Where was The Towering Inferno filmed?
San Francisco, California
American, Apartment, House, Retro
Dated/50's-60's-70's Building, Helicopter
About The Towering Inferno
The Towering Inferno is a disaster movie for the ages. Released in 1974 and directed by John Guillermin, it stars Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and a host of other big Hollywood names. It also delivers edge-of-your-seat drama right up to its thrilling conclusion.
The film centers on the opening of a state-of-the-art high-rise building, the Glass Tower, in San Francisco. Architect Doug Roberts (Newman) is flown into San Francisco to attend the grand opening of the tower, which soars over 1,600 feet and 138 floors high. A glamorous ceremony is prepared for the tower’s grand unveiling, with all manner of high-flyers and big names in attendance.
There’s only one problem: the developer’s son-in-law, Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain), was hired as the project’s chief electrical engineer and cut plenty of corners during the building’s construction to save money. The result is a whole lot of faulty wiring and a sky-high disaster just waiting to unfold — which it does over the course of almost three edge-of-your-seat hours.
Simmons dismisses the architect’s concerns about the wiring and says the building is up to code, and the grand opening goes ahead as planned, some 135 floors in the air. As fires break out on the 81st and 65th floors, San Francisco Fire Department Chief Michael O'Halloran (Steve McQueen) faces a desperate battle to get as many people out of the building alive as possible. But when the electrical system fails and the elevators stop working, that’s going to be much easier said than done.
What follows is an action-packed adventure of death-defying stunts, daring helicopter rescues, and fiery explosions as our heroes battle desperately to escape the inferno alive.
The highest-grossing movie of 1974, The Towering Inferno picked up three Academy Awards from eight nominations. And if you want to check out where this classic disaster epic was filmed, you can. We’ve gathered the details of where some of the best scenes in The Towering Inferno were filmed below (spoiler alert!) so that you can track down these locations for yourself.
The Towering Inferno Locations
Want to visit the filming location of The Towering Inferno? You’re in luck. A handful of sites used in the film are easy to visit in the San Francisco area.
In the opening montage, as we see Paul Newman arrive by helicopter against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, there’s an on-screen dedication: “To those who give their lives so that others might live — to the fire fighters of the world — this picture is gratefully dedicated.” The building shown in the backdrop of this dedication is of course San Francisco City Hall in the heart of the city.
The exterior film shoots of the entrance to the Glass Tower were filmed at what was the Bank of America World Headquarters, located on California Street in the city’s Financial District. The lobby, however, was filmed at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, a prestigious hotel at 5 Embarcadero Center. The home of shifty electrical engineer Roger Simmons is also found nearby on Vallejo Street in Pacific Heights.
If you want to check out some of these instantly recognizable The Towering Inferno locations, keep reading to find out exactly where to find them.
Paul Newman’s son Scott also stars in The Towering Inferno as a young fireman.
Harlee Claiborne arrives at the tower scene in The Towering Inferno
555 California Street in San Francisco
As the opening credits roll on The Towering Inferno, we see shots of a helicopter zooming past the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. In it is architect Doug Roberts, who’s being flown in for the opening of his latest high-rise project, which is set to become an iconic part of the city’s landscape.
We soon meet another of the film’s main players, conman Harlee Claiborne (Fred Astaire). Arriving by cab, he reveals a little of his true character by counting out coins to pay the driver. “That’s it exactly. Catch your tip next time,” he says to the bemused cabbie, then turns and strides up the steps towards the Glass Tower. Stopping briefly, he gazes up in awe at the imposing building in front of him. Shaking his head in wonder, he walks inside.
This The Towering Inferno filming location is at 555 California Street in San Francisco, in the city’s Financial District. This was once the site of the Bank of America World Headquarters, and it’s easily accessible from downtown San Francisco.
Lobby scene in The Towering Inferno
5 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco
After entering through the tower’s front doors, Claiborne makes his way through the lobby. It’s an expansive space, with elevators rising and descending on one wall and some indoor greenery adding a natural touch. The lobby is also a hive of activity and it’s clear there’s plenty of excitement in the air about the tower’s big opening.
Later, Fire Chief O’Halloran arrives at the scene and is quick to take charge of the fire. Striding through the lobby, he quizzes Doug about the building’s design and the fire management systems in place. He’s also pleased to find out that the building plans are in Doug’s office on the 79th floor, two floors below the fire. “Alright, that’ll be our forward command,” he says, giving off an air of assured confidence.
The lobby of the Glass Tower, with its glass elevators gliding up and down the wall, was filmed at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. Located at 5 Embarcadero Center, it’s about a half-mile away from where the external shots of the tower entrance were filmed.
Doug confronts Roger Simmons scene in The Towering Inferno
2898 Vallejo Street, Pacific Heights
Doug knows the shoddy wiring in the tower is a disaster waiting to happen, and he’s desperate to confront electrical engineer Roger Simmons about his poor work. But when he can’t get Simmons on the phone, Doug is forced to head to the other man’s home to confront him in person.
Arriving by cab, “Where’s that electrical genius of yours?” he says to Roger’s wife Patty (Susan Blakely). And when Roger eventually arrives home, Doug is quick to grill him about his corner-cutting. The smarmy Roger is immediately defensive. “What the hell business is it of yours anyway?” he asks bluntly in response to Doug’s accusations.
“Every piece of wire I put in that building is strictly up to code, inspected, and approved,” he says snootily. Doug reminds the electrical engineer that he specifically asked for the wiring to be well above code, but Roger is once again dismissive. “You live in a dream world. I deal in realities,” he sniffs.
Looking for Roger Simmons’ lavish house in real life? You can find this The Towering Inferno location at 2898 Vallejo Street, on the corner of Baker Street in Pacific Heights. It’s quite a sought-after neighborhood home to some very expensive real estate, and it’s just a short walk away from the Lyon Street Steps tourist attraction.
There were plenty of memorable disaster films released during the 1970s, but The Towering Inferno is one of the biggest and best. With an all-star cast, an epic story, and impressive special effects for its era, it’s a classic disaster flick.
And as you now know, it’s easy to check out plenty of iconic The Towering Inferno locations around San Francisco for yourself. So the next time you’re in this beautiful California city, why not take a detour to see the sites where some of Hollywood’s biggest names came together for this iconic movie?