Woodstock from Welles to Ramis: A Photo Tour

I recently drove 50-odd miles northwest of my fair city of Chicago to visit, for the first time, the quaint suburb of Woodstock, Illinois. The purpose of the trip was to take pictures for possible inclusion in Flickering Empire, the forthcoming book that I co-wrote with Adam Selzer about the history of early film production in Chicago. I specifically wanted to visit the former location of the Todd Seminary for Boys where Orson Welles, an alumnus, co-directed the film The Hearts of Age in 1934 when he was just 19-years-old. Although I knew the Todd School had closed in 1954 and that all of its buildings had since been razed, I wanted to see where it once stood and hopefully take photos of any surviving landmarks — such as a giant outdoor bell or a distinctive gravestone — that contributed to such striking images in the movie. I also knew that historic downtown Woodstock — standing in for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania — was where Illinois-native Harold Ramis had filmed Groundhog Day in 1993. Since Groundhog Day is one of my favorite comedies and a movie I frequently show in film studies classes, I decided to try and visit prominent locations from that film as well. Below is a photo tour of my day-long expedition.

Here’s Orson Welles and his classmates in front of the residence building known as Grace Hall. This photo would’ve been taken sometime between 1926 and 1931. Click on the photo to enlarge it (Orson is the tall lad standing in the middle — his head is directly beneath the window on the far left side of the building):
orson Photo: Woodstock Public Library

No one knows exactly where The Hearts of Age, Welles’ debut film, was shot but it was almost certainly somewhere on the Todd campus. Here’s 19-year-old Welles heavily made-up as “Death” in a still I created from the DVD of the film:

Tragically, Grace Hall, the final building standing from the original Todd School campus, was razed in 2010. It was reportedly still in excellent condition when the owners demolished it in order to build new “duplex” housing for seniors:
grace Photo: Woodstock Advocate

Here’s the same location (318 Christian Way) as seen today:

Welles also performed at the famous Woodstock Opera House. Here he is (bottom left), with fellow summer-stock players Michael MacLiammoir and Louise Prussing, onstage at the Opera House in 1934:

The exterior of the Woodstock Opera House as seen today (note the Italianate bell tower, which probably inspired the climax of Welles’ 1946 film The Stranger):

Speaking of which . . . one of the many ways Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day character, Phil Connors, attempts to commit suicide in the film is by leaping from the tower:

Here’s a frontal view of the Opera House. Located at 121 Van Buren St, it also plays the “Pennsylvania Hotel” where Andie McDowell’s character, Rita, stays in the movie:

Phil, meanwhile, stays at a bed and breakfast known as the “Cherry Street Inn.” In real life, this gorgeous Victorian mansion is actually a private residence:

Here’s the Woodstock Theater, which plays the “Alpine Theater” in the film, as seen today. The address is 209 Main Street (sadly, Heidi II was not playing when I visited):

The “Tip Top Cafe,” where Phil has breakfast with Rita and Larry (Chris Elliot), is now a taqueria. It is located at 108 Cass St:

Woodstock Square, which plays “Gobbler’s Knob” in the film:

Some of the most memorable moments in Groundhog Day involve Phil’s repeated run-ins with annoying insurance salesman Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky):

The same sidewalk as seen today:

“Watch out for that first step. It’s a doozy!”:

There are some very impressive Orson Welles celebrations planned for Woodstock in 2014 and 2015. You can learn about them on Wellesnet, the invaluable Orson Welles Web Resource, here: http://www.wellesnet.com/?page_id=5387

You can learn more about Woodstock and Groundhog Day here: http://woodstockgroundhog.org/pages/tour.html

Unless otherwise noted, all of the above photos were taken by me.

About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

28 responses to “Woodstock from Welles to Ramis: A Photo Tour

  • jilliemae

    Great post! I love that they have a plaque commemorating the step. Also, “Todd School?” Probably the dorkiest name of any school.

  • Corrine Strang

    Fascinating photos! Will you be able to incorporate some in the book?

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks. The still of Orson as Death is definitely going in the book. But I don’t think the photo I took of the spot that used to be the residence hall where Welles lived is interesting enough. Hmmmm, maybe I should also write a book about Groundhog Day . . .

  • Bob

    Thank you for a very interesting post. It led me to watch Hearts of Age, which I had never heard of, on YouTube. I don’t know why, but something about Hearts of Age evoked Chimes at Midnight for me. I’ll have to watch it again to try to figure out the association; it would be too priceless, but also too pat, if his first already had the seeds of his last.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Don’t forget Welles’ even later F FOR FAKE (1973), which I think is even more similar to HEARTS OF AGE (in that both eschew the deep-focus/long-take style for which Welles was renowned in favor of rapid-fire montage-style editing).

