Bedford Falls (It's a Wonderful Life)

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Bedford Falls
Fictional Town
Top: Genesee Street looking towards the courthouse.Bottom: Genesee Street looking towards the Station.Shots used in the film Cimarron (1931).
Top: Genesee Street looking towards the courthouse.
Bottom: Genesee Street looking towards the Station.
Shots used in the film Cimarron (1931).
Country  United States of America
State  New York
County Bedford County
Website www.therealbedfordfalls.com

Bedford Falls (or Pottersville) is the fictional town in which the American Christmas drama It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Philip Van Doren Stern's 1943 short story "The Greatest Gift" (on which the film is based) are set.

Inspiration[edit]

In 1945, Frank Capra visited Seneca Falls in the state of New York to look for inspiration for the town of Bedford Falls.[1] The two towns are very similar as they are both mill towns, they both had a grassy median down the main street (Seneca Falls does not anymore), both communities boast Victorian architecture and a large Italian population, and they both have toll bridges very similar to each other. The locations are both close to Buffalo, Rochester, and Elmira.

In Seneca Falls there was a local businessman named Norman J. Gould, who owned Gould Pumps, and was one of the richest men in town. He drove his car with license number NJG1. Norman Gould also had great control over politics and economics of the area, much as Henry F. Potter did in the movie.[2]

The name Bedford Falls arrives from both Seneca Falls and a hamlet in the Westchester County of New York called Bedford Hills.

Streets and locations[edit]

Genesee Street[edit]

Genesee Street is the main road through Bedford Falls. At the north end is a Courthouse with a street heading east down Bridge Street which departs the town. The street is 300 yards long with over 30 stores and buildings including a Public Library, a Dance Academy, a Trust and Savings Bank, an Emporium, a Western Union and American Airlines office, a Barber Shop, a Florists, a Beauty Shop, a Bakery an Antique Shop, a World Luggage and Sports Shop, a Hardware Store, a Candy Shop, an Art Store, a Music Store, a Theatre (Bijou Theatre), a Drug Store (Gower's Drugs), a Toy shop, a Meat Market, a Newspaper office (Bedford Falls Sentinel), a Tailors Shop, a Bicycle Shop, a Garage, a Bowling Alley and Pool House, a Hotel, a Grocery, two Cafés (including the Tiptop Café), a Bonds Store, a Gas Company, a Telephone Exchange, a Police Station and a Building and Loan (Bailey's Bros.) that George (James Stewart) ends up running with his Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) after his father died).[3]

Down the center of the street there is a tree-lined parkway with 15 oak trees. The parkway is split off into three as two roads cut through Genesee Street. One is Jefferson Avenue which goes to the high school and Potter's Field, and the other is Washington Avenue. At the south side of the town a road heads east to residential streets New England and Sycamore Street. Another road goes southwest to the railway station.

New England Street and Sycamore Street[edit]

New England Street holds eight residential houses. One house belongs to Peter (Samuel S. Hinds) and Ma Bailey (Beulah Bondi) and is where George and Harry grew up as kids.

Sycamore Street holds six properties, and one of them was where Mary (Donna Reed) grew up. Another house down the street is 320 Sycamore, known as the Old Granville House. It was an abandoned house that became known to youngsters as the place to throw rocks at, and if you smashed a window you could make a wish. Both George and Mary threw rocks at the house after a high school party. George wished for a future of traveling and becoming an architect. Mary wouldn't tell George her wish but later in the film she told him she had wished to marry him and live in the house. The wish actually came true when in 1932, on the night of George and Mary's wedding, she bought it as their home. Through the years they redecorated the house, raised four children there and lived the rest of their life in the house.[4]

Bridge Street[edit]

Bridge Street is at the north side of the town and connects to Genesee Street from the east next to the courthouse and runs out of the town via a toll bridge. Many other residents live up Bridge Street including the man who owns the tree George drives his car into when drunk. It is also the location of Giuseppe Martini's bar called "Martini's", and behind the bar is the town's canal. The toll bridge on the outskirts of the town is the location where George thinks about committing suicide but is saved by Clarence Odbody. When the two are in the water and the toll man shines his torch into the water you can see many of the houses on Bridge Street above the riverbank.

On the other side of the canal is a toll house where George and Clarence go to get dry. In one shot of the toll house you can see many lit up houses over the hills in the countryside, showing that the little town of Bedford Falls does actually spread out quite a bit.

