It’s Only Gonna Make You Love Me More

Monday was my birthday. Sorry if you missed the momentous occasion!

I have become known for going over the top with my birthday celebrations, but you only go ‘round once, after all, and my birthday is the one day during the year when I can legitimately expect the world to revolve around me. My wonderful friends are great about indulging me during this time of the year, and since August is the only month without a significant national holiday, everyone needs a good reason to celebrate, right?

I’m not even really finished celebrating yet (there are only so many hours in the day), but so far I have enjoyed an evening at the spa (Jessica’s gift to me), a short visit to Richmond to see Tracey and Adam (who took me to the Cheesecake Factory!), a lunch with my two best friends, a party at my apartment, and a full day of wearing a plastic “Happy Birthday” tiara, which secured many hallway greetings from friends and strangers alike!

Most notably, this year’s celebration included a very special birthday trip to Wilmington, NC. The trip was Kelli’s idea and then our pretty fantastic bosses helped bring it to fruition the first weekend in August.

Wilmington is a beautiful place for anyone to visit, but our trip had an extra incentive. Wilmington is the home of Screen Gems studios, where over 500 movies have been filmed, in addition to several TV shows like Dawson’s Creek, and – most importantly! – One Tree Hill.

The following recaps some of the places we saw on the trip, paired with screencaps from the show for reference. You can probably tell the difference between pictures I took and the screencaps, because — well — there aren’t any people in the pictures that I took, aside from a few appearances by Kelli and myself.

(I guess this is where I should say *spoiler alert* — I mean, I didn’t give away the whole plot or anything, but spoiler-free purists should probably beware.)

We drove down armed with a long list of locations to visit, not the least of which included a tour of the studio itself. While we waited for the tour to begin, we entertained ourselves by looking around the building, where we saw the Tree Hill Police car, and took photos in front of the One Tree Hill sign.

The tour itself was fun and informative. Photos were not allowed inside the sets (a rule from the CW), and they were “hot” sets (i.e. already prepared for filming), so we were told not to touch anything. We toured three sets, starting with Lucas’ house (Peyton’s Comet was parked outside), then moving on to the TRIC Office set (which is not inside the physical location of TRIC in downtown Wilmington), and ultimately to Brooke’s house set, which Kelli and I were both ready to move into because it is so beautiful. Since we couldn’t do pictures, I just put together screen caps so you can get the general idea:

It was great to see a set that’s been in use since season one. And yes, the bullet hole is there. I checked.

The TRIC office set was really awesome. The art department for One Tree Hill is no joke. Even up close, the brick and the steel beams in the ceiling looked very real, when in fact, they’re all made of wood, allowing them to take down or set up the ENTIRE set in 20 minutes or less. I loved the stained glass behind Peyton’s desk, and her albums on the wall. There were also CDs sitting everywhere on set, just as you’d expect. It struck me how small Peyton’s desk looked compared to how it appears on screen. It’s amazing what camera angles can do! The piano and sound board in the studio are the real deal, though.

Brooke’s house was a beautiful set! Once again, the art department gets kudos for making wood look like marble in Brooke’s kitchen. We were able to see the living room (very small!), both bedrooms, the bathroom, and the kitchen. (The stairs, as you might guess, don’t actually go anywhere.) Our tour guide opened up Brooke’s fridge and cabinets to show us the contents. She explained the types of product placement – one is contractual (Sunkist, anyone?), and the other is simply from companies who send a box of peanut butter, etc., hoping they’ll use it to dress the sets. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

The rest of our time in Wilmington was spent driving around to various other filming locations to snap photos of familiar and iconic places. Perhaps the most emblematic of them all is the River Court. Season one started on the River Court and barely an episode has passed over the years that has not featured it in some way. For my part, anytime Lucas and Nathan face off on the River Court – as friends or foes – is a great moment in my book.

The names from the season 4 finale have completed faded away, but I could still see the faint outline of The Cure lyrics that Peyton painted across the court in season 5:

Here’s Kelli on the River Court bleachers:

The basketball posts and the light poles on both sides of the court were filled with messages from fans all over the world. They were all fairly recent, so I imagine they are painted over often for filming purposes. I took some photos, but did not have a marker on me to contribute! I’ll just throw my lot in with the “Always and Forever” folks.

On the opposite side of the river is the downtown River Walk, which has also been featured many times and is a staple of the show as well as the town of Wilmington.

My greatest interest in the River Walk were these little tables! I think it’s safe to say that this scene, in the third episode of season 1 (“Are You True?”), is the episode that hooked me on One Tree Hill, and the beginning of the story that has kept me coming back through six seasons. (Always and forever, indeed.)

