Statue of a woman holding an infant on display in the Great Hall of the College of Fine Arts Building (1916) at Carnegie Mellon University.
5100 Margaret Morrison Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: 25 June 2014
part of the Wonder Boys album
The Far Shore of Accomplishment
A Wonder Boys Road Trip
As previously documented here, I rather enjoy finding and visiting shooting locations from my favorites in film and television. Whether by adding visits to vacation agendas or using free time on business trips to take an excursion, for me this is a hobby of opportunity. Such an opportunity presented itself during a family road trip to the Northeast in June–July 2014.
I would be staying a hundred miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for about six days, allowing me to visit some of the locations featured in Wonder Boys (2000). Directed by Curtis Hanson and based upon the eponymically named Michael Chabon book, Wonder Boys uses the Pennsylvania locations and bridges in particular as part of the story. "Pittsburgh, as much as any of the human characters in the story, is a wonder boy," says Hanson in the DVD locations special feature.
I had been to the city at least once before, but this outing would take me to and through places I probably would not otherwise see. On Wednesday, 25 June 2014, I departed Harmonsburg — later in the morning than I had planned due to rain — and headed south to visit multiple locations within a twenty-six-mile radius of Pittsburgh. It was a really fun day.
Instead of documenting my journey from start to finish as I would normally, this article is presented as a Wonder Boys location guide in film chronological order. If you need a cheat sheet for the characters, reference the production credits. Otherwise, ready your manuscripts and hop inside the 1966 maroon Ford Galaxie 500… you are going on a trip with Tripp, Grady Tripp.
With the university being central to the story, it is appropriate that a classroom scene opens the film. Although the college goes unnamed, Carnegie Mellon University plays the part throughout. Of the seven major area colleges and universities, the filmmakers selected Carnegie Mellon because it "seemed the most comfortable fit visually" for the story.
I spent about an hour on campus and was very nearby, but this interior classroom location (possibly in use during my visit) did not make the cut. The classroom scene was shot in Baker Hall 235B, located in the third wing from the left on the northern side of Baker Hall. One of the university's first academic buildings, Baker Hall was designed in 1900 by Henry Hornbostel.
Today, Baker Hall 235B is one of nine reservable classrooms in the building with supported multimedia equipment. Able to hold thirty-five students, Baker Hall 235B features movable furniture, a projector, DVD player, document camera and auxiliary inputs for other devices. Beyond the technology, a new paint job and a window unit air conditioner, the room looks about the same.
Carnegie Mellon University
From the outside, the wings and awesomely large windows of Baker Hall are standout features. The same pattern is mirrored on the building's southern side along Frew Street.
Friday, 26 February 1999
Alone In The Car
00:04:39Exterior Day Driving First Appearance VisitedDriving: Tripp's 1966 Ford Galaxie 500Carnegie Mellon University — Segment I
5001-5099 Tech Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Carnegie Mellon University — Segment II
5124 Margaret Morrison Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Schenley Park — Segment III
Schenley Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Before identifying the locations in the first of ten driving scenes, it is important to understand Cinematographer Dante Spinotti's solution to the challenge of filming in moving vehicles. For these scenes, he suggested that the inside action be shot on a stage with green screens. The action outside the windows would be shot separately and then digitally composted into the windows.
Using this method allowed Spinotti and Hanson to keep Pittsburgh as a "vivid" and "palpable presence" out the windows. In addition, "the actors would be more comfortable [on a stage] and we could do more takes with controlled lighting to capture the moods perfectly," noted Spinotti. "I felt that the acting and dialog in these scenes was very important."
Green screen stages in Pittsburgh and at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, California were used for the live action, shot on similar film stock to that of the background plates and with matching lighting effects. The composition was done in Los Angeles by Cinesite and Visual Effects Supervisor Jerry Pooler.
As we join Tripp in his car, he continues his voiceover narration while driving through campus en route to the Pittsburgh International Airport. There are three distinct segments to this scene, which only lasts thirty-eight seconds. I both walked and drove through these locations, but unfortunately failed to take any pictures — it was drizzling, I was short on time and whoops.
Tripp drives out of the Fine Arts (P8) parking lot — which itself makes several appearances later — to the stop sign at Margaret Morrison Street and Tech Street. The residential Donner House and Boss House are visible down Margaret Morrison Street.
Turning right onto Tech Street, the brick wall along the eastern sidewalk is visible out Tripp's window as he drives south. He then notices and drives underneath a WordFest banner strung across the road from a streetlight lamp post.
From the shot of the WordFest banner, we cut immediately to Tripp turning right again. He turns not onto Frew Street as you might expect, but onto Margaret Morrison Street at the stop sign where he started. Thanks to movie magic and now travelling east, we see Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall (1914); the West Wing and Resnik House residences at Gesling Stadium; and the Donner House residence going by out the window.
