Residents of Seneca Falls, NY, have embraced the notion that their city is the original Bedford Falls, the small town that inspired the setting for the 1946 Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Despite debate among film historians, the townspeople insist they recognize the Victorian houses, the canal running through town, the bridge and the railroad station.
Of course, when La Cañada Flintridge residents watch the film, they also see their town.
Bailey Park, the small housing development created by the altruistic protagonist George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), was set in LCF and filmed at a housing tract under construction north of where La Cañada High School is today. Director Frank Capra once explained in an interview that he selected the location because it “was out in the middle of nowhere.”
The beloved film, which turns 70 this year, is about a suicidal man whose guardian angel shows him what the world would have been like without him in an effort to illustrate how wonderful faith, family, friends — and life — really are.
The movie garnered five Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actor. But in the 1970s, the film’s copyright was allowed to lapse, allowing TV stations across the nation to play it for free, and frequently, during the holidays, giving generations of new viewers the opportunity to fall in love with it.
A Vanity Fair article earlier this year described the film as “perhaps the most cherished, quoted and oft-seen American Christmas film.”
It was shot in 90 days, mostly at the RKO Studios in Culver City, as well as on an elaborate three-acre set at the RKO Ranch in Encino. But other shooting locations included the Beverly Hills High School gym as well as LCF.
You might remember in the movie, the Martini family, who are immigrants from Italy, being welcomed to their new home by the Baileys with bread, salt and wine so that its occupants would never know hunger, always have flavor and so that “joy and prosperity may reign forever.”
The scene includes substantial footage of that Martini home, which is almost unchanged since it was filmed. The tidy, single-story home has retained the bay window that looks out onto Viro Road, where several of the neighboring homes also remain easily recognizable. The San Rafael Hills and San Gabriel Mountains are visible in the background.
Fans have picked up on LCF’s claim to historical film fame. Steered by online real estate sites such as Zillow.com, movie buffs have blogged about their visits to Viro Road.
“I am very happy to report that the house looks EXACTLY the same today … as it did when the movie was filmed! Even the position of the address number, the doorbell, and the mail slot are EXACTLY the same! LOVE IT! LOVE IT! LOVE IT!” wrote a blogger identified as Lindsay on the site, iamnotastalker.com.
The last time the home was sold, in 2003, its connection to the film was part of what appealed about the property to its buyers, according to real estate agent Shereen Kelly.
The listing for the home described it thus: “Own a piece of history. Home featured in the all-time favorite original movie, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Don’t miss this great opportunity!”
So although Jeanine Basinger, author of “The ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Book,” argues that Capra intended for the film to universally represent any small town in the 1940s, the people of Seneca Falls — the “Real Bedford Falls!” — just celebrated the 70th anniversary of the movie last week with a three-day festival that included appearances by the people who played the Bailey kids in the movie.
Across the country, LCF will quietly continue welcoming ardent movie location sleuths to the neighborhood, its place in American cinema history secure.