We also saw several of the houses that have been used for exterior shots on the show. Most of them are privately owned, so we did not want to get too close or linger too long. Even so, I got a few pictures, and a few of the houses were for sale and vacant, so I got a closer look at those.

Peyton’s House

I think more trauma has gone down in this house than in any other Tree Hill location. Poor Peyton.

The Scott House

I couldn’t get a view of the basketball hoop, but I’m sure it’s back there!

Naley’s House

This is one of the ones that was for sale! Conveniently also one that I most wanted to see.

Lucas and Karen’s House

Lots of weighty conversations have taken place on that porch.

Jake’s Savannah House (not actually in Savannah, obviously)

Haley’s House

I should have stayed there. Perhaps James Lafferty would have eventually shown up and kissed me. (Heh.)

Brooke’s House (Felix and Anna’s house was, in fact, next door.)

“The girl behind the red door.”

Whitey’s House

I *love* Whitey and the sage wisdom (and crotchety old man attitude) that he brings to the show. A lot of great advice has been dispensed from a rocking chair on his porch.

Naley’s Apartment Building

We didn’t see much of the outside of Nathan and Haley’s apartment, but this is it:

The community college in Wilmington doubles as Tree Hill High School, and here is the courtyard and walkways often featured on the show.

Who doesn’t love Keith Scott’s Body Shop?

Dan and Carrie faced off here – and Dan won. Because he is awesome with a side of evil.

Kelli and I actually stopped in this diner for lunch and only realized later that it, too, has been used on the show. Samantha and Jack frequented this diner in season 6, and Kelli and I sat right about where Peyton and Julian are sitting in the picture below. I would like to think that Kelli was sitting there in Julian’s spot. I know she’d like that. (And for the record, we shared a ham sandwich, and it was gooood.)

This church and day school combo served as the same on the show. Keith had a bit of a rough day here in season 2 (as did Nathan, and Jules, and Lucas, and Karen, and wellll…everybody else besides Dan), and then in season 5, Jamie went to school here.

Some emotional conversations (of the one-sided and two-sided variety) have happened in this cemetery. The grave markers used on the show are not permanent fixtures – they are only set up as needed for filming.

I think we all remember what happened at this mall. But I try to focus on the Pretzel Stand aspect, myself.

Remember the boy draft dates? Mouth and Peyton had a wild night here with Mouth’s grandpa.

I think this was one of Kelli’s favorite stops, seeing as it was home base to her all-time favorite Tree Hill resident, the infamous Chris Keller (aka Tyler Hilton). It’s also the Record Shop where show creator Mark Schwahn put in some guest appearances over the years. Since Tyler didn’t really make any of these photos, I made a little something just for Kelli that I’ll thrown in right here, too.

This church was the location used for most of One Tree Hill’s memorable 100th episode. I don’t think this was anybody’s favorite day either – except for maybe the fans! This episode is one of my favorites.

“You should have your mail forwarded here. Did they give you the same cell as last time?” “I don’t know. They redecorated.” Ah, the Tree Hill Police Station.

This was on our location list, but we hadn’t planned to go see EVERYTHING, and this was kind of in the “insignificant places” category. That is, until we realized that it was right next to our hotel! They tried to make Deb go to rehab, and she said no, no, no… and tried to escape.

This show-owned store in downtown Wilmington has also been a part of One Tree Hill since season 1. Back then, it was Karen’s Café, and now, it’s the store-front of Brooke’s Clothes Over Bros store. (The “Jammin’ Java” across the street served as Karen’s Café in the pilot episode.)

This is the bridge from the show’s title sequence in seasons 1-4. It’s also been used for other scenes in the show, as seen below.

TRIC is another show-owned building in downtown Wilmington. This warehouse has seen a lot of great acts come through Tree Hill! The Wreckers, Jimmy Eat World, The Honorary Title, Fall Out Boy, and so on. Apparently we’re in for another live performance in the early episodes of season 7!

While we were doing our One Tree Hill tour, we covered a lot of tourist attractions by default, and were led to a few other pretty places that the average tourist may have missed.

For one, the Hugh McRae Park probably isn’t high on the tourism list, but it was a beautiful area. The ducks were very excited to see us, and followed Kelli around the park until they realized she didn’t have any food for them. This park has been used a few times on the show. Dan and Keith took a stroll down memory lane that did not end very well in Season 3, and Peyton and Skills had a heart-to-heart in this park before Jamie’s 5th birthday party.

