'The Way We Were' starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013. Considered one of the best romantic films, it features scenes lensed at several East Coast locations – including the tiny town of Ballston Spa, Union College in Schenectady and Central Park Lake in New York City – as well as at various Los Angeles area locations.
If you’re familiar with the storyline, you’ll know a couple falls in love on the East Coast and then end up moving to the West Coast where changed circumstances on both of their personal paths derail their marriage. When Gilda Radner sang the film’s title song for a “Gilda Live” performance, she described the movie as "about a Jewish woman with a big nose and her blond boyfriend who move to Hollywood, and it's during the blacklist and it puts a strain on their relationship." Gilda had such a way with words, and that pretty much sums it up.
Today we’ll take a look at one of the film’s most important LA locations, Downtown’s Union Station. This particular location is important because it was used for a pivotal scene – one over which there was extreme contention between the film’s screenwriter (Arthur Laurents), director (Sydney Pollack) and lead actors (Streisand and Redford) – but also because Union Station is celebrating its 75th Anniversary on May 3, 2014, and it’s one of our favorite buildings.
It might be fun for someone to put together a video mashup for the anniversary celebration of movie scenes filmed at Union Station over the years – it’s appeared in a variety of forms, from the futuristic police station in ‘Blade Runner’ to the Miami Mutual Bank in ‘Catch Me If You Can’ with a whole host of others in between – but the Union Station scene in ‘The Way We Were’ took place in what was once the Harvey House restaurant, presently an area to which the public is only allowed access if they are part of a LA Conservancy Union Station tour.*
Details for Union Station tours, as well as a floor map and guide for the building can be found here.
Widely considered to be the first U.S. restaurant chain (at the company’s peak there were 84 restaurants, many of them located in train stations), the Harvey House restaurant in Los Angeles is a beauty. Designed by architect Mary Colter, and incorporating her favorite Navajo themes (see photos here at the bottom), the facility has only been open for special events and movie location filming for many years.
As mentioned, the Union Station scene for ‘The Way We Were’ caused problems among the film’s main players. Building up to it, the two lovers go through problems when they move West, and the Union Station scene is one in which things come to a head and they have an argument. Interestingly, one review I read thought the scene incredulous because they go into an empty restaurant to have their discussion, and why on earth would there be an empty restaurant in a train station at lunch time? It's a valid question, for sure, but the fact is the space hasn't functioned as a restaurant since 1967, years before ‘The Way We Were’ filmed there.
At issue between the film's heavyweights were the last two lines Laurents had penned to end the disagreement. Hubbell (Redford) tells Katie (Streisand) that people are more important than witch hunts and causes and principles. Katie’s retort – that, after much grief, was allowed to remain – is, “Hubbell, people are their principles.” (In his memoir, Laurents surmises that Pollack ended up giving Hubbell the last word anyway. The scene ends with him violently flipping over a table. It’s a good thing the restaurant was empty!)
Although ‘The Way We Were’ didn’t have a particularly happy ending, we are happy to report the future looks rosy for Los Angeles Union Station. There may even be a new restaurant in the old Harvey House space in the not-too-distant future. It’s great to see such a beautiful building transition so gracefully into her next role.
*Well, well… it looks like Metro and I must be on the same wavelength. They just put a video online yesterday with a piece about a few of the movies filmed at Union Station. That discussion begins at the 6-minute mark on the attached video, and it is followed by a piece about the Harvey House. Enjoy!