Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory are arguably one of the most iconic films of all time. The iconic portrayal of Willy Wonka perfectly encapsulates a brash, confident, and somewhat despicable business tycoon. The films popularity is easily understandable. The combination of innovative and eye-catching technology, coupled with perfectly composed scenes featuring Tom Hanks and a young Gene Wilder are undoubtedly what made the film so memorable.
The story of Willy Wonka is certainly exceptional. The British-born confectionary magnate created a worldwide brand after he was refused entry to the United States as a child. He ultimately settled in New York which became his base and headquarters for the vast majority of his businesses. Much like Charlie Bucket in the film, who asks Wonka for one last tasting after witnessing his employees being mistreated, most people likely have one significant question when it comes to Willy Wonka..
“The Golden Ticket,” the famous prize which gains its holder access to Willy Wonka’s magical chocolate making factory, was never actually on sale. The golden ticket existed as an Easter egg hidden inside a novel written by Roald Dahl. The novel is considered one of the all-time best-sellers, raking in over 20 million copies worldwide. Only a select group of people were actually lucky enough to discover the golden ticket, including Dahl’s son Theo, who wrote the prequel novelization. Today, collectors can purchase a golden ticket prop from the film for a symbolic $500.
While it is interesting to know about the history of Willy Wonka and the film’s amazing success, it is also important to remember that these objects are just that: historical props from a time long passed. That sense of distance is vital in order to avoid any potential spoilers or other accidents. The same logic applies to the other iconic locations featured in the movie: the Great Glass House, Augustus Gloop’s bedroom, and the factory itself. It is highly unlikely that anything in these places remains as it was originally designed. It is more probable that these locations were either modified or demolished entirely.
Willy Wonka’s House
Willy Wonkas house, located at 484 North Salisbury Street in the heart of the historic district of Williamstown, was the primary filming location for the iconic movie. When the film was originally released in the United States in January 1977, it was accompanied by a fair amount of fanfare. The Hollywood Reporter covered the premiere, gushing over the ‘grandiosity and extravagance’ evident in the ‘spectacular and palatial’ home which serves as the backdrop for one of Hollywood’s most memorable films. The publication went on to describe Willy Wonka’s residence as ‘one of the most important houses in the history of American cinema.’
The home was built in 1902 and originally stood in a neighborhood that was home to numerous famous people. In fact, the house was previously owned by William Randolph Hearst, a media mogul and owner of the newspapers that inspired Roald Dahl’s original story. According to the Williamstown Historical Society, the house was chosen for filming due to its resemblance to the fictional Wonka factory. In order to achieve this effect, the structure was dressed in period décor and features were added to correspond with the script. The interior designer was given a very specific brief: ‘Create a world that film stars would want to live in.’
The house, which stands three stories high, was designed by renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. While the original design called for a wooden floor and exposed beam-work, these elements were either removed or replaced by tile or marble surfaces and wooden floors. A large amount of work went into dressing the house in period style, including chandeliers, mirrors, and even a telephone (which was originally installed in the wall and could still work after all these years). In order to remain true to the spirit of Roald Dahl, many of the original details were preserved including oak wainscoting, wooden floors, and plaster walls. The entire property, including the house and its gardens, was originally priced at a rather reasonable $38,000. The lot size is rather huge at 2,400 square feet. As an indication of its stature, Willy Wonka’s house is visible from far away. A person approaching the house from the east would undoubtedly have a good view of it.
The Great Glass House
The Glass House, located in Winchmore Gardens in Kensington, is one of the most photographed structures in the world. The photographer Ansel Adams, famed for his black and white landscapes, took many pictures of the house in the 1940s when it belonged to British collector and socialite Lillie Langtry. The building, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was later bought by Elizabeth Taylor who renovated and extended it while living there with her husband, producer Harry Rapier. It was Taylor’s wish that the Glass House be used as a setting for the wedding ceremony of her daughter, Elizabeth Taylor Livingstone, and Henry Taylor. The reception was held in the nearby English country garden, which was decorated with green plants and terracotta tiles. The newlyweds spent their first night under the stars, surrounded by family and friends.
The house is now a museum, and is open to the public, showcasing the work of architect Wright and the couple’s luxurious lifestyles. While the structure has been repeatedly featured in films and books due to its opulent interiors and enviable location, it is important to keep in mind that the building is over 100 years old and was constructed with glass, which is now cracked and in need of repair.
The Chocolate Factory
The Chocolate Factory, located in London’s famed South Kensington neighborhood, is the most famous of the three famous structures in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. When it comes to architecture, film, and celebrity, the chocolate factory has to be one of the most iconic buildings in existence. A combination of brilliant design, luxurious living, and a well-deserved celebrity status have made it one of the most recognizable buildings of all time.
The factory was first designed by French architect Louis-Jeantotte in 1869, although it took a while for it to be constructed. It was the brainchild of Scottish businessman Joshua Shaw, who envisioned a complex that would rival the likes of the Louvre or the British Museum. The grand opening of the Chocolate Factory was marked by a special ceremony attended by some of London’s most prominent figures. Theodor Roosevelt, the father of American president Theodore Roosevelt, was among the attendees. The entire factory complex was subsequently remodeled in 1909, expanding and upgrading the building’s infrastructure. In 1973, the Chocolate Factory became a World Heritage Site, and has since been featured on the covers of numerous magazines, books, and films.
Like many other places featured in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the interior and exterior of the building have been substantially altered. The original structure, described by Frank Lloyd Wright as a ‘symbol of opulence,’ featured an atrium in the center and a number of galleries which are no longer present. The walls have been knocked down to create more space inside and additional exhibition space. It is currently valued at over £150 million. Thanks to its incredible notoriety, the Chocolate Factory has been the subject of numerous scholarly papers and books. In one of his most recent works, The Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, author Paul Alexander notes that ‘for many people the chocolate factory has become a synonym for brutal capitalism.’ It is certainly interesting to think that something so commonplace and so closely associated with such a well-known and incredibly rich business magnate would eventually become a symbol of oppresion and greed.
Other locations that appear in the film include Augustus Gloop’s bedroom, located in what was once the North Tower of the Twin Towers, and the boat house, where the workers of Wonka chocolate are seen constructing luxurious barges and then launching them on a pond. The location of these scenes was changed a number of times. Originally, they were shot in a disused quarry in the London suburbs. For legal reasons, all filming locations have to be registered with the Department of Culture.