Friday, February 20, 2015

Geography on Set: Connecting Real Places to Parks and Recreation - Future Gryzzl Headquarters

If you're following along with the final season of Parks and Recreation, you know that Pawnee is undergoing some rapid changes. One of those changes is evidenced in the recent "Save JJ's" episode. (See here for a recap). A new company Gryzzl has been a thorn in the side of Leslie Knope, as the company planned to build their new sprawling campus on a rural site owned by the Newport Family. Leslie had also been pursuing this property as the site for a national park. The National Park Service just couldn't match the $125 million put up by the Newport family.

Ben Wyatt and Leslie Knope address media and residents at Gryzzl's future Pawnee headquarters

For as much as Gryzzl has helped communication in Pawnee, the company eroded the community's trust through spying on their customers. Never to be outdone, Leslie and her crew put together quite an economic development package for Gryzzl. They convince the company that relocating their headquarters to a rural area will be much more expensive (upwards of $100 million), than revitalizing a warehouse complex in Pawnee's Beachview Terrace district. The development of Gryzzl's campus in this area will also allow the loved-but-shuttered JJ's Diner to relocate to a more affordable location, and create a customer base for the diner.

As I watched one of the more recent Parks and Recreation episodes, "Pie-Mary", I became curious about the proposed Gryzzl site. Parks and Recreation has does a great job this season filming in places around Los Angeles, and even in Chicago and Washington, DC. As I watched Ben and Leslie answer questions regarding the "Pie-Mary" baking event surrounding Indiana's primary elections, I noticed some clues (the fire department connection sign gave it away) about the filming location.

The site of Gryzzl's future headquarters in Pawnee's Beachview Terrace neighborhood is actually located in Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, east of Downtown Los Angeles. The site, located on the 600 block of South Anderson Street, is located between the Los Angeles River and the Santa Ana Freeway, just north of Whittier Boulevard. You can see Ben and Leslie addressing reporters from the back of 621 South Anderson Street, the site of Cal-Fiber Inc, a plastic fabrication company.  The Cal-Fiber Inc. sign was altered though, instead reading "-ERPISS FIBER INC."

The site of Cal-Fiber Inc, in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles

Note the "-ERPISS FIBER INC." sign where the "Cal-Fiber Inc." sign sits

The graffiti on the buildings was preserved, as evidenced by the markings on the railing where Ben is addressing the media.

Near the end of the episode, Ben and Leslie can be seen addressing crowds of reporters and citizens once again, this time at a Cal-Fiber building adjacent to the one shown in first scene.

Note Whittier Boulevard at the top right of the scene
The Cal-Fiber building has an interesting history itself, as evidenced by the remaining lettering at the top of the building at 621 South Anderson Street. The site was once home to the Philip Senegram Company, which was a hardware wholesaler, as well as a scrap metal dealer.

The property is also in an area that was once studied for potential inclusion in a historic district. Many of the properties surrounding the Cal-Fiber Inc. building were built in from the 19-teens through the 1940s, on land that was once used by the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroad companies. The land in Boyle Heights was attractive to industrial companies due to its easy access to rail lines.

South Anderson Avenue in 2014, as seen in Google Street View

As a planner I enjoy the public-private partnership that is taking place in order to preserve forest land, as well as to revitalize a struggling part of Pawnee, even if this is a fictional story line. There can be much said about the underlying theme of companies shunning sprawling suburban campuses, and returning to downtown districts. We can easily see this in companies like Twitter, Zappos, and other tech companies who establish downtown offices, as well as Quicken Loans, who moved their offices from suburban Livonia to Downtown Detroit. It's being repeated in cities everywhere, even in fictional Pawnee. We'll have to wait and see if in next week's Parks and Recreation finale, the project actually materializes and helps to revitalize Pawnee.