  • Ryan Robinson

    /Users/Groundhog Day.docx

  • Voyo Gabrilo

    You say that Groundhog Day is one of your favorite comedies. I agree with you, and I would take it further as to say it is one of my favorite movies. I think that people typically overlook comedies when producing a list of favorite films. (I believe you said something of a similar vein in class.) We tend to look at comedies as lesser pieces of art, but Groundhog Day was a great film and a great piece of art. Its many allusions to literature elevates its intelligence (and that of Harold Ramis’s); its comedy is not slapstick or unbelievable, but rather absurdly done in order to illustrate the evils of the monotony of life. And in terms of Bill Murray’s career, it starts an incline in his artistic endeavors. He plays the everyday American man who is stuck in his own life.

    Also I just wanted to point out that the still of Orson as Death looks a lot like Charles Foster Kane as an elderly man. And, yes, I know they are both Orson Welles, but the makeup just makes the two characters look eerily similar!

    • michaelgloversmith

      The “evils of the monotony of life” is a great phrase. I think the scene that illustrates this best is the second snowball fight. It’s like Phil is trying to recapture the spontaneity of the first time and failing miserably. 20/20

  • Alexis Soto

    Prior to watching Groundhog Day in class, I only saw it once and I couldn’t really remember anything from the movie. Watching it in class has actually reiterated this movie to being one of my favorite comedies and movies as well. This kind of reminded me of A Christmas Carol because of the transformation Phil made. He went from a selfish asshole to a compassionate man. A complete 180. Besides that I believe comedies are the best type of movies because they’re relateable and provide the best entertainment. This movie was a great movie and not just a great comedy.

  • Salwa Merchant

    Groundhog’s Day was an interesting movie. Throughout the movie it was getting confusing because Phil had been reliving the same day over and over. I found the location to be interesting because it wasn’t in downtown Chicago. When looking at the different locations it looks like an exotic place to go and visit. The shoot were Phil was jumping of a building I thought that it looked like a church. After seeing the entire picture and finding out that it was actually a Opera House. Sometimes you don’t know the name of a building but sometimes by the look of it you can usually get an idea of what it could be. When looking back at the images from the movie and comparing to how it looks now not much has changed. The area looks the same just that it must have been renovated. Overall it was an amazing movie to watch and interesting to watch a movie outside of Downtown Chicago

  • Darcy

    In GROUNDHOG DAY, Bill Murray’s persona changed from his comedic Second City/SNL self, to a more serious role when he decided to stop thinking of only himself. In the beginning of the film, Bill Murray cracked some jokes, such as asking the old woman who worked in the dining room at the hotel if she had a cappuccino and an espresso, knowing full well that the hotel didn’t have either, and then she walked away mumbling how she didn’t know the answer. After that scene, Bill Murray encountered Ned, and told him, “I would love to stand here talking to you Ned, but I’m not going to.” Even though it’s funny for the audience, because we just met the old lady and Ned, so we don’t care for them, his sense of humor has elements of black comedy, and these couple of scenes are very telling of his character’s persona. He then goes through, as you said in class, the five stages of grief, such as becoming depressed and stealing Puxatony Phil and driving over the edge of the cliff and exploding (one of my favorite scenes in the movie), but in the end he comes to accept himself and notices others around them, and embraces them. For example, Bill Murray went from ignoring the homeless man on the street, to saving his life by taking him to a diner and giving him a warm blanket. He also went from being nasty to Ned, such as pushing him out of his way, to giving him a big ‘ol hug (which may have been overdoing it, but at least it’s better than being sucker punched in the face!).

    Going off of what Salwa said, it was interesting to watch a film that wasn’t shot in Chicago. The small town feel of Woodstock helped the film feel a bit claustrophobic at times, and Woodstock felt like the entire world, instead of a minuscule dot on a map in the grand scheme of things. Everyone knew everybody, there were small diners that people ate at, and everyone gathered together in the town square to celebrate the inane Groundhog Day. However, this film goes to show that even in a small town, there are still many paths you take. The only constant in Bill Murray’s schedule was reporting on whether or not the groundhog saw his shadow, but besides that he was feel free to spend his day however he chose. Sometimes he would zero in on one person, such as a girl who he was trying to manipulate, or he would jump off a building. At the end of the movie, once he got a feel for the town, he combined everything that he learned about the town, and used that to plot out his day, finding the best possible circumstance for creating the perfect day and bettering himself and others. Even though we all can’t live a day over and over again, what we can take away from this film is to find the best possible circumstances in our day, and use that to better our life.