Seen in the first two segments, I did manage to capture the Donner House (1952–1954) residence while walking along the East-West Walkway near Gesling Stadium. Margaret Morrison Street is on the other side of the building. Colloquially referred to as "Big Blue" by students, Donner House is home to 239 freshmen residents. The small structure in front is the Solar Decathlon House (2005), which placed tenth in the U.S. Department of Energy's 2005 competition to build a zero-energy home.
From passing Donner House on Margaret Morrison Street, we cut directly to a few seconds of the University of Pittsburgh's 535-foot Cathedral of Learning (1926) through some trees. Based on available evidence and my own calculations, I believe that this was shot on Schenley Drive in Schenley Park south of Flagstaff Hill and just east of the triangular intersection with Panther Hollow Road and the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
Driving west a short distance on Schenley Drive before the intersection, the tree-covered and sloping terrain matches what we briefly see. A "stop sign ahead" sign visible in the final few frames shown also corresponds to a sign at this location. In the winter when the tree canopy is absent, the view from this location would include the Cathedral of Learning.
Friday, 26 February 1999
She's Still A Transvestite
00:05:17Interior Day First Appearance UnvisitedTripp Meets His Editor at the Airport
Tripp meets his editor Terry Crabtree and Crabtree's new friend Tony "Antonia" Sloviak near Gate D84 at the Pittsburgh International Airport. After meeting up and exchanging greetings, the trio walks through the terminal on an offline moving sidewalk (presumably to allow Tripp, walking parallel to the moving sidewalk, to keep up with the other two).
We cut to baggage claim in the airport's main building where Tripp and Crabtree are talking while waiting for luggage. At the end of the luggage carousel where they stand is a backlit "Welcome to Pittsburgh" sign with an aerial photograph of five bridges downtown. I could not find any photographs of it, so I cannot say if the sign still exists or not.
Running through Mount Washington from the Fort Pitt Bridge (1959) over the Monongahela River west to Pennsylvania Route 51, the Fort Pitt Tunnel (1960) is an obvious choice to get into the city from the airport. I briefly considered driving through, but the tunnel was a bit off course from my agenda's locations and I have been through other similar tunnels before.
A photograph from Friday, 14 May 2010 shows little difference in the tunnel, although it looks like the lights were replaced since filming in 1998–1999. As of Friday, 12 June 2015, a $14.1 million renovation project that started in February 2015 to "repair the ceiling, camera systems and the overall infrastructure of the tunnel" was still underway.
Friday, 26 February 1999
Things Ain't What They Used To Be
00:07:17Exterior Interior Night First Appearance UnvisitedWordFest Kick Off Party at the Gaskell Home
The tunnel scene cuts to the trio arriving at the Gaskell residence for the WordFest kick off cocktail party. The exteriors and some interiors were filmed at Eastover House (1931) on the Shady Side Academy campus in Fox Chapel, an Allegheny County borough about nine miles north-northeast of Carnegie Mellon. Eastover is the traditional headmasters home yet was vacant during production. I considered contacting for permission to visit, but decided to cut this location from my schedule before doing so.
Introduced in this scene and featured several times later, Sara Gaskell's greenhouse was built just for the film. Constructed next to Eastover House without a foundation, the greenhouse was removed after shooting.
Scenes in the upstairs hallway — where Tripp has a fateful encounter with the Gaskell's dog Poe — and the adjacent bedroom with a safe and baseball memorabilia were sets built on one of Pinnacle Studios' two sound stages in Trafford, about twenty miles southeast of Eastover and Shady Side. The stages are housed in a former warehouse in the Trafford Commerce Center, the owner of which was first approached by filmmakers shooting Kingpin (1996) in 1995.
When we join Trip and literature student James Leer in the car, their conversation indicates that they have been driving for sometime. As such, the background plate first visible shows that they are heading west on Margaret Morrison Street on campus past the McGill House and Boss House, with the Resnik House visible behind Leer.
Honestly, I am unsure about the locations for the rest of the scene. The campus architecture is very similar and with the scene at night, I have not been able to establish additional matches. Presumably, the remaining background plates are of campus buildings in the general vicinity. In reality, Tripp's destination parking lot is just ahead on Margaret Morrison Street.
As Tripp and Leer move, uh, cargo to the spacious trunk, we can see that they are in the Fine Arts (P8) parking lot. The space — "Reserved For Fine Arts Permit Holders Only" — is on the south side of the lot in front of the Kraus Campo garden atop Posner Center, between the College of Fine Arts building and the Tepper School of Business.
