How Cincinnati has — and hasn't — changed since 'Rain Man' filmed here 30 years ago

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-25 15:30:33-05

CINCINNATI — Sunday night's Oscars will honor the best in film, and 30 years ago the best film in America was shot, primarily, here in Cincinnati.

Much of "Rain Man," with a powerhouse cast, was shot on location in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. In 30 years, a lot has changed.

Larry Geiger, a partner at Pompilio's restaurant in Newport, said people still come in and ask if it's where "Rain Man" filmed.

Inside the restaurant, little has changed. They still have the table where Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman sat, as well as the bar where Hoffman's character counted toothpicks. There is a mural of the movie with the actual toothpicks used on it. They even have a payphone, though it's not the same one from the movie.

"They put one here just so you can recreate the scene, if you really want to," Geiger said.

MORE: Remember when 'Rain Man' was filmed here? For many, it left a lasting impression

A shot of an iconic walk down the tree-lined drive is used in virtually every poster for the movie. It's at St. Anne's in Melbourne. The trees there were cut down about 10 years ago, but they're growing back.

The building used as a sanatorium in the movie, now a Catholic retreat, looks pretty much the same.

On the Ohio side of the river, Dixie Terminal on Fourth Street was used as a bank in the movie, and the view of the Roebling Bridge was hard to miss. Now, you can't see the bridge at all. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center building blocks the view.

The characters identified 400 Oak Street as a Kmart in the movie. That address is actually the Vernon Manor, where the production officers for the movie were located. The Vernon Manor closed in 2009 and it's now part of Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

Other locations like Columbia Parkway and the Roebling Bridge look more or less the same.

Kristen Schlotman, the executive director of Film Cincinnati, said "Rain Man" "was the start of it all" for movies shooting in the Queen City.

So how did it happen that this movie — so critically acclaimed — was shot in Cincinnati, a place at the time that wasn't known for Hollywood films?

"The producers of "Rain Man" reached out to the state of Ohio and said, 'We want to scout Ohio for a potential movie,' and that office reached out to a woman in Cincinnati, which was Lori Holliday, who is our founder," Schlotman said. "And at the time she was just a freelance producer. But she became their tour guide and, after that film happened for Cincinnati, then the film commission was founded that same year."

Perhaps the biggest change in 30 years is just that. "Rain Man" started the film community in earnest. Since then, so many movies have shot in and around Cincinnati, like "Ides of March," "Milk Money," "Gotti," "Traffic," "Carol," "Miles Ahead," Marauders," "The Old Man and the Gun" and the upcoming "The Public" and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer."

"You can't remember one movie last year because there were 10 movies last year that were shot in Greater Cincinnati," Schlotman said. "And Greater Cincinnati is on its way to becoming a world-class destination for all things production."

Will Cincinnati be the focus of any more Oscar winners in the future? Schlotman said yes, pointing to the fact that films shot here are headlining film festivals all over the world. "Carol" shot here was up for an Academy Award. And Sunday night, Centerville native Hanna Beachler is up for an Academy Award for production design on "Black Panther." She found out she was nominated while on set in Cincinnati, working on "Dry Run" with three Academy Award winners in it.