Scouting the “Kill Bill” Church: A Brief History of Hollywood’s Most Famous (And Fake) Desert Chapel

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been scouting in the Mojave east of Los Angeles, which means I’ve spent a lot of time driving on long, seemingly endless roads through vast, empty stretches of the desert:

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Which makes it all the more special when you suddenly happen to drive by something like this:

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Located at Avenue G and 220th Street in the near-ghost town of Hi Vista, the Twin Pines Chapel is about as iconic as they come: a 19th century mission-style church, complete with corner bell tower and wooden porch, a lone Joshua Tree standing out front. In fact, if you feel like you’ve seen it before, you have…

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The little Hi Vista chapel was made world-famous by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill as the location where The Bride is gunned down on her wedding day:

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Stopping to take pictures, I couldn’t get over how utterly photogenic the place was. When tasked with finding the “perfect location,” we location scouts almost always come up short due to the simple fact that we’re competing with the limitless bounds of a director’s imagination. And yet this place felt exactly like what I’d picture if someone asked me to find a small Spanish-style chapel in the middle of the desert. It was perfect.

And, as it turns out, it’s also fake.

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In the 1920s (or mid-1930s, depending on your source), this was originally built as the Hi Vista Community Hall. Over the decades, it served the area as a school, community center, dance hall, and a variety of other functions.

Photo from MojaveDesert.net – Click for more photos!

Then in 1981, the little community center received a dramatic makeover for its first starring role in the De Niro/Duvall crime movie True Confessions. A mock mission-style facade was created, with belltower and front porch:

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From the side, the added nature of the facade becomes more apparent:

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The church decor was left in place after filming concluded, and the building resumed its function as the local community center. Here it is in 1985 as featured in Talking Heads’ music video for “Road To Nowhere.

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It subsequently appeared in a number of other movies (including a brief cameo in Britney Spears’ landmark Crossroads), but it was 2003’s Kill Bill that elevated it to A-list location status. A wooden porch was added…

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…which remains to this day:

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But what of the interior? Here it is dressed as a church in 1981 for True Confessions

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…but its appearance in the Talking Heads video gives a better sense of its actual look: drop ceiling, simple floors, some exposed beams:

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For Kill Bill, the interior was completely redone, with the installation of wood-paneled walls, wooden floors…

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…and overhead, a gorgeous pair of wood-beam arches, most which still remains today:

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A view out the front doors, which are still the same:

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In an amusing example of life imitating art, the community center actually became a church at some point after the 1981 facade installation, and currently offers services as the Twin Pines Chapel. It also continues to be used frequently as a filming location.

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While taking pictures, I ran into a few of who the locals call “Kill Bill tourists,” and most believed, as I had, that the church was an authentic historical artifact. I’m not quite sure I’ve ever come across a filming location where the line between fantasy and reality was so blurred.

Real or fake – at the very least, it’s a damn perfect filming location.

-SCOUT

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4 comments

  1. I saw somewhere the diner used in NCIS in a shootout in the desert was also real. http://finishlinewest.smugmug.com/Landscapes/NCIS-diner-where-Jenny-was/ more of it.

  2. Awesome post. Great way to start the new blog

  3. THANK YOU for not describing the place as being in Lancaster, CA. Despite the postal address, it’s FAR from the city limits border, but, yet, that’s a common rookie mistake. 😉

  4. So very glad to see you are “scouting” in LA. I loved your NYC posts. Thanks for sharing all your wonderful discoveries.