Railway Station[edit]

The Bedford Falls railway station is the main form of transport to get in or out of the town. The location was used only once in the film when Harry (Todd Karns) comes back from university with his wife Ruth Dakin (Virginia Patton) as George and Uncle Billy were waiting there.[5] While waiting there George says to Uncle Billy that a train whistle is one of the three most exciting sounds in the world. The other two were anchor chains and plane motors.[6]

Bailey Park and Potter's Field[edit]

Bailey Park and Potter's Field are two different housing developments. Potter's Field is owned by Henry F. Potter and the bank, while Bailey's Park is owned by the residents (such as the Martini family), who have received mortgages through the Building and Loan. Potter's Field comes from the name potter's field, which is a term for a place for the burial of unknown or indigent people. Most people who live there are very poor people and can't afford to live anywhere else. Most of Potter's Field's residents couldn't even afford to live in his slums as Henry Potter put huge rents on the properties and that was the reason for the Building and Loan to open their own homes, which instead of being built out of next to nothing, they were beautiful stone bungalows that were sold very cheaply so the poor people could have a place to live instead of paying hurried[clarification needed] prices at Potter's Field. A lot of people including the Martini family (William Edmunds and Argentina Brunetti) moved out of Potter's Field to Bailey Park and were able to afford to live in their own house. Bailey Park was built just south of Mount Bedford and north of the town.[7]

320 Sycamore Street[edit]

320 Sycamore Street
Former names Old Grandville House
The Waldorf Hotel
General information
Type House
Architectural style Victorian
Location Sycamore Street,
Bedford Falls

320 Sycamore Street is the fictional street address in Bedford Falls of the Bailey family. It is situated down Sycamore Street to the southeast of the town.[8]

Before the Baileys bought it the house was supposedly owned by a family called the Granvilles. They left the house derelict and it turned into a ghost house. The locals called the house the "Old Granville House" and many teenagers made a game by throwing rocks at the windows, and if you smashed one you could make a wish. Mary bought the house in October 1932, on the day George and she got married. Over the years they rebuilt the house by repainting it. They put new ceilings and floors in and gave it love. George and Mary had four children, Pete, Janie, Zuzu and Tommy, and brought them up in the house.

Filming location[edit]

The film was shot at RKO Radio Pictures Studio in Culver City, California, and the 89 acre RKO movie ranch in Encino,[9] where "Bedford Falls" consisted of Art Director Max Ree's Oscar winning sets originally designed for the 1931 epic film Cimarron that covered 4 acres (1.6 ha), assembled from three separate parts, with a main street stretching 300 yards (three city blocks), with 75 stores and buildings, and a residential neighborhood.[10] For 'IAWL' Capra built a working bank set, added a tree-lined center parkway, and planted 20 full grown oak trees to existing sets.[11] Pigeons, cats, and dogs were allowed to roam the mammoth set in order to give the "town" a lived-in feel. Due to the requirement to film in an "alternate universe" setting as well as during different seasons, the set was extremely adaptable. RKO created "chemical snow" for the film in order to avoid the need for dubbed dialogue when actors walked across the earlier type of movie snow, made up of crushed cornflakes.[12] Filming started on April 15, 1946 and ended on July 27, 1946, exactly on deadline for the 90-day principal photography schedule.

RKO's movie ranch in Encino, a filming location of "Bedford Falls", was razed in 1954.[N 1] There are only two surviving locations from the film. The first is the swimming pool that was unveiled during the famous dance scene where George courts Mary. It is located in the gymnasium at Beverly Hills High School and is still in operation as of 2013. The second is the "Martini home", at 4587 Viro Road in La Cañada Flintridge, California.[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Photographs of parts of the RKO set can be seen on retroweb.com.[13] "Modern Streets."retroweb.com. Retrieved: December 29. 2011.
  1. ^ "The REAL Bedford Falls: Inside the town that inspired Frank Capra's Christmas classic It's A Wonderful Life". Daily Mail (London). December 26, 2011. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  2. ^ "The Real Bedford Falls: Too Many Coincidences to Ignore...". Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Modern Street at RetroWeb Image Gallery". Retroweb.com. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Residential Sets at RetroWeb Image Gallery". Retroweb.com. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Railroad Line and Depot Sets at RetroWeb Image Gallery". Retroweb.com. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  6. ^ "It's a Wonderful Life Script at IMSDb". IMSDb. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  7. ^ "It's a Wonderful Life – Then & Now". Life On The Outside. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  8. ^ "'It's a Wonderful Life:' George and Mary Bailey's Drafty Old House in Bedford Falls". Hooked on Houses. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  9. ^ "RetroWeb Image Gallery | Bison Archives RKO Ranch photograph collection". Retroweb.com. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  10. ^ Studio Backlots and Ranches Retrieved 1 January 2013
  11. ^ "RetroWeb Image Gallery | It's A Wonderful Life". Retroweb.com. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  12. ^ Cox 2003, pp. 23–24.
  13. ^ "Residential Sets." retroweb.com. Retrieved: December 29. 2011.
  14. ^ Wayne, Gary. "Hollywood on Location: the '40s." seeing-stars.com. Retrieved: August 25, 2009.