander with luring Rose Red producers to this Tacoma suburb to inspect the oversized Thornewood Mansion. (The facility now operates as a private bed and breakfast and is open to the public by appointment and reservation only.) Sander notes, "Our whole philosophy is to keep sending them locations." It is friendly persistence.

Donna James was outright thrilled by what an "ancient and worn transformation" the production's skilled antiquarians gave to Thornewood. This exterior work appears repeatedly throughout the film. The actual mansion's interior, however, was not large enough for the script's king-sized appointments, grand stairway, ceilings lost in the firmament, labyrinthine confusions, and uncanny liquefactions. These required the Sand Point hangar and a few "found" locations about town. Without the Sand Point facility, the producers would have had to move this greater part of the production to well-established sound stages in Vancouver, B.C.

I took no interest in the plot. Indeed, I do not think it wise to watch a horror film without commercials. In any event I was sworn to secrecy. This is made easy, for the fact is that I watched Rose Red at quadruple time and on mute. I do know that as surely as comedies end with marriages, so horror films end with sanity returning to the community.

However, I also know and can share one thematic feature of this horror because by now it approaches common knowledge. This film's premise is its premises -- the mansion itself, called Rose Red. Its thematic (not architectural) model is the Winchester Mansion in San Jose, California. As the story goes, Mrs. Winchester's psychic -- or perhaps her architect -- told her that after she finished building her mansion she would die. So -- she kept building.


Somehow, after a nationwide search, the producers of Red Rose decided -- believe it or not -- to plop their mansion in the middle of our steep Spring Street just east of the I-5 Freeway. What little history we can add to this tour of film locations will, with few exceptions -- such as the film's early-twentieth-century treatment of Main and Spring streets -- have next to nothing to do with local history according to Rose Red.

The John and Eliza Leary mansion on 10th Avenue on Capitol Hill is one of Seattle's grandest homes. Although the former mayor died before he could move in, his widow lived on for many years in their big home following its completion in 1907. It is now headquarters for the Olympia Diocese (serving Western Washington) of the Episcopal Church, not far from St. Mark's Cathedral.

Locations director Dan Dusek was familiar with the mansion and when he showed Rose Red designers pictures of its lavishly wainscoted interiors they were cheered and enchanted. The production was searching for large ornate rooms that would require only a little careful tweaking (in this instance four days of it) to turn them into Rose Red bedrooms.

Dusek visited the mansion with producer Thomas Henry Brodek, who whispered to him, "Are you sure they know what we want to do here?" Almost certainly the“"spooky things," as Dusek calls them, that were recreated here were more Victorian than Anglican. By good fortune, on the weekend wanted for filming, most of the Diocese staff were off to a regional conference. Following the filming, a re-tune of the piano two weeks after its return from storage was a pro-forma part of the deal struck between the producers and the church.

The members of the Arctic Club -- some of them sourdough veterans of the Yukon Gold Rush -- moved into their then-new club quarters in 1917. Although the 27 terra cotta walruses that decorate its tile exterior are its most appealing streetwise quality, the grandest part of this building is the Dome Room inside. For the Rose Red Library the producers chose -- and got -- it.

The dome, shown here as it is in 2002 and during construction in 1916, is made chiefly of glass, a quality most appropriate for the psychedelic rippling and reflecting effected with it for the film. If I remember correctly from my speed viewing, the Dome Room appears three times in the film. You will need to make it into the third and final night of the mini-series to witness its final mutation.

The carpet floor of the Dome Room was covered with layers of masking, cardboard, and plywood to support a top layer of polished Mylar that, as Dan Dusek recalls, "beautifully reflected the dome." And, as you shall see -- and more than see -- it does. Dusek also remembers that when he showed the room to the film's producers, “they just flipped out!"

The room required a week of preparation and three days of "wrap," or returning it to its original state, and in between, four days of filming. Because no parking was available on the street, production vehicles were parked three blocks away on Dilling Way beside City Hall Park. Also, everything had to be carried up the steps.

