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L.A.'s Music Center stands in for Rome in television's 'Mad Men'

October 8, 2009 |  7:00 am

Madmen

With its imposing concrete structures and intimidating architecture, the Music Center in downtown L.A. clearly dates from another era -- one redolent of Eisenhower and JFK, Cold War politics and nuclear families.

In other words, it's a perfect location for "Mad Men," the Emmy-winning television drama on AMC set in the corporate advertising world of the early 1960s. 

In Sunday's episode, titled "The Souvenir," the Music Center served as a set for scenes in which the characters of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his wife, Betty (January Jones), visit Rome.

One scene was shot inside the lobby of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion -- one of the four main buildings at the Music Center. The Dorothy Chandler played the part of a Hilton luxury hotel lobby.

Another sequence featured the Music Center fountain as the backdrop for an outdoor cafe scene in a Rome piazza.

Opened in 1964, the Music Center campus was designed by architect Welton Becket. The idea to shoot the Rome scenes there came from Scott Hornbacher, who has worked as a co-executive producer and producer on "Mad Men." His conviction that the venue's architecture would work convinced Matthew Weiner, the show's creator and executive producer, to drop plans of flying the production to Italy.

"It was less expensive but it's never cheap," said Weiner in a phone interview. "It worked out well. The Music Center really captures the feeling and architecture of the era."

The two scenes were shot at the Music Center over a 12-hour period this summer, according to John Vassiliou, production manager at the Music Center, which is owned by the county of Los Angeles. The county has a contract with the Music Center to operate the campus.

For the scene shot inside the Dorothy Chandler, the crew enhanced the period ambiance by adding special Italian-sounding phone rings in post-production. ("It's kind of a low, flat ring," said Weiner.) The crew also debated whether to remove some of the letterings from the walls of the building but ultimately decided against it.

In the outdoor cafe scene featuring the fountain, teamsters brought in Vespa bikes to create an Italian feel for the twilight-hour shoot.

 "Mad Men" also shot at the Music Center for the current season's fourth episode, "The Arrangements," using the Dorothy Chandler's Founders Room -- an impressive space that features 30-foot ceilings, chandeliers, club-style seating and a large marble bar.

"Mad Men" shoots at the Los Angeles Center Studios near downtown, but the story itself is set mostly in New York.

-- David Ng

Photo: January Jones and Jon Hamm in a scene from "Mad Men," with the Music Center fountain in the background. Credit: Carin Baer

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