After filming “Shadow of A Doubt” in Santa Rosa in 1948, Alfred Hitchcock returned to Sonoma County in 1961 to find a remote coastal location for his next project “The Birds.” He chose Bodega Bay, with surrounding bleak treeless hills, quiet fishing harbor and fog. Based on a short story by Daphne DuMaurier, the original story took place in an English seashore village where murderous birds attacked the local villagers. Evan Hunter, who had written “The Blackboard Jungle” and “Last Summer” wrote the screenplay; Alfred Hitchcock financed the film from his successful television show.
Never had a director portrayed animals working in unison with intelligence. “The Birds” became the first horror/ fantasy film. Special effects, including mechanical birds, live and wild birds on strings, and optically altered film overlays of birds in flight made this a most frightening film. The fog did not always cooperate, so much of the film needed to be tinted gray. Nearly three years were required to complete work on the film for its release in 1963.
The 150 year old Potter School behind St. Theresa’s Church five miles south of Bodega Bay in Bodega, was vacant at the time of the filming. After Alfred Hitchcock’s crew repaired the exterior it was used for several scenes. Today it is a private residence and is sometimes open for tours. The school teacher’s house was a façade erected during the filming. The Catholic Church, briefly visible in the film, was made famous when it was photographed by Ansel Adams.
Many of the shots of the children running from the schoolhouse were done on Taylor Street in Bodega Bay above the Diekmann’s Bay Store with the original two story store visible at the bay’s edge. Close ups of the running scene were set up at Universal Studios with the children running on a treadmill. Taylor Street is about a half a mile north of the Visitors Center.
Various restaurant scenes, portions of the gas station fire, and the boat dock scenes where filmed at the Tides Wharf and Restaurant. The actual fire was lighted in a parking lot at Universal Studios with a mock up of Highway One and the Tides Wharf. The fire was also filmed from a helicopter for film footage that was superimposed on a painting of a fishing village. The village center in the movie was a set. The Tides Wharf was completely rebuilt in the 1990’s and is located across Highway One from the Visitors Center.
The ranch house on Westshore Road, part of the Gafney ranch that had occupied Bodega Head for nearly 100 years was used for exterior shots of the Brenner House. The derelict structure, now part of the U.C. Marine Laboratory in the Sonoma Coast State Beach, was repaired by the film crew and used for exterior shots, including the children’s birthday party and the end of the film. The house has been demolished, but the ancient cedar trees look much the same as they did in “The Birds.” The cedar grove is across the harbor from the Visitors Center and is visible from Highway One.
The scenes of Tippi Hedren driving her Aston Martin into Bodega Bay were filmed on Bay Hill Road, about a mile and a half north of the Visitors Center. There is a guide book with more information about the filming of “The Birds” available at the Sonoma Coast Visitors Center in Bodega Bay.
Want to see some stills from the movie
with some pictures of what the town
looked like when the Birds was filmed?
Carolyn A. Lewis