The "Wheaton House," as Rose Red calls it after the film family -- not the family that actually lives there -- appears in the film's first sequence. (It is shown here in 2002 and in 1937.) How it was found and chosen is an instance of producer's serendipity.

After Dan Dusek spent the better part of a weekend searching throughout Queen Anne and Capitol Hill for a proper home, the production designer joined him for another try. Almost instantly they spotted the picturesque Capitol Hill home at 927 21st Avenue E -- and the scouts were at the front door. After the owners agreed “to terms,"Dusek followed the rules. He explains:

"Rule is if you are there a long time or you are coming before 7 a.m. or leaving after 10 p.m. you need signatures from neighbors on the block. I did that. I went and talked with everyone."

The filming at the home -- both inside and out -- required the use of a crane, a dolly track, and special scaffolding. One scene features a dolly shot that carries the camera directly from outside to within through an open upstairs window. This shot required the construction of a trestle, built by local talents.

The opening events at the “Wheaton House" are introduced by what are two signature scenes of Seattle -- ferries and the Space Needle. The film begins with a tight shot of a ferry and a sailboat on Elliott Bay. Rose Red does not abandon the lighting conventionally preferred: It is backlit  by a sunset over the Olympics. This decidedly rosy coloring quickly dissolves into a tracking shot taken from what may be the city's best loved site for viewing the skyline: Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill's Highland Drive.

The scene proceeds from a "pull-out" on another ferry on Elliott Bay to a brief wider view of the city with its Seattle symbol -- the Space Needle -- at the front. Soon, however, the shot tracks down through a leafy tree temporarily placed there for the effect. Dan Dusek's permit map shows the cam crane and scaffolding used in this shot placed just southwest of park's Chase sculpture. Neither lights nor generator were needed and so no noise permit.

The production trucks arrived at 11 a.m. and the wrap was over by 10 p.m. -- all for what I now guess was about 10 seconds of film. Photographers began trekking to the summit of Queen Anne Hill to shoot the city more than a century ago. One could spend a lifetime collecting and annotating these views.

The Judge Douglas and Judith McBroom home on 33rd Avenue S gets a good deal of punishment in Rose Red. It too first appears near the beginning. I will not describe the maelstrom that visits it, and I have already said too much. The effect required a good deal of aerial rigging designed by Bobby Rigg, a local effects specialist whom Dan Dusek describes as "damn near a genius." He needed a home with a flat front lawn.

Although the McBrooms live within a long stone's throw of Donna James, director of the MayorÂ’'s Department of Film and Video, she admits that she neither recommended it to Rose Red nor even thought of it:

"They came to me and said, by the way we found our home only two blocks from yours."

I first learned of Rose Red from Doug McBroom. The Superior Court Judge and I attended, one year apart, the same high school in Spokane -- Lewis and Clark. Naturally, this pedigree makes us confidants. Therefore although I know the price that Rose Red paid Doug and Judy to rent their home for its seeming destruction, I, of course, will not reveal it. And no boulder can pry it from me.

The house at 1733 Boylston Avenue (shown here in 2002 and in 1937) may be the most minimal of Seattle location shots used in Rose Red. Dusek calls it "hardly anything at all."

Only two hours -- between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on November 6, 2000 -- are listed in the permit as required to complete the filming. And yet it too required prep work, including the erection of a high condor crane for special lighting of the evening scene. Lights were also placed inside to make the windows glow. This was an example of what filmmakers call an “establishing shot”

This is the outside of an apartment house where one of the principal characters in the film resides. I have lost any sense of where the interior shots for these sequences were filmed. Perhaps it was the Sand Point hanger. It is one of the few humdrum interiors in the film and much of the action occurs on the bed -- a conversation.

The most spectacular quality of this otherwise modest location is its view. The home at 1372 33rd Avenue S, shown in 2002 and in 1937, is built directly over the western portal of the Mercer Island Floating Bridge. The home is located in Seattle's Mount Baker neighborhood, which overlooks Lake Washington. And yet this scenery is scarcely used in the film. You get just a quick glimpse of the bridge to the right side of the house.

