Cinema History: Saved, Lost, and Threatened Movie Locations in Washington, D.C.
Filming in Washington, D.C. can be challenging. Our nation’s capital has numerous restrictions on where, when, and how film crews can shoot, which means many movies and TV shows set in D.C. do their filming elsewhere, such as New York. But it also means that most of the film crews that do end up shooting in the District do so for important scenes set at historic locations that can’t be recreated, such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol, and the White House.
Though the most commonly filmed locations in Washington, D.C. are on the National Register of Historic Places, there are plenty of other locations that have interesting preservation stories. Here's a list of which locations are threatened, lost, or saved.
Saved Movie Locations
Old Post Office Pavilion
The Old Post Office was used as Washington’s main post office until 1914, after which it was mainly used as an office building. Plans to build Federal Triangle and redevelop Pennsylvania Avenue threatened the Old Post Office in both the 1930s and the 1970s. The plan to demolish the building was abandoned in 1973 when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Old Post Office building and its Pavilion can be seen in No Way Out, In the Line of Fire, and Broadcast News.
The original Union Station was featured in the classic 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and again in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film Strangers On a Train. By the mid-1960s, its glory days had passed and it was re-purposed into the National Visitor Center, reopening in 1976. When that failed, Congress decided to restore Union Station rather than demolishing the deteriorating building. The new transportation hub opened in 1988. During the building’s transition and after its restoration, Union Station was used as a filming location for Exorcist II: The Heretic, Hannibal, and The Recruit.
Greyhound Bus Terminal
Washington’s old Greyhound bus terminal appears in the 1973 film Scorpio. The terminal shut down in the 1980s and the new owners planned to build an office building in the space. Preservationists fought to save not only the Art Deco facade but the entire building. The structure ended up being incorporated as the entrance to the new office building.
Willard InterContinental Hotel
The original Willard Hotel closed in 1968. It was empty for several years and considered for demolition. But eventually it was taken over by InterContinental Hotels, restored to its former glory, and reopened in 1986 as the Willard InterContinental. The Willard is featured in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report. The ground floor of the hotel also contains Occidental Grill, where Captain America: Winter Soldier filmed, and Greenworks, a flower shop that can be seen in The American President.
Mayflower Renaissance Hotel
In 1971, the owners of the then-struggling Mayflower Hotel considered tearing it down and using the space for a new office building. The plan was eventually abandoned when the owners brought in new management. The director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, ate lunch at the hotel’s restaurant frequently, and the 1977 film The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover filmed there. In addition, the Mayflower was used for interior hotel scenes in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie True Lies.
Lost Movie Locations
Washington Post Headquarters
The headquarters for The Washington Post, seen in All the President’s Men and a romantic comedy called Chances Are, will be demolished next year after the newspaper relocates to a new office. There has been no attempt at making the building a landmark since its architecture isn’t what is important about its history.
Shops at Georgetown Park Mall
Most retailers in this underground shopping mall in Georgetown were closed by 2012, except those with street-level entrances. The owners of the property decided on interior demolition to get rid of the mall layout inside, opting to create space for fewer but larger, multi-level stores. The recognizable mall seen in No Way Out (as the fictional Georgetown metro station), True Lies, Best Friends, and Timecop is gone.
Threatened Movie Locations
J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building
The FBI is moving their headquarters out of downtown Washington, and the future of the massive J. Edgar Hoover Building that looms over Pennsylvania Avenue is in question. The site of the new headquarters hasn’t been chosen yet, so it’s likely that the transition won’t be completed for several years. Once The J. Edgar Hoover Building is empty, it’s likely that the developers will choose to demolish it, but preservationists still have several years to change the building’s fate. The FBI’s downtown headquarters have been featured in National Treasure, All the President’s Men, Hannibal, and The X-Files.
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Contributor Anjuli Johnson works for On Location Tours.