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How ‘Glow’ recreates 1980s Los Angeles

The series is more than just a greatest hits of ’80s nostalgia

The Pink Motel in Sun Valley plays The Dusty Spur.
Liz Kuball

One of the pleasures of the first season of Glow was the show’s painstaking recreation of 1980s Los Angeles. In direct contrast to the flashy lady-wrestling series of the same name, the creative team behind the Netflix comedy series took a surprisingly restrained approach in capturing the look and feel of an iconic era.

Season 2, which is slated to drop Friday, is again set primarily in the San Fernando Valley, a locale closely linked with ’80s pop culture thanks to generational artifacts such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Frank and Moon Unit Zappa’s hit 1982 single “Valley Girl.”

Glow was mostly shot there as well. Location manager Ralph Coleman says the Valley lends itself to recreations of the decade thanks to the “trapped in amber” quality of many of its neighborhoods. He says the show was originally set in South LA before creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch decided to move the action several miles north.

“If you went to the Westside, or even most of the South Bay, a lot of that would’ve changed already,” Coleman says. “The San Fernando Valley had pockets of stuff that really hadn’t changed that much.”

It’s not that Glow is above trafficking in over-the-top ’80s fashions and big hair—it was, after all, an over-the-top decade in many respects. But in representing the geography of the city, production designer Todd Fjelsted says it was important to avoid caricature. To achieve that, he turned to the work of Paul Thomas Anderson for inspiration.

“Probably our biggest influence was Boogie Nights for the show in general,” says Fjelsted, whose main goal was to offer a less candy-coated version of the decade than what’s typically seen onscreen. “I’m not a big fan of references for references’ sake... I prefer to keep it more about just kind of the general texture of the period.”

Below, some of the series’ most period-specific locations, from the iconic Pink Motel in Sun Valley to the soon-to-be shuttered Westside Pavilion mall.

Erica Parise/Netflix

Moonlight Rollerway

Opened as an airplane parts factory, this Glendale mainstay was transformed into a roller rink in 1956 and hasn’t looked back since.

“That one is also kinda lost in time,” says Fjelsted of the venue, which was used as the location for Sheila’s birthday celebration in Season 1. Its ageless quality made the production designer’s job relatively easy.

“All we had to do was remove a bunch of games and signage and toys and whatnot that were not period correct, bring in a few that were, and do a little bit of alteration of like artwork and whatnot. But it’s pretty much ready to go.”

Erica Parise/Netflix

Shopping mall (Westside Pavilion)

Season 2’s first episode offers one particularly delightful location: An indoor shopping center that perfectly evokes LA’s mall culture of the 1980s. For that, the production settled on one of the few remaining LA malls that retains the feel of the decade: West LA’s dwindling Westside Pavilion, which is set to be converted into office space by 2021.

“We were able to find it just at the right time, where it hadn’t been modernized to attract more customers,” says Coleman, who also considered the Burbank Town Center before that mall’s owners invested in a $40 million renovation.

“It’s almost like you wanna just fall in right under the wrecking ball, before it either gets wrecked or facelifted,” he says.

For Fjelsted, the Westside Pavilion offered the exciting challenge of recreating an ’80s-style mall.

“Of course, not a single store in there is ’80s,” he says. “So we went to a large area that…[was] empty and created our own food court, and we kind of built off from that and did about a dozen stores that you would know from the period, like United Colors of Benetton, and Banana Republic—which used to be a safari store—[and] I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt. Like we tried to bring in all of the things that would’ve naturally been there without going too on the nose with that kind of ’80s camp. We wanted to make sure it felt legitimate and real.”

Intent on remaining 100 percent period-accurate, Fjelsted suffered one minor setback when he discovered that the Glamour Shots store he and his team had constructed was in fact anachronistic (the first location didn’t open until 1988).

“We sat down and talked about it and decided, okay, fine, we change the sign, and now it’s a Sears Portrait Studio,” he says. “Because that was in every mall in 1985.”

Erica Parise/Netflix

The Dusty Spur (The Pink Motel)

The Glow women were originally meant to share a large house instead of a low-budget motel, but the creative team ultimately resolved to stick closer to real-life events.

“We started leaning more and more into what happened in the original story, which is they moved into a hotel, of course it was in Vegas,” says Fjelsted. “That seemed to serve our purposes a little better. Then we could pull in advantages of having a pool and a common area.”

Tasked with finding an establishment that evoked a “down-on-the-heels” version of the storied Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood (demolished in 1987), Coleman ran into a number of issues. Chief among them: The challenge of locating a “prototypical Southern California motor court motel” that remained true to the period.

“Thirty years is about the life expectancy of something [in LA] before it either gets wrecked or a facelift,” he says, noting that many of those that existed in the ’80s have since modernized.

Enter the Pink Motel. Built in 1946 and now used primarily for location shooting (though it does boast a few long-term residents), the singe-level establishment fit the bill for exterior purposes. But its long history as a filming location became a point of apprehension for Fjelsted, who was committed to creating a “nondescript” feel.

“I was very concerned about that being such an icon,” he says. “You know, the Pink Motel has been there forever. Everybody knows about it.”

Nonetheless, the postwar landmark did have one important advantage working in its favor: It is not a working motel, meaning it would be available to film at a moment’s notice. Given the daily realities of TV production, that made it too attractive an option to pass up. But Fjelsted was determined to make it as unrecognizable as possible.

“We completely repainted it, and aged it, re-landscaped, added a bunch of period cars, re-did the pool area,” he says.