This minimal approach makes sense, for making a big point of the view would have been an example of what might be called the “gratuitous picturesque," for nothing lovely happens there. This is another exterior “establishing shot" for the interiors that were filmed in a house only three blocks away. Both structures were chosen in part for their convenience. They were relatively close to the McBroom home, also on 33rd Avenue S, and the considerable support operations, including catering, connected with it.

Two days, August 31 and September 1, 2000, were scheduled to complete the interior scenes at 1504 32nd Avenue S that were established with the exterior shots recorded at 1372 33rd Avenue S. Although the prep work involved no structural changes, the kitchen and dining room were repainted and all the furniture was replaced with pieces more to the production designer's liking. The owner's belongings were stored nearby in a five-ton truck.

That the patrons of Ivar's Acres of Clams look directly out its windows to fire-boats and ferries is the best example on the Seattle waterfront of a restaurateur's maxim: In food service, location may not be everything, but it can certainly helps. It is some combination of location and fate that brought Rose Red to the south apron of Pier 54. This was once the stage for many of "King of the Waterfront" Ivar Haglund's publicity pranks and escapades, including the annual Clam Eating Contests of the late 1940s and the “Befriend a Seagull" campaign of the early 1970s.

Ivar arrived on Pier 54 in 1938 when he opened a small fish and chips bar beside his aquarium. His first fish bar soon flopped, but the aquarium survived. After World War II, Ivar again tried food service with his Acres of Clams, named for a phrase in the “Old Settler," the signature song he regularly sang on his local radio program.

Pier 54 was built in 1900 by the Northern Pacific Railroad. (The view on the water shows the fireboat Snoqualmie in 1899.) Through its life it has been home to "Mosquito Fleet" steamers, fish processors, waterfront teamsters, and now, food and curios exclusively. The Old Curiosity Shop holds the northeast corner of the pier, former site of Ivar's aquarium and original fish and chips bar. Although it is unlikely that viewers in Peoria, Illinois, will record the brief appearance in Rose Red of an Ivar's logo on the actor-waitress's uniform, local seafood lovers will take note.

The production day of September 6, 2000, was easily the most hectic and technical for the Red Rose crew. Four locations were covered during the course of this Wednesday. It began with a morning shoot at 5th Avenue and Spring Street, following which the horses and wagons were moved to Main Street for the afternoon historical re-creation there. The dinnertime filming on Ivar's pier was a technical intermission before the crew returned that evening to Pioneer Square for another historical re-creation outside of the Merchants Café (shown as it is today, as it was in 1937, and, in the upper left of our image of motorbikes headed for Vancouver, B.C., in 1911).

The prep work in Pioneer Square began a week before the filming. A sparse description of these preparations and the filming are included in the permit issued for this location. It reads in part:

“Painting over lane lines, curb markings, crosswalks and stall lines and temporarily removing signs, bike racks, meters etc. in prep for filming on Sept. 6. Shooting 8 to 10 pm. Trucks arrive at 7 pm. Close Yesler and James between First and Second Avenues while filming early 1900's Seattle scene at the Merchants Café. Horse, wagons and period cars will be staged on Yesler for the shoot. Camera on tripod at Yesler and James. Stage lights on crane on Yesler and on Washington. Clear dumpster from alley. Catering trucks, production vehicles and condor cranes involved."

Again, and by now unremarkably, all these preparations result in a scene that lasts but a few seconds. But enchanting it is! With lights on the roof of the café and even a block away back-lighting the alley and buildings on Washington Street, this night scene is lively. And as you will discover if you watch the big show, so is the action that follows it.

While the film crews were busy moving their animals and gear from location to location on September 6, 2000, further preparations were being made smack in the middle of Spring Street -- pictured in the top photo in 1924; in the second, third, and fourth photos in 1937 (at 7th and 8th Avenue); in the fifth photo in 1963 during freeway construction, and in the bottom two in 2002.

About 25 yards east of 7th Avenue, an ornate gate to Rose Red was constructed. At this place, a dark sign of Rose Red lingers in the blacktop patch (pictured in the bottom photo) applied to the street to repair the damage done to it while installing the gate. The same great gate was also used in front of the Thornewood Mansion in Lakewood. For individual props it is something of a star in Rose Red, with a number of confrontations -- nearly all hyperventilating -- occurring beside it.