The Airlie Gardens are in Wilmington, and they’ve played host to quite a few TV shows and films because their grounds are beautiful. Kelli took a liking to this bottle statue at the beginning of our path:

We walked for a while through a series of beautiful trees and then found our primary destination – the Pergola. The grassy area, walkway, and fountain constituted part of Andy’s yard in Season 2 of One Tree Hill, and Karen and Andy watched the meteor shower at the edge of the water. This scene should also be familiar to fans of Dawson’s Creek.

As we circled around the rest of the gardens (I think it was about a mile walk, if memory serves), we spotted this view that looked distinctly like part of “Dawson’s Creek” –

We drove down the coastline, headed to Fort Fisher beach, and encountered a major thunderstorm. The rain was pouring down, and we were losing hope of actually getting to see the location down on the beach. But, about 2 minutes before we reached our destination, we drove out of the rain into a beautiful day! We found some public parking and a public access area to get to the beach. When we walked out onto the beach, we were looking for a very specific spot. Eagle Eye Kelli looked down the beach to our right and said “Over there!” We walked down the beach and climbed up the rocks to take some pictures of this beautiful wedding location. For my part, I loved seeing the woods, next to the rocks, next to the sand, next to the beach. Usually I find beach photographs a little one-note and boring, but I can definitely see why the location scouts chose this area for filming. It was truly magnificent, and Kelli and I got in a nice stroll along the beach in the process!

We drove back through more rain and had lunch at a great little restaurant (what was it called, Kelli?) while another storm passed over Wilmington. The rapid weather changes created some beautiful effects in the sky. Pictures never do justice to that kind of thing, but here’s one through-the-windshield shot that attempts to capture the moment:

Another Tree Hill wedding took place at Greenfield Lake, which spans a huge area in Wilmington. We were fortunate enough to happen upon the right spot without too much driving around – I credit my eagle-eyed companion once again, who spotted the bridge we were looking for over the water.

We had to get adventurous going out to Orton Plantation. The heavy rains from earlier in the day had us four-wheeling through the mud and gravel road leading up to the plantation. Running along one side of that road was a creek full of alligators. I refused to glance to the side, but Kelli inadvertently saw quite a few of them poking their heads up. Fortunately, we saw them on our way OUT of the plantation – otherwise, we might never have gotten out of the car.

The lady in the visitor’s center/ticket office gave us a brief rundown of the plantation, and provided us with a list (several pages long) that talked about various movies and TV shows that had used the plantation for filming. The listing for One Tree Hill, unfortunately, was not entirely accurate, but it did point us to the house where they filmed the interior shots of the beach house when “MURDERER” was written on the wall:

We also saw (and were able to go inside) the chapel used in “A Walk to Remember” – Kelli and I both loved that movie back in the day.

The lady in the visitor’s center provided us with bug spray, but it either did nothing to actually deter the bugs, or there were just a freaking LOT of mosquitoes and such hanging around. For that reason, we cut our tour a bit short, but we were able to get the general idea. I even climbed up in the “tree house,” and you can see Kelli peering up at me from the path below:

I had to go home and re-watch the DVDs (amazing, I know) to figure out the exact location of the wedding ceremony. Turns out, they did the ceremony on the private lawn of the Orton Plantation house. There is an elderly gentleman who actually lives in the house, so while we were welcome to photograph the house from the gardens, we did not go onto the lawn. The wedding reception – I was surprised to learn – was actually filmed on the plantation as well, in a huge white tent on the lawn beside the chapel. I had assumed it was done inside the studio somewhere. I know from some of my actor friends that they generally hate filming weddings, because everyone has to be there alllll day long, so everyone can film their pieces and still be a part of the congregation. I imagine that could have gotten fairly miserable for everyone if they were filming on a hot day!

When it was time to pack up and head back home, we had one stop to make about an hour north of Wilmington. I am guessing most folks skip this location, since it’s so far out of the way, but I was intent on seeing it and Kelli obliged me. Fortunately, it probably only added about 30 minutes to our trip. It was well worth it for me, because this bridge from Ep. 322 (“The Show Must Go On”) was part of the most climactic season finale in the show’s history. I loved that entire episode, and while Haley was standing on the bridge screaming, I was standing in my living room screaming. Plus, Led Zeppelin was playing, and it really doesn’t get much better than that. (And yes, we definitely listened to “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” as we were driving up.)

I can’t remember the details of all my birthdays through the years, but much like I remember spending my 25th birthday in Hollywood, I’ll always remember 28 as the birthday I went to Wilmington. And for the record – Wilmington was way better.