  • John Betsoleiman

    I’ve never seen Groundhog Day all the way through, and I’m very happy I was able to see it nonstop in class. I would say that this film definitely goes on my list of favorite comedies. It’s an enjoyable experience to see Bill Murray’s character, Phil, go through this complete turn around in his personality. It’s as if we are going through this journey of self improvement with him and we are waking up with him everyday. Bill Murray flawlessly nailed this role and made Phil believable. I liked scrolling through the pictures and seeing where the majority of the iconic scenes happened. They essentially look exactly like they did in the film, unlike the sadly destroyed sets used in Orson Welle’s film.

  • Jim Alexander

    Those are some great pics, obviously due to near 100 year gap, the Orson Welles locations are non-existent. The locations from Groundhog Day are very recognizable, obviously the building names changed and some renovations were added,but it’s still all there. The Victorian house is impressive, imagine being the person who owns that landmark. It’s a really pretty town, doesn’t look like a town in IL, I’d say it’s got some sort of a Southern look to it.

    As far as the movie Groundhog Day goes, I really enjoyed it. It’s a timeless comedy, but also it’s very much a romance just as much. Bill Murray is awesome, and Andi MacDowell is really great. Harold Ramis really doesn’t get his due for being a really talented filmmaker.

  • Dan Wardzala

    Throughout my childhood, I never got a chance to see the film Groundhog Day from beginning to end. I managed to catch different parts at different times and thought I could string everything together, but that’s not the case. I needed to see this from start to finish. I has so much of the Midwest in it and it’s meant to be set in the east. I feel like every small town in Illinois or around this area has the same appeal and can also house future films. The more rural and further you get from the big cities, the more you have the quaint little towns. They all seem to have historical building and instantly recognizable landmarks. The bed and breakfast house really stands out to me because no matter what town you pass through, it has at least one of these that perhaps is now a historical building, or a church, or something that sees a very limited amount of foot traffic associated with it.

  • Luke Chirayil

    At first I didn’t like the movie and thought it was one of the strangest movies I’ve seen. It began to irritate me because everything was being repeated over and over and then soon a point to the movie was made visible which then brought my interest back. Like the movie “Edge of Tomorrow” with Tom Cruise, finally to realize he must do something in order to prevent himself and his troops from losing a war against alien creatures. Pretty neat though that you had the time to actually go and check out the sites that the movie was actually filmed at and seeing what they actually where. From where Murray walked with the insurance man, you see the time alteration dramatically from the cars alone, as well as the some parts of the Benjamin Moore store in the most recent picture. While watching this movie, it reminded me of a Snapchat story that is shared among all users publicly showing how dedicated people are to a holiday that recognizes our American background.

  • Giovanna Mule

    I liked your blog about the movie, I really enjoyed seeing all the pictures of where the film took place at. A lot of the pictures you posted you can really tell where they are at in the film. It is sad that one of the building got torn down, but at least something good came out of it and they built a place to help elderly people. I have seen this film once before in high school for a religion class. I remember watching this film in high school and not enjoying it so much, but this time I enjoyed watching it a lot more, so thank you for showing it. From watching it before and watching it now both classes that showed it, were trying to get a different meaning across to the students. When I watched it in high school it was about a religious point and learning to become a better person to improve your life. In the beginning of the movie Bill Murray’s character was all about being funny and he was only concerned with himself and no one else. He learned in order for it to be the next day he had to change the way he thinks and the way he behaved towards the people around him in his life. The film has so many good qualities that people can learn from it, to improve their own life. I really like this film for many reasons. I really liked the meaning of the movie. I also liked the actors in it, they are really good actors and the way it was filmed and edited was really good too.

  • Kevin Donohue

    Sad an historic building was demolished, though maybe Welles wouldn’t be upset (anything to cover up evidence of “The Hearts of Age” existing). I don’t understand why he’d be so embarrassed, I was impressed even his earliest experimental work was that good. Anyway I appreciated the opportunity to see “Groundhog Day”, always a hilarious movie that ended up far more profound than they probably intended. I always thought the message was overcoming your problems/faults is the only way to deal with them. Distraction and indulgence only makes it worse, and Phil can’t even escape through death. I also thought Andie Macdowell was on Seinfeld, but apparently Julia Louis-Dreyfus is neither her clone nor stage-name; they’re two different people. Pretty spooky.

  • Young Kim

    I personally thought that they used Woodstock very well. I think that in some way, it will remind someone of home. All the different locations have this essence that will be nostalgic to someone. The bar, restaurant, the diner, the hotel, the sidewalks, the streets, all have this “home” vibe that most people will recognize. I think this aspect really makes this film gel a lot better for the audience. It unconsciously brings a very personal touch to the story. The people who live in Punxsutawney gives off the same vibe as well. They hit all the spots that make up a nice knit community. I think that Orson Welles was going for that same idea. That Death could come to any place.