Spring Street between 7th and 8th avenues represents a break in the rise of First Hill. There is a short plateau there. It would have been a fine place to build -- and keep building -- a mansion both, for ease of construction and also for the view. Just north of Spring Street is the ridge that makes both First and Capitol hills turn slightly to the east. The site thereby affords anyone or thing in the higher gables of the mansion Rose Red the ability to look west to the growing city, Elliott Bay beyond, and also north to Lake Union.

A view of the lake from the tallest part of the mansion over its many rooftops and chimney pots is used a few times in the film as an exit to commercials. This digital montage however looks down not from 7th and Spring but from the Capitol Hill bluff above the I-5 Freeway and Lakeview Avenue. By eliminating Fremont, Ballard and the Chittenden Locks, the scene joins Lake Union with Puget Sound. To cap this picturesque scene at its horizon, Mount Rainier is plopped on Port Townsend. A cinematic joining of the same waterways occurs in the Tom Hanks' vehicle Sleepless In Seattle, when the tired hero boards a small rowboat on Lake Union and steps out of it onto Alki Beach.

The screen of trees on Spring Street between 7th and 8th avenues is one reason this block suited the great gate -- the limbs blend nicely with it. The trees are also used in the "reverse shot" in which the downtown skyline is framed by them and the opened gate. Spring was chosen mainly because it was the only street leading up to First Hill on which traffic could be stopped for filming without sending the central business district into gridlock.

As described in the permits, two shots were planned for Spring Street involving historical re-creations -- again with horses and wagons -- along the 500 block between 5th and 6th avenues. The most enchanting of these is the view captured by the camera locked in the middle of Spring Street at the west margin of 5th Avenue. For this shot the horses and wagons were routed in circles up and down Spring Street and back and forth on 5th Avenue through its intersection with Spring. Dan Dusek recalls:

"We did this shot first, looking up Spring, because it was the most difficult. And there were problems."

Donna James remembers with relief:

"It was so stressful; I cannot tell you. The horses had to go in circles, but they did not want to turn. We could give the crew only three minutes intervals to shut down traffic. Finally we had to let them go on for seven minutes. But no one seemed to mind."

From this point of view a little bit of the Rose Red Mansion appears up the hill, digitally retouched beyond its gate at 7th Avenue. While both the Vintage Park Hotel and the Women's University Club on the north side of Spring between 5th and 6th avenues worked fine for this period scene (once the parking meters were removed), the early-modern Federal Court House on the south side of Spring Street did not. It is replaced with another digital creation that looks roughly like the old Providence Hospital that still held the site in the early twentieth century, a time re-created in this wonderful but too brief spot of film-making.

The shot is introduced by the passing of a trolley on 5th Avenue (our view shows a trackless trolley in 1977 turning east on Spring Street from 5th Avenue) and then continues with the bustle of horses and pedestrians. The clip featuring the trolley (one of our Waterfront Australian cars) has been digitally spliced onto the foreground of the scene. While as late as 1915 no trolley was routed on 5th Avenue, it would be quibbling to object.

A greater poetic license is this scene's relationship to the one that precedes it on Main Street. There the trolley is first tracked heading east from the waterfront. By joining the two scenes the effect is to make it seem as if the intersection of 5th Avenue and Spring Street is the same as the intersection of Main Street and Occidental Avenue. It works.

The piece of Rose Red footage whose charm will be hard for any local to resist is the early- twentieth-century re-creation on Main Street west of Occidental Avenue. Pictured here is the William Boone-designed Globe Hotel, or Marshall-Walker building (later home of Elliott Bay Books among others) in 1899, and again in 2002.

Photographed from a crane 18 feet above the intersection, this scene does us all one great local service -- it eliminates the Alaskan Way Viaduct. In its place we have an open view of Elliot Bay with a tall ship bobbing in place.The choice of a schooner is mildly anachronistic. By 1900, a steel-hulled steamer would more likely have been resting there. (Shown here is the George E. Starr, ca. 1900, at the old Pier B, now Pier 48.)

