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Transcontinental shift: Hollywood is all aboard Union Station

August 31, 2010 |  2:51 pm

Unionstation1
Union It’s a sweeping romantic moment set against the grandeur of New York's Grand Central Terminal, venue to countless poignant moments of tearful farewells.

A forlorn young woman, suitcase in hand, buys her train ticket from the kiosk when her lover appears from out of the shadows to present her with a bouquet of flowers. The couple embrace and leave together on a horse and buggy waiting outside the station. Cut.

The scene, from the Justin Timberlake romantic comedy “Friends With Benefits,” is supposed to unfold in New York's renowned example of Beaux-Arts architecture. But the scene will in fact be filmed this week in downtown Los Angeles at Union Station, just the latest in a long line of movies, TV shows and commercials that have showcased the Mission-and-Modern-style station.

“It’s an homage to all the great films that have shot at Union Station,’’ said Glenn Gainor, head of physical production at Sony Pictures Entertainment film unit Screen Gems, which is producing the movie, a bicoastal production shot in both New York and L.A.

The movie started filming in L.A. earlier this month and highlights many of the City of Angels' landmarks, including the Hollywood sign, the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – and Union Station.

“Union Station is one of the more beautiful locations in L.A, from its Art Deco 1930s tiles to its vacant ticket station, “ Gainor said. “It has superior architecture and was built at a time [1939] when people really sweated the details. It’s always on my radar.”

And apparently on that of many others. The station has become a bustling film destination thanks to its distinctive architecture,  wide open spaces – including a  vacant 12,000-square-foot former ticketing concourse and 65-foot-high ceilings – and a reputation for being "film friendly."

In recent years, the station has been the site for dozens of car commercials, feature films including “Drag Me to Hell,” “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan”  and the upcoming adaptation of Ayn Rand's “Atlas Shrugged,” as well as such TV shows as “CSI: New York,” “Cold Case” and the reality program “Top Chef.”

Owned by Denver, Colorado-based commercial real estate company ProLogis, the station has filming activities on about 100 days of the year, said Jeff Cooper, a portfolio manager for Hollywood Locations, whose principals co-own and manage Los Angeles Center Studios and represent for filming various properties around L.A., including Union Station.

“We make it easy for movie companies to come in here,’’ said Cooper, who charges up to $10,000 a day or between $1,500 and $2,000 an hour for filming at the station.

Hollywood has longstanding ties to 71-year-old Union Station, which has been featured in such classic movies as “Blade Runner,” and even had a film named after it: the 1950 film noir “Union Station,” starring William Holden. It often appears in period movies like “Pearl Harbor.”

“People love the way it looks,’’ Cooper said. “You couldn’t build a soundstage like this.”

Large, available space is another draw, he said, recalling how the producers of “Charlie’s Angels” converted a vacant concourse into a bedroom set in a European castle.

In “Friends With Benefits,” the Union Station scene unfolds as a movie within a movie. Justin Timberlake’s character is watching a romantic comedy on TV with his girlfriend, played by Mila Kunis. Timberlake’s character notices palm trees in the background, and remarks that the station is in fact in L.A., not New York.

The line is partly an inside joke about how Hollywood often disguises L.A. for other locations, and partly a tribute to one of L.A.’s signature locations, said Doug Dresser, the film’s location manager.

 “It’s one of the timeless treasures of L.A.,” he said.

-- Richard Verrier

Photo: View of the now closed Fred Harvey restaurant at Union Station by Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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