Hill Valley Court House

The set of the Hill Valley courthouse at the Universal Studios backlot (Courthouse Square)

Hill Valley is a fictional California town that serves as the setting of the Back to the Future trilogy and its animated spin-off series. In the trilogy, Hill Valley is seen in four different time periods (1885, 1955, 1985 and 2015) as well as in a dystopian alternate 1985. The films contain many sight gags, verbal innuendos and detailed set design elements, from which a detailed and consistent history of the area can be derived.

The name "Hill Valley" is itself a joke, being an oxymoron. However, an early script for Back to the Future Part II mentioned that Hill Valley was named after its founder, William "Bill" Hill.


For Back to the Future, the producers considered filming the town square scenes in the real city of Petaluma, California, but soon realized it would be prohibitively expensive and impractical to alter a real place to suit the different eras.[1] Instead they filmed it on the Universal Studios backlot, where they had more control.[2] The main location, known as Courthouse Square, already existed and had been previously used for many films and television shows.[3] The Hill Valley courthouse can also be found in the movies Bruce Almighty, Gremlins, Bye Bye Birdie, Sneakers, The Offspring's music video "Why Don't You Get a Job?", an episode of Major Dad entitled "Who's That Blonde" and even in an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The clock tower itself, however, was a removable addition to the existing Courthouse building, one of many ways in which the structure has been redressed over the years to suit the needs of a production. Prior to Back to the Future, the backlot location was called Mockingbird Square, a reference to the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird, but is now known as Courthouse Square.

Many of the cars that appear in the 2015 scenes are either modified for the film or concept cars. Examples include Ford Probe, Saab EV-1, Citroën DS 21, Pontiac Banshee Concept, Pontiac Fiero and VW Beetle Bug. Cars reused from other science fiction films include the "Star Car" from The Last Starfighter (1984) and a "Spinner" from Bladerunner (1982). Griff's car is a modified BMW convertible.[4]

For Back to the Future Part III, Hill Valley 1885 was filmed in Sonora, California. The producers were able to use the land rent free as long as they left the buildings there. They agreed to leave everything except the Clock Tower. Interestingly, on August 10, 1996, a lightning bolt struck the town and it burned down. An arson fire on the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot on November 6, 1990 had previously destroyed much of Courthouse Square, the setting in which all the other time periods were filmed. However, the Courthouse itself survived the devastation.[5] Another backlot fire on September 6, 1997 again damaged Courthouse Square. In both cases, the backlot facades were then rebuilt. The Sonora location was not rebuilt. In addition, a February 14, 1999 fire at Whittier High School, California, where some (mostly exterior) scenes were filmed,[6] destroyed the men's gym there. On June 1, 2008, yet another fire destroyed part of the rebuilt Courthouse Square backlot and damaged the clock tower.[7][8]

Other real-life shooting locations of Hill Valley landmarks include the following:[6]

  • Doc's house in 1955 is the Gamble House in Pasadena, California.
  • Twin Pines/Lone Pine Mall is actually the Puente Hills Mall, located in Industry, California.
  • Marty's Lyon Estates house in 1985 is actually on Roslyndale Avenue in Panorama City, California.
  • Peabody's Twin Pines Ranch is really at Golden Oaks Ranch, which is owned by The Walt Disney Company and used in many Disney productions.
  • The houses of George McFly, Lorraine Baines and Biff Tannen in 1955 are all in South Pasadena, California.
  • The train which hit the De Lorean and the Futuristic Train was parked in Port Hueneme, California.
  • John F. Kennedy Drive is actually Victory Boulevard in Burbank, California.
  • The River Road Tunnel is actually Observatory Tunnel at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. The actual tunnel is only a fraction of the length of the one depicted in Part II.


The following information is taken directly from places and events shown or mentioned in the three films:

Early settlement[]

The town of Hill Valley is depicted as having been first settled in 1850 and incorporated in 1865. By the 1880s, it was connected by railroad to San Francisco. Construction of a new county courthouse was well underway in 1885, the setting of Back to the Future Part 3, in which a new clock was dedicated for the building. The Shonash Ravine Bridge was completed in the summer of 1886, around the same time the ravine was renamed the Eastwood Ravine (or Clayton Ravine, depending upon which timeline one focuses).

