Texas Film Sites 2: Rushmore

Rushmore is one of my favorite films from writer-director Wes Anderson. It was released in 1998, but I probably didn’t see it until about 2004, when I was living in the Houston Heights neighborhood. I had stopped in at a local, old-fashioned barbershop for a haircut, and the barber struck up a conversation with me. He asked me if I had been there before, and when I indicated that I hadn’t, he told me a bit about the place, including how it had been used as a filming location for Rushmore. After I paid for my haircut (cash only, even more than ten years later) I headed straight down the street to the local Blockbuster Video (RIP) to rent the movie.

I had previously seen Anderson’s Bottle Rocket, though I don’t know that I even made the connection at the time. So Rushmore was my gateway into Anderson fandom, and now I consider The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou probably my favorite film period, and I love all his films, though I am a contrarian to popular opinion in that I feel The Royal Tenenbaums to be his least successful work. It wasn’t only the quaint barbershop that was used for filming, though. Rushmore was shot on location in many places throughout Houston. I decided this week to revisit three of them that I have become personally familiar with since seeing the film.

In the film, Jason Schwartzman’s character, Max Fischer lives a fanciful and varied life, which includes sometimes working at his dad’s barbershop, where several scenes take place. The real-life barbershop, where I had a haircut yesterday, is now much more densely cluttered with clippings and memorabilia then you see in the film. When I had my very first visit, the place was called Doug and Don’s Barbershop, and I was told about Rushmore. This time, I was told about a recent profile featured on local news channel ABC13. Both the interior and exterior scenes were shot there at Doug’s. You can see the Washateria across 11th street in the reverse shots, though they have removed the large letters some time in the last few years. If you look at the cab door in the third still below, you can see perhaps the only indication that this story might be in Texas: the graphic of a US flag crossed with a Texas flag.

As most Anderson fans know, Rushmore Academy was loosely based on the location where it was filmed, Anderson’s alma mater: St. John’s School in Houston’s River Oaks district. The school has a lower, middle, and upper division (high school) much like the depiction of Rushmore in the film.

Rushmore’s “chapel” is actually the sanctuary of St. John the Divine Episcopal church, which is a separate institution from the school, though it abuts right up to the upper school campus, and shares architectural styles with the school buildings. I have had the fortune to sing in many concert performances in the “Rushmore chapel,” and even been involved in two commercial recordings there with the Houston Chamber Choir.

When the students exit the chapel, they are shown leaving through a set of red doors, that is actually not the building where the interior was shot. The real “chapel” building can be seen in the far background of the 90° shot that follows.

I have had to attend a couple high school football games over the years at Delmar stadium. The Delmar complex boasts a tremendous open parking lot, which was the perfect location for the scenes of Max flying his kite.

What many may not know, is that when Max is booted out of Rushmore and sent to the fictional Grover Cleveland High School, it is in fact Lamar High School, which is directly across the street from St. John the Divine church, and is adjacent to the lower school campus and athletic facilities of St. John’s. As you can see, they went out of their way to make Lamar look grungy for its cameo in the film. It’s one of Houston’s finest looking older schools, with an appealing Art Deco style. You can see that the real school is much cleaner and more appealing, at least on the outside, though it is one of the only locations where the basic color scheme was not altered by repainting for the film. A glance at the performance hall shows that this was surely an inspirational building for Wes Anderson growing up, though its more beautiful features are obscured in the actual film. The sense of solid rectangular symmetry and bold typography became characteristics of Anderson’s visual style as well.

There are many other Houston locations where Rushmore was filmed, but I feel a special connection to these three, having spent time in each of them. This post is part of an ongoing series visiting Texas Film Sites. Be sure to check out my first post about the Courthouse from True Grit, and look for more Texas Film Sites in the future!

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