A week was required to prepare the street, again painting over street markings, removing commercial signs, racks, and meters. This work included at least one compromise. When the owners of the Marshall-Walker Building at the southeast corner of 1st Avenue and Main Street would not allow their modern awning to be removed from above the sidewalk, matching scallops were attached to help it conform to the designated period. Surely this solution was also considerably less expensive, and in the end this compromise is hardly noticeable.

You may want to tape, at least, this portion of the show -- in fact the entire first night -- for later review. If you do, you can look for the awning and its camouflage scallops. The waterfront trolley is also featured in this scene. It turns the corner on Alaskan Way and makes its way east along Main Street while horses and buggies -- 12 of them -- pass to either side. Main Street was closed to traffic for the duration; however, except for the three minutes required to take the shot, 1st Avenue was kept open the entire time. Of course, the scene does not last three minutes -- only seconds.

Since the Rose Red script features University of Washington professors in two of its grander roles, a few campus scenes also appear in the film. Again, most of these come up in the first reel. The longest involves an illustrated lecture filmed in the auditorium of the new addition to the Henry Art Gallery. Many of the historical recreations are shown within the context of this lecture. Glimpses of university offices, classrooms, hallways, and a view or two of the grounds are also featured.

Shown here is a 1965 photograph of the now long-gone lawn beside the Suzzallo Library and the Administration Building, as well as a 1997 view of the renovated and expanded Henry Art Gallery. I also include an historical campus scene that, in sympathy with the film, involves a spectacular effect. The night scene portrays the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, held on campus through the summer of 1909. The sublime center of the A-Y-P was its arctic circle, where temporary Beaux Arts-styled buildings were lit up at night with strings of lights that accented their architectural delights.

Location 16 –-- Discovery Park

Seattle's Discovery Park, part of the former site of Fort Lawton (the officers' quarters are shown here in a 1912 photo), was used in Rose Red -- although you would not know it. The park's woods extended the action of at least two chase scenes that occur on the grounds of the Rose Red mansion.

Permission to use the woods involved the Seattle Parks Department's horticulturalist, who identified every plant that the actors could step on and which ones they could not. The West Point Light House, ca. 1912, shown here from off-shore, foregrounds woods that are now part of Discovery Park.

Beyond horror, Rose Red had its own tragedy. One of the principal actors, David Dukes, died of a heart attack during the production. Dukes's part in the garden chase was covered by a double wearing a Dukes look-a-like latex mask. One of the last rolling credits on the final night is the film's dedication to David Dukes.

This location is, of course, many locations. With the typically efficient prose of often incomplete sentences, the film permit describes it so:

"Aug 21. Various streets throughout the Seattle City Limits. Film moving background shots from a van driving on city streets. No traffic or pedestrian control. Van will be rigged at or beside Kerry Park."

One of these moving shots features an in-your-face view of the Space Needle photographed from a Queen Anne Hill avenue. The historical view included here looks down on the future Seattle Center site from the hill, ca. 1903. Prospect Street -- named in the "Various Streets" permit -- is in the foreground.

The Night of the Living Dead is widely considered one of the great horror classics. It was filmed for a price that might now buy you a one-way ticket to Kabul. How much does the added surrealism of modern effects -- the imbricating techniques of digital morphing, robo-puppets, latex masks, and the rest -- increase our galvanic skin response beyond the sweating we got formerly from low-budget papier-mache monsters and wheat-paste ghouls? With $20 million returned to the local economy as the result of the visit of Rose Red, we may conclude that the cheap thrills of horror are getting more expensive.

This is a slideshow of the Seattle locations of Stephen King's made-for-TV serial film Rose Red, which debuted on ABC-TV on January 27, 28, and 31, 2002. The tour was written by Paul Dorpat, and edited and curated by Priscilla Long, with support from David Wilma and Walt Crowley. King fans please note that the Rimbauer family, Joyce Reardon, and the Rose Red mansion are completely fictional and have no basis in actual Seattle history.

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