Town square[]

By 1955, as seen in the first two Back to the Future films, the area around the courthouse has developed into the downtown of Hill Valley. In front of the courthouse is a grass-covered town square, with stores, two Movie theaters (Essex and Town), and cafés on the surrounding streets. A key moment in the town's fictional history takes place on Saturday, November 12, 1955, at 10:04 p.m. PST, when lightning strikes the courthouse's clock tower, freezing the clock at 10:04. The clock is never repaired and becomes a local landmark, left in its non-functional state at the behest of the Hill Valley Preservation Society. The broken piece of ledge from Doc Brown's successful attempt to channel lightning from the clock tower is likewise never repaired, as can be seen when Marty returns to 1985 and in 2015 but not in the Alternate 1985.

In Marty's original time period, 1985, many of the town square businesses have moved or closed down. The new businesses which replaced them include a second-hand shop, a yoga studio, and an adult book store. The Essex movie theater now shows porno movies while the Town Theater is used for church services, and the courthouse is in a state of disrepair, and at night at least one homeless person (called "Red" by Marty) sleeps on the town square park benches. The grassy park outside of the courthouse has been converted into a parking lot. "That was always one of the major elements of the story even in its earliest incarnation," screenwriter Bob Gale says in The Making of Back to the Future, "was to take a place and show what happens to it over a period of thirty years. What happened to everybody's home town is obviously the same thing. They built the mall out in the boonies, and killed all the business downtown, and everything changed."[9]

By the 21st century, the downtown area has experienced a revival as the courthouse has been converted into the Courthouse Mall. Businesses have begun to move back into and around the town square and the parking lot has been replaced by a pond. The clock on top of the courthouse is still preserved at 10:04, and the mall's logo is an illustration of a lightning bolt striking the clock tower.

Signs that say "Welcome to Hill Valley" are seen in 1955, 1985 and 2015. Both 1955 and 2015 signs have symbols representing the Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions clubs. In addition, the 1955 sign has the logos of the YMCA, Jaycees, and Future Farmers of America while the 2015 sign has those of the Neighborhood Crime Watch eye logo and the 4-H Club clover logo. The "Welcome to Hill Valley" sign in 1985 does not contain any signage representing any clubs and mentions the name of the Mayor, Goldie Wilson. In the alternate 1985 Marty is seen walking over the sign, which has been knocked down and an 'E' has been spray painted over the 'I' in HILL VALLEY making the name HELL VALLEY. This sign does not display the name of the mayor but instead the words "A Nice Place to Live" as also seen in 1955.

Alternate history[]

In Back to the Future Part II, a nightmarish alternate version of Hill Valley is depicted complete with a partial history. Due to the influence of the powerful and corrupt Biff Tannen, gambling was legalized in 1979. Tannen's toxic waste reclamation plants were built downtown, polluting the air and leading to pollution alerts to be issued. All of the local businesses in the downtown area closed or relocated and were replaced with strip clubs and brothels. Tannen also bought off the police. Consequently, crime increased and biker gangs settled in the city. Hill Valley's public schools burned down and the courthouse was converted into Biff Tannen's Pleasure Paradise Casino and Hotel. The clock on the courthouse still remains at 10:04 although despite the damage the Doc did to the tower's platform in 1955, for whatever reason, it now seems to have disappeared. Biff also murdered George McFly (Marty's dad) in 1973 so that he could marry George's wife Lorraine (Marty's mom) therefore making him a corrupt family man as well as town ruler.


