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The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

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The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

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A canvas for cinematic storytelling

Evanston and the North Shore has long been a home for iconic movie locations

Nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan, the northern Chicago suburbs of Evanston and Wilmette have long been favored locations for filmmakers seeking neighborhoods for their films. Evanston’s charming Northwestern University campus and picturesque, tree-lined streets serve as an ideal setting for movies of any kind, and is mentioned in The Devil Wears Prada and The DUFF. Mean Girls has even mentioned Northwestern University and revealed Evanston as its setting within the first five minutes of the film, despite being filmed in Toronto. From the romantic coming-of-age film Sixteen Candles to the timeless holiday classic Home Alone, these movies have well captured Evanston and Wilmettes’ charm, and feature its historic homes, schools, and churches. These films attract visitors to Evanston’s charm and atmosphere, and significantly contribute to Evanston’s rich cultural history.

John Hughes, a renowned director behind the creation of some iconic teen films from the 80s, played a significant role contributing to Evanston’s portrayal on screen. Known for his coming-of-age classics such as The Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, both of which take place and are filmed in the northern Chicago suburbs, Hughes evidently tended to favor the Chicagoland area for his films, which also feature homes and schools in Skokie, Glenview, Northbrook, and Glencoe. From the picturesque backdrop of Evanston suburbs to the halls of Haven Middle School, his films such as Dennis the Menace or Sixteen Candles beautifully capture Evanston’s charm and authenticity.

Sixteen Candles, a 1984 coming-of-age film directed by John Hughes, is a classic tale of adolescence and romance. Starring Molly Ringwald, the film follows the story of Samantha Baker, a sixteen year old girl whose entire family forgets her birthday due to her sister’s upcoming wedding day; throughout the movie, she navigates her way through embarrassing mishaps and accidents. Through its humor and sentiment, this classic chick flick captured the essence of growing up and resonated with audiences of all ages.

Multiple film locations in Sixteen Candles were set in Evanston and Wilmette; it featured Glencoe Union Church in the ending wedding scene and Samantha’s red-bricked house at 3022 Payne Street between Skokie and Evanston. It’s currently worth $1.6 million and only a five minute drive from ETHS. 

A few miles away in Wilmette sits another film’s iconic location; the Home Alone house remains a popular destination for tourists visiting Evanston and Wilmette during the holiday seasons. Home Alone, written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, is a timeless classic that follows the adventures of Kevin McCallister, played by Mccaulay Culkin, an 8 year old boy who finds himself left alone at home during the Christmas holidays.

Wilmette’s historic homes provided a fitting backdrop for Kevin’s Christmas adventures; 671 Lincoln Ave, the McCallisters’ massive house worth more than $2.3 million, continues to attract tourists during the holiday season and is a 15 minute drive from ETHS. However, contrary to popular belief, the scenes in the interior of the house were actually shot at New Trier High School instead of inside the house itself; the film crew built a two story set in the high school’s gym, where the interior scenes were shot. Additionally, the pharmacy in which Kevin shoplifts from is now an ice cream shop called Graeter’s Ice Cream, operating at 940 Green Bay Rd.

However, quite a few ETHS students hold memories with one of Hughes’ specific filming locations. Haven Middle School, located at 2417 Prairie Avenue, is the setting for several of his iconic films. Curly Sue features the exterior of the school on Curly Sue’s first day of school, and both the interior and exterior are filmed in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. The Christmas choir scene in Home Alone 2 include Haven’s auditorium as well, and the exterior of the school is relabeled as St. Gerard’s School. Both of these well-known movies utilized Haven’s unique architecture; its charming rounded windows and russet-bricked exterior seemed a fitting background to film Hughes’ family-friendly movies. 

Lincolnwood Elementary School also makes an appearance in Dennis the Menace, a comedy family film about a mischievous young boy who is taken hostage. Dennis the Menace is yet another Hughes film set in Evanston, featuring two houses on Ashland Avenue and one on Colfax Street.

Filmmakers continue to use Evanston’s charming, suburban atmosphere in recent and upcoming shows. Hulu’s The Bear, starring Shameless actor Jeremy Allen White, has been filmed in Evanston multiple times since the show’s creation. In fact, The Bear was filmed inside junior Charles Bird’s house in 2022; during the filming, his family stayed in a hotel and was even able to meet Jeremy Allen White.

“My sister and mom both met [Jeremy Allen White]; he was also hanging out in our dining room for a large portion of the time while they were filming here for season 2. They had a conversation with him about his show Shameless, and how much they enjoyed it. They said he was nice and down to earth when they talked with him,” Bird recounted.

While Bird recalls the crew made some heavy changes to the house, it was cleaned and returned back to its original state; during filming, the crew put cardboard on the floor to limit any messes. Some of the house’s rooms were painted differently, appliances were removed, and family photos were replaced with photos of actors from the show.

“When I saw our house in the show, I thought it was cool, but a little weird seeing the place you live in changed so much. My sister and mom both met [Jeremy Allen White]; he was also hanging out in our dining room for a large portion of the time while they were filming here for season 2,” he explained.

Evanston has and continues to stand as a canvas for cinematic storytelling, offering filmmakers a charming and diverse atmosphere for their films. Whether included in the background of iconic 80s films such as Sixteen Candles, mentioned in popular movies like Mean Girls, or filmed for newer shows like The Bear, cinema featuring the city has played a pivotal role in shaping its cultural history; Evanston’s legacy on the silver screen will only continue to grow.

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About the Contributor
Nadira Bumi
Nadira Bumi, Staff Writer
Hi! My name is Nadira Bumi, and I’m a writer for the News section. I’m a junior, and although this is my first year in The Evanstonian, I am excited to contribute as a writer!  Outside of school, I play piano and the electric guitar. In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with friends, cooking, reading, and crocheting.
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