From the next angles of Tripp and Leer in the parking lot, Margaret Morrison Carnegie College (1903) is seen behind. Better daytime views of this building will appear near the end of the movie and my photos of parking lot P8 accompany a later scene.
Friday, 26 February 1999
The Water's Edge Of Inspiration
00:26:22Interior Night First Appearance VisitedWordFest Opening Night Keynote Event
There are some interesting images during the next few scenes at this location, the College of Fine Arts Building (1916), making it one of my must see destinations. Being the fifth stop of the day, I was already pretty excited by this point.
Heading east on Forbes Avenue toward Margaret Morrison Street, where I would find metered street parking, I saw something quite amusing: I passed Morewood Avenue. There are a number of things called Morewood in the region, but this delighted me because author Quentin "Q" Morewood, a supporting character who appears throughout Wonder Boys, was already on my mind.
The first of this location's scenes opens with Tripp and Leer entering the packed Kresge Theatre late as Morewood is being introduced to speak. Entering through the western door, they head to their right along the curved, wood-paneled back wall and find a place to stand under the third round light.
Unfortunately but perhaps not surprisingly, the Kresge Theatre was not vacant on this day. No, my visit coincided with two scheduled workshops of some kind, both involving prepubescent musicians. When I entered the building, I went to the theatre's open eastern door only to find a group on stage practicing. I decided to scout the rest of the building's locations hoping that the group would finish soon.
When I returned, they had indeed finished but a new group was arriving before their event. Not wanting to miss out on this crucial location, I approached one of the two adults on stage having a chat and asked if they minded my taking a few pictures. They assumed that I was a student (thanks for the compliment, ma'am) but I said it was for personal photography. She agreed so long as I avoided the children. No problem; I did not want them in my shots anyway.
It was a bit of a problem however because the children, still unoccupied before the event, were roaming around aimlessly and not at all interested in giving me clean shots. Worse, a group of them were standing in Tripp and Leer's spot. It was now or never so I did my best to grab a few frames and move on. I am not entirely pleased about the results but what is one to do?
Kresge Theatre, sometimes known as the Kresge Recital Hall, has a seating capacity of 255 and is one of at least twenty-five places named for Sebastian Spering Kresge (1867–1966), founder of a private philanthropic nonprofit called The Kresge Foundation and of the company that became Kmart.
The space has undergone several renovations. A modernization plan in the 1970s resulted in the removal of a "large skylit leaded-glass ceiling" that some believe was made by Tiffany & Company, but extensive research and authentication attempts in 2008 were all inconclusive due to lack of evidentiary records.
The space has also transformed since the opening of Purnell Center for the Arts in 1999, which saw the drama program move out of Kresge allowing the music program to take over. Additional facility upgrades and renovations to bring the space to code were conducted in 2008–2009 by Desmone Architects of Pittsburgh.
Despite the modifications, Kresge Theatre still looks very similar to its original configuration as seen in these circa 1918 photographs from the Carnegie Mellon University Archives.
Carnegie Mellon University Archives
In pain and somewhat intoxicated, Tripp hastily exits Kresge Theatre to the building's main foyer (College of Fine Arts 131), stumbles over to the stairs (College of Fine Arts 132) and tentatively ascends.
He turns left around the corner from the stairs and stops almost immediately in the Great Hall (College of Fine Arts 133) next to a statue of a woman holding an infant. This is but one of eight sculptures lining the passageway.
There is a fade to white as the statue's face is replaced by Sara Gaskell's, our point of view shifted to the floor where Tripp is laying down having had another one of his spells/episodes.
Tripp says "give me a hand?" to Gaskell and raises his arm and hand to her. She retorts by placing his eyeglasses in his hand instead. I have always found this moment amusing because of the statue visible behind extending an abbreviated limb.
Remember, no smoking is allowed inside the Great Hall of the College of Fine Arts building.
Following more dialogue between Tripp and Gaskell, a swell of applause is heard from the WordFest crowd. A few moments later, the Kresge Theatre's western doors burst open to reveal Leer being carried by Crabtree and an unknown student.
Crabtree and the Good Samaritan carry Leer through the foyer "to the men's room," as Leer narrates aloud. "But, would they make it in time?" Only after my visit to this location did I find a new appreciation for this moment. In reality, the closest men's room is actually beyond that wooden door on the right. Perhaps a rowdy Beaux Arts Ball had rendered it inoperative?
This angle also allowed the filmmakers to slip in more bridge imagery by panning up as Leer and his helpers pass the camera.
Besides that bridge, the ceiling frescos in the foyer are quite detailed and depict notable buildings that architect Henry Hornbostel was said to have admired as well as portraits of some of history's great architects, artists, composers and writers.
Outside the Kresge Theatre's doors, Tripp is asked for a lift by Sloviak and they head out to the parking lot together.