Many family businesses are passed down from generation to generation in Hill Valley. As a result, the city changes but remains similar from one generation to the next, as businesses are updated but rarely change. These recurring elements were a deliberate choice on the part of the filmmakers. The production designer of Back to the Future Part II, Rick Carter, is quoted in a DVD extra as saying, "The future is built on the present." Director Robert Zemeckis adds that the continuity between the different eras in Hill Valley's history is an example of the adage, "the more things change, the more they stay the same".[10]

The following is a list of such places. When a place is not seen or mentioned in a movie, it is marked unknown. When a place is not generally changed since previous era, it is marked The same. Some buildings shown in 1885 scenes are actually located further down the street in an area not shown in the first 2 movies.

place № 1885 1955 1985 1985 alternative 2015
1 Hill Valley Courthouse & Clock Tower (under construction) Hill Valley Courthouse Hill Valley Courthouse - Department of Social Services Biff Tannen's Pleasure Paradise Casino & Hotel (where the courthouse once stood) Hill Valley Courthouse Mall
2 Nothing Town Theater Town Theater (as a church) Biffco Toxic Waste Reclamation Plant Hill Valley Museum of Art
3 Nothing Holt's Diner Elmo's Rib War Zone Café Fusion Bar
4 Honest Joe Statler's Fine Horses (in different location - this spot actually empty) Statler Studebaker Statler Toyota Adult Toys Statler Pontiac Sales and Hover Conversions
5 Wells Fargo & Co Ruth's Frock Shop Goodwill Industries Tanya Exotic Sex Goddess Hill Valley Gifts
6 Nothing Jacobson & Field Attorneys at Law Empty Store (entrance now barred up) Bad Rap Bail Bonds Simulex
7 Building under construction Western Auto Stores Empty Store (Displaying Re-Elect Mayor Goldie Wilson Signage) SAGE Sight Sound and Mind
8 Nothing Bluebird Motel Empty Store (formally Motel now displaying "Out of Business" Sign) Video Nude Hardcore Movies Mr Perfect All Natural Steroids
9 Nothing Elite Barber Shop Empty Store (Sign on window saying "We Moved to Twin Pines Mall") Unknown Flying High Kite Store
10 Nothing Hill Valley Stationers Cupid's Adult Book Store Hell Hole XXX Eclipse - Contemporary & Traditional Lighting Store
11 Nothing Zale's Jewelers Abrams Brokerage Corporation Unknown Pizza Hut
12 Unknown J.D. Armstrong Realty Loans Unknown True Blues
13 Unknown Ask Mr. Foster Travel Service Ask Mr. Foster Travel Service Unknown Uniglobe Travel
14 Marshal's Office Bank of America Bank of America Naughty XXX Hill Valley Transit (Second floor advertising Goldie Wilson Hover Conversions)
15 Palace Saloon (Setting before Lou's Cafe) Lou's Cafe Lou's Fitness Aerobics Center (Originally Lou's Cafe in 1955) Dee Dee's Delight BAR Cafe 80's (Originally Lou's Cafe in 1955 and Lou's Fitness Center in 1985)
16 Unknown Roy's Record Store The Third Eye Unknown Blast From The Past Antique Store
17 Docs Blacksmith shop (different building) Texaco full-service station Texaco gas station Unknown gas station 7-Eleven (first floor) and Texaco automated Havoline station (second floor)
18 Unknown Hal's Bike Shop Hog Heaven Unknown The Bot Shoppe
19 Livery and Feed Stable Lawrence Building Broadway Florist Unknown Hill Valley Surrogate Parenting Center
20 Building under construction Essex Theater (as a mainstream movie house) Essex Theater (as an adult movie house showing "Orgy, American Style XXX") Unknown Holomax Theater (Now showing mainstream films again.)
21 Hill Valley Telegraph Hill Valley Telegraph Hill Valley Telegraph Unknown (Hill Valley Telegraph still in operation but most likely in a new location) Unknown (building displaying Skyway Information)
22 Nothing Lyon Estates (under development) Lyon Estates Lyon Estates Unknown
23 Nothing Nothing Hilldale (new housing development with 1980s style homes) Unknown Hilldale (now a rough neighbourhood)
24 Hill Valley School (in different building than later schools) Hill Valley High School Hill Valley High School Remains of Hill Valley High School (burned down 6 years earlier) Hill Valley Remedial School

Unique places[]

Despite Hill Valley's notable consistency, many businesses do appear and disappear over the years, as their services begin being needed or become obsolete. The following is a list of businesses that have no known equivalent in other time periods.