In the process, he stumbled across one unexpected bonus: A literal junkyard littered with old cars adjacent to the property. “I was like, ‘I don’t really like that fence, it’s kind of a boring background, what’s behind it?’” he says. “And when I saw what was behind it, we just took the fence down. [I was] like, ‘Oh my god, we’ve got this wonderful period junkyard in the background.’ Which is kind of a perfect metaphor for what the girls are going through.”

One additional perk the Pink Motel offered was Cadillac Jack’s, a ’50s style diner located on the same property. Once known as the Pink Café and now used exclusively for filming, the restaurant recurs once again in Season 2 as the local burger joint where the women satisfy their fast food cravings.

Erica Parise/Netflix

Chavo’s Boxing Gym (San Fernando Masonic Lodge)

Located roughly eight miles north of the Pink Motel, the red-brick San Fernando Masonic Lodge in the city of San Fernando serves as the exterior of Chavo’s Boxing Gym, where Ruth (Alison Brie) and company practice their moves.

“We put a lot of miles on that [location],” says Coleman of the scouting process. “That’s nothing you can go to a location service [for] or whatever, you just have to find industrial areas and just start driving a grid.”

The main challenge for Coleman and his team came with finding a “warehouse-y environment” located in an area without a lot of active manufacturing.

“You know, we used to do a lot of filming in Downtown LA, but I think you know what’s kinda happened to that part of LA along the river, it’s gotten very gentrified, they’ve all been torn down, and they’ve put up condos and lofts,” he says. “So it was really a needle in a haystack trying to find the best sort of industrial kind of forlorn environment.”

Erica Parise/Netflix

Glow venue and movie theater (Hollywood Palladium)

The ballroom of the fictional Hayworth Hotel used for the show-within-a-show is in fact the old dance hall at the Hollywood Palladium.

“We brought in a bar and lounge area curtained off by pipe and drape,” says Fjelsted. “The bar included signage designating the area as The Howard Family Ballroom, loaned to Bash by his mother Birdie. We also shrank the interior... by allowing the wings to either side of the center to fall into darkness and added overhead lighting for the area above the ring.”

The Palladium’s exterior, meanwhile, was given a period makeover to transform it into the movie theater where Melrose and Sheila recruit the show’s studio audience. In addition to listing such titles as Back to the Future and St. Elmo’s Fire on the marquee, Fjelsted incorporated a few additional flourishes. “[We] added a Back To the Future prop car display, various neon lighting for the exterior, and a period appropriate ticket booth area,” he says.

Mexican restaurant (El Big Taco)

Ruth gets her purse and her taco stolen at this no-frills Van Nuys eatery early in the show’s first season. “It had the perfect feeling for the ’80s,” says Coleman of the restaurant, which has since shut down. The veteran location manager, who has seen his share of local businesses come and go, wasn’t surprised to learn it had gone out of business.

“In this culture right here, you can’t stay current and viable if you’re 30 years old and not staying up with the times, so to speak,” he says. “Whether they be a motel, or a mall—or even a taco stand.”

Erica Parise/Netflix

Bash’s house (Circles on the Point Mansion)

First introduced in Season 1 and appearing again in Season 2, Bash’s hillside mansion, with its odd geometric architecture, is more or less what the future looked like in the ’80s.

Constructed in 1987 at the top of Point Dume in Malibu, the house (known as “Circles on the Point”) was one of the more difficult locations to find due to the scant number of ’80s-era mansions still standing in the city.

“The choices were somewhat finite, just by definition of the fact that that kind of money doesn’t sit around on that kind of a house for too long,” says Coleman. “Somebody in LA will just buy it, tear it down, and put a whole new McMansion on top of it.”

Strip club (The Gentlemen’s Club)

With dancer/stripper Yolanda entering the Glow fray in Season 2, Coleman located a working “dance” establishment—The Gentlemen’s Club in San Fernando—that was only a hop, skip, and a jump away from the show’s production office. Upon arriving, Fjelsted found there was very little that needed making over.

“We did slight modifications to adjust to the period and remove some things that were incorrect—a big Red Bull machine and that kind of thing,” he says. “But yeah, that’s a real location up in the Valley pretty much lost in time.”

Erica Parise/Netflix

Hospital (Lanterman Developmental Center)

It would be far too much of a spoiler to reveal what brings the entire Glow cast to a hospital (shot in the former Lanterman Developmental Center in Pomona) in one of Season 2’s juiciest episodes. Suffice it to say, Fjelsted leaned into the comedy by placing a period cigarette dispenser in the ER waiting room (just beneath a poster that urges visitors to “Stop smoking”).

“That’s really hard to find now, those cigarette machines from like the ’70s,” he says.

To accommodate one of the women’s late-night candy binges, Fjelsted and his team completed the period detail with several additional vending machines offering a variety of non-doctor-approved refreshments.

“Usually, what we do is we go hit all the prop houses, and see what’s available,” he says of tracking the machines down. “But most of those have been shot a million times, they don’t work, and they’re kinda crappy looking. So we get on Craigslist, and… eBay, and all these places [to find them].”

Erica Parise/Netflix

Shenanigans nightclub

In designing the interior of an ’80s gay bar on a studio soundstage for Season 2, Fjelsted pulled on his own history for inspiration.

“I went into a lot of gay bars in the ’80s, so I know what those look like,” he says, laughing. “And it was really fun to kind of re-create that like bad faux marble and metal and cages and mirrors and goofiness. Because it’s like, if you walked in that bar now, you’d laugh your ass off. But back then, that was high fashion.”

Westside Pavilion

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