  • Sahar Lakhani

    Groundhog Day is such an entertaining movie to watch! I’ve seen it once before this class, but I enjoyed it just as much the second time watching it. It had humor, but also a serious message. The viewers were able to see Phil develop as a character. Throughout the first few time loops, Phil would use it for his own benefit. For instance, when he robbed money. He also got in trouble with the cops and went to jail only because he knew that he would end up the next morning in his own bed again. Eventually, he starts to do things for other town people. He gives food to an old man, and tries to prevent his death. He also tries to impress Rita by learning about her interests. At the end of the film, many people come up to him and thank him for helping them. We saw Phil change and become a more generous person, which is probably the reason why the loop was broken. It was interesting to see the photos you posted of some of the locations from the film. Some have changed, for example the cafe. However, the sidewalk where Phil meets Ned still remains the same. Overall, Groundhog Day was a fun movie to watch, and to see how the protagonist changes throughout it.

  • Jim Downing

    “An assassin! I’ll protect you, your Majesty!”

    Groundhog Day is truly a well-sculpted film. As both Voyo and yourself have said, comedies are often overlooked in terms of significance. One thing this film does right is precision. The director knew exactly what moments of February 2nd to replay and show to the viewer without boring them and slowing the pace of the film. The beloved Bill Murray does an excellent job of combing drama and comedy and shows how dynamic of an actor he truly is. The humor in this film was very intelligent and on-point and is one of the driving elements that makes this a masterful film (not to mention the positive message of treating people right). Groundhog Day is one film I would not mind rewatching over and over (and over and over) again!

  • Anthony Peter

    I was pretty bummed out when I learned we weren’t watching the “Blues Brothers”, because I really wanted to see it now that I’m far older and know Chicago a lot better, but substituting Belushi with Murray wasn’t all that bad! It was really great. I really enjoyed Groundhog day and how realistic his reactions were to reliving the same day over and over again. I think I would have responded similarly. There were stages of fun, depression, indulging, and everything else. I also really liked that it wasn’t once he got Rita into bed or almost, but it was once he really actually loved her, not because he knew about her, but because he knew her and still really wanted her. That was pretty cool. Also, it was like someone was watching over him because, it wasn’t the night that she spent with him to see if he would wake up on Groundhog Day again that actually went to the next. It’s like God said, “Yeah you love her now, so I’m gonna give you one more day to show her how cool you are now that you can do all this stuff. That will be the day that you’ll wake up to see tomorrow.” It was completely ambiguous what force of power had him waking up the same day every day, but regardless, it was an entertaining movie. Woodstock, IL was nice. It reminded me of the town in “Back to the Future”. The city square where everything is going on, and just the very American vibe from he 90’s. Very American. I like American.

  • Brian Skeggs

    The film Groundhog Day definitely deserved its spot as one of the best films in American history. The film’s storyline is a lesson we all should take from. Along with that the transition of Bill Murray’s character also assisted him in being taken as a more serious actor instead of just a comedian. The films use of the town Woodstock also made the film. The homie town provided an environment where if someone lived there for a long time they could know everyone there. The scenery of the town and architecture also made the film more appealing. I’ve easily seen Ground Hog Day over ten times now and unlike other movies I do not regret this. Every time I re-watch it I discover new things in scenes that I had not picked up on before.

  • Maddie Rosenberg

    The fact that this movie was filmed in Woodstock, was essential for popularizing the holiday. Bill Murray definitely plays a unique yet realistic character. This is the one movie of his where I felt like his role was to be human. He wasn’t that cliche person who causes miracles, or had all the luck in the world. He was a screwup and a total jerk in the beginning. He goes onto evolve from being selfish to being generous, in a span of 30 years. So this movie presented us with someone we don’t want to relate to, because we consider him to be the opposite of who we’re used to seeing. In a comedy/sci-fi, we’re used to seeing people who are unreliable so we can focus on everything else that’s going on. Whether these things be slapstick comedy or complex theories about how the future will play out. We watch movies to escape reality, however that’s kind of hard to do here, given all the realistic possibilities Bill Murray faces in this movie. Every time he wakes up on Groundhog Day is a new scenario to him, but not to the audience. We’ve all had days like him, and this movie tries effortlessly to show that. Such examples include personalities, setups, real jobs, suicide, and dialogue. All of this makes the movie terrifyingly good. When we see one of Bill Murray’s longer days, it’s almost easy to forget that he’s stuck in a time loop.

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