Earlier this week, my wife Kimi and I led a large group from Orange County on a day-long tour of the filming sites around the Santa Clarita Valley (something we’ll be doing again later this month for Cowboy Festival).
Along the way, we showed off famous filming spots like Vasquez Rocks where literally thousands of Westerns hit the screen, several film ranches, the homes of William S. Hart and Harry Carey, and the Charlie Chaplin Modern Times sites I’ve written about in the past.
For lunch we stopped at the Halfway House Cafe.
As the coach pulled up to the restaurant, I watched the recognizable signs of déjà vu appear on the faces of the tourists. They couldn’t quite place exactly when or where, but in their minds they had been to this spot dozens of times before.
“I absolutely love this place, and so do a lot of producers. I actually turn down a lot of filming requests because there are so many,” says owner Bob Lima.
Until recently, Lima, whose number must be on speed-dial for every location scout in Hollywood, would actually close the restaurant for one day a week to accommodate the large volume of filming requests. Since then, he keeps the restaurant open seven days a week and now only closes for special films. Occasionally, filming still takes place after the business day is over.
Just a sampling of recent television shows that have used the café include Heroes, Melrose Place, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Numbers, CSI, ER, Angel, Hyperion Bay, The King of Queens, Sons of Anarchy, Diagnosis Murder, and Monk.
On the big screen, Halfway has appeared in Space Cowboys, Spartan, Lost In America, Georgia Rule, Heartbreak Ridge, All About Steve, and Every Which Way But Loose.
It was here that Kerri Russell made pies in the 2007 film Waitress, and this was also the place where Tim Robbins tells Jack Black how to steal the magic pick in Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny.
The restaurant has seen a steady stream of stars pass through its doors over the years. Gene Autry is thought to have been the first filmmaker to use the setting in the 1930s.
It is also rumored to have been featured in a couple of episodes of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone in the 1950s (A segment of the ill-fated Twilight Zone: The Movie was also filmed here). Clint Eastwood, Helen Hunt, Andy Griffith, Eddie Murphy, Val Kilmer, Lindsay Lohan, and Sandra Bullock are among the more recent stars to film here.
Halfway House Café is probably the most unassuming movie star in the entire thirty-mile zone. The café, which got its name from being situated halfway between Los Angeles and Palmdale, first got its start as a trading post in 1906 and has been a restaurant off-and-on since 1931.
In 1993 it closed after being damaged in a flood. Lima purchased the property a year later, and after a major cleanup, opened it again in 1995. It has been in continuous operation ever since.
Halfway House’s menu of hearty meat-and-potatoes-type fare makes the restaurant as popular with its customers as it is with filmmakers.
“We have customers who are over seventy-years-old who first came here when they were fifteen,” says Lima. “Sometimes I get in trouble with them when I have to close the restaurant to let the film guys in,” he adds.
The restaurant’s location continues to draw a steady stream of filmmakers who need a rustic southwestern rural “biker bar” setting that is close to Hollywood. The café is located at 15564 Sierra Highway, a couple of sparsely-populated miles north of the Santa Clarita city limits.
“This is where the city basically ends. After that, there isn’t much until you reach Palmdale,” says Sally Moore, who has managed the restaurant since 1999.
The Los Angeles metropolitan area has no official northern boundary, but if it did, this would be the place.
(We’ll continue our visit to Halfway House tomorrow.)
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