  • Wells Fargo & Co.
  • Marshal's office
  • General Mercantile
  • Gunsmith
  • Bath House
  • Dress Maker
  • Undertaking
  • Cabinet Maker
  • Meat Market
  • Blacksmith


  • Hill Valley Stationers
  • Armstrong Realty
  • Louis Watch Maker
  • Gaynor's Hideaway
  • Roy's Records
  • Elite Barber
  • Blue Bird Motel
  • Western Auto
  • Hal's Bike Shop
  • Pohatchee Drive-In Theater (outside of town)


Alternate 1985[]

  • Biffco Realty
  • Biffco Nuclear Power Plant


  • Blast From the Past
  • Simulex
  • True Blues
  • Eclipse - Contemporary & Traditional Lighting Store
  • Flying High - A Kite Store
  • Hill Valley Surrogate Parenting Center
  • Bottoms Up: A Plastic Surgery Franchise
  • The Bot Shoppe
  • Mr. Perfect All Natural Steroids
  • Luxor Taxi Cab Co.
  • Hill Valley Transit
  • Hill Valley Gifts
  • Hyatas Japanese Market
  • USA Today Hill Valley Edition
  • Wilson Hover Conversions
  • Domino's Hardware

Twin Pines Mall[]

Twin Pines Mall is a fictional shopping center located outside the also fictional city of Hill Valley, where the movie Back to the Future takes place. In the movie, the mall parking lot is where Doctor Emmett Brown first experiments his time machine, making his dog Einstein the first time traveler in the world. The site where the mall was filmed for the movie is actually Puente Hills Mall, located in City of Industry, California. The J.C. Penney location seen in the movie has been shut down, and is now occupied by a 24 Hour Fitness center.

In the fiction, when Marty McFly comes back from 1955 to 1985, the mall happens to be the Lone Pine Mall. This is due to the fact that when Marty arrives in 1955, he is actually at the Twin Pines Ranch, which belongs to the Old Man Peabody. Trying to avoid being shot by Peabody, Marty races off the property and accidentally runs over one of the two Peabody's prized pine trees, leading the place to be called Lone Pine, since there had been only one pine left.

See also[]


  1. Template:Cite video
  2. Robert Zemickis and Bob Gale, Q&A, Back to the Future [DVD], recorded at the University of Southern California
  3. Gallery. Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour. Universal Studios Inc.. Retrieved on 2006-12-01.
  4. Template:Cite video
  5. Universal Studios Hollywood History File: November 6, 1990. thestudiotour.com. www.theatrecrafts.com/. Retrieved on 2006-12-01.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gordon, Bruce (1995). Back to the Future - For Real!. www.BTTF.com, reprinted from Hill Valley Telegraph #16. To Be Continued.... Retrieved on 2006-12-03.
  7. Huge fire burns movie sets at Universal Studios. www.msnbc.msn.com/. www.msnbc.msn.com/. Retrieved on 2008-06-01.
  8. Courthouse Square. thestudiotour.com. www.theatrecrafts.com/. Retrieved on 2008-01-30.
  9. Template:Cite video
  10. Template:Cite video

External links[]

v - e - d
Back to the Future film series logo
Films: Back to the FutureBack to the Future Part IIBack to the Future Part IIIBack in Time

Music: Back to the FutureBack to the Future Part IIIThe Back to the Future Trilogy (soundtrack)
Video games: Back to the Future (1985 computer game)Back to the Future (video game)Back to the Future Part IIBack to the Future Part IIIBack to the Future Part II & IIIUniversal Studios Theme Park AdventureBack to the Future: The GameLEGO Dimensions
Other media: Back to the Future: The RideBack to the Future: The Animated SeriesBack to the Future (musical)Back to the Future: The Pinball

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