History

When Encino became Bedford Falls

creditOne thing I can add to the Times' appreciation today of It's a Wonderful Life, the film classic starring James Stewart and Donna Reed: all that fake snow was created on a hot June day in 1946 on the RKO location ranch just outside the Sepulveda Dam basin. The film's mythical Bedford Falls covered four acres of the ranch north of Burbank Boulevard between Balboa and Louise. The trees lining the streets? Encino oaks, transplanted for the film. For the autumn scenes the leaves were knocked off, and for the winter scenes where Stewart stumbles through the snowy town, the trees were coated with white plaster. The rest of 'Bedford Falls' was covered in different kinds of fake snow gypsum window sills, car tracks formed with crushed ice, and an innovative mix of foamite, soap and water sprayed out of high-pressure nozzles, according to The It's A Wonderful Life Book by Jeanine Basinger. Look for Stewart sweating in his heavy overcoat — you know what summers are like in the Valley.

The RKO ranch covered 110 acres (kept trimmed by a herd of goats let loose to munch grass and weeds) and featured a Paris street for the original Hunchback of Notre Dame, a western street, a New York street, an airplane hangar and the mansion for The Magnificent Ambersons. RKO sold off the ranch in 1953 for a subdivision of homes that is just west of the soccer fields at Balboa Recreation Center.

Speaking of the Valley: I was quoted about the changing San Fernando Valley demographics and political profile in Wednesday's L.A. Times. The story probably isn't new to many who live there (or certainly to readers of The Valley Observed), but summarizes well how the Valley of Bedford Falls' day has mostly vanished.

Photo: Gaston Longet


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