Utah has long been at the tip-top of my traveling bucket list, but it’s not Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park or the Bonneville Salt Flats that I’m dying to see. No, I want to visit the Beehive State because two of my favorite films of all time were shot there – “Footloose” and “Drive Me Crazy.” Though the former is an iconic ‘80s classic, the latter is far lesser-known. Based upon the 1996 book “How I Created My Perfect Prom Date” by Todd Strasser, the teen-centric rom-com was released in 1999 to lukewarm reviews but has since become something of a sleeper hit. The film may boast a paltry 53% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, but those who love it, love it.
The storyline is one that has been told a thousand times onscreen, mostly in productions of the Hallmark Christmas movie variety. Upon learning that her crush, basketball star Brad Selden (Gabriel Carpenter), has asked another to the upcoming Centennial dance, queen of school spirit Nicole Maris (Melissa Joan Hart) hatches a plan with her next-door neighbor/former childhood best friend, the kindhearted and newly-dumped rebel Chase Hammond (Adrian Grenier), to fake a relationship and attend the dance together in the hopes of winning their exes back. In the midst of their scheme, though, the faux couple, of course, falls in love for real.
Originally named “Next To You” (after the studio nixed the appalling alternative “Girl Gives Birth to Own Prom Date”), the movie was retitled postproduction to coincide with the release of rising pop star Britney Spears’ new song “(You Drive Me) Crazy.” Grenier and Hart even appeared in the music video for the tune as part of the promotional tie-in.
Charming through and through, the flick stands out amongst other teen fare of the time thanks to its witty script, the undeniable chemistry between its two leads and its stellar locations. Unlike most romantic comedies, which typically utilize the dazzling lights of New York or the sun-drenched landscape of Los Angeles as backdrops, “Drive Me Crazy” was shot in its entirety in Salt Lake City and its environs. A few local spots featured include the Art Deco masterpiece Ogden High School, which plays Timothy Zonin High, aka Time Zone High, the school at the center of the story. Meteor Burger, where the fake couple hangs out with Nicole’s friends and discusses “The X-Files,” is actually Kirt’s Drive-In in North Ogden. The big Centennial dance celebration at the end of the movie is held in the rotunda of the Utah State Capitol building. And, as first identified by realtor Jacob Barlow of the Exploring with Jacob Barlow website, Brad’s house, where Nicole and Chase attend a party, can be found about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City at 12758 S. Fort St. in Draper. (Please remember this is a private home. Do not trespass or bother the residents or the property in any way.)
Known as the Nielsen-Sanderson House in real life, the stunning Victorian Eclectic-style dwelling was originally built in 1898 for wealthy sheep rancher Anthon ‘Tone’ Nielsen and his wife, Elizabeth. As noted by a National Register of Historic Places registration form, “The prosperity of Draper’s sheep ranchers is represented by three Victorian-era mansions along Fort Street, but the Nielsen-Sanderson House stands out in several ways.” Easily one of the prettiest properties in the area, the gorgeous façade, set far back from the street at the end of a long cement walk, is awash with Eastlake detailing, glazed red brick, elaborate woodwork, a framed-in front porch and stained glass windows. Though the architect is unknown, Provo builder Christian Tolboe was charged with constructing the two-and-a-half-story residence.
Initially comprised of four bedrooms and one bath, the pad was the first house in Draper to boast hot and cold running water. Other luxe amenities included multiple pantries, double front parlors, wide halls, parquet flooring and a formal entry. In a nod to Tone’s profession, the front porch was also flanked by life-sized carvings of sheep heads during the Nielsens’ tenure, which delineated it from its neighbors. According to the NRHP registration form, “In a time before address numbers, Tone Nielsen would advise his business associates to look for the ‘Sheep House’ on Fort Street.”
The end of the first world war saw prices for agriculture decline significantly. As such, the Nielsen fortune dwindled and the family was eventually forced to sell their home to the Utah Savings & Trust Company of Salt Lake City in 1926. The bank subsequently transformed the spacious residence into four separate apartment units which all shared one common bath.
Wealthy poultry farmers George and Scerinda Sanderson leased the property in 1942. Seven years later, they purchased the place from the bank and converted it back to a single-family residence and the surrounding 50 acres into a farmstead they dubbed the “Sanderson Dairy Farm.” The site remained in their family through 1970. The NRHP registration form notes that “The rise and fall of the fortunes of the Nielsen-Sanderson House represent the historical development of agriculture and livestock in the history of Draper.”
Due to the conversion from house to apartments back to house again, many of the pad’s original architectural details were lost. In 1987, then owner Peter Lawson embarked upon a massive renovation project to restore the Victorian’s exterior to its original glory. The work got stalled mid-way through, though, and the place subsequently sat empty until being purchased in 1992 by its current owners, who masterfully completed the work. They also expanded the residence, commissioning a large rear addition on the lower level complete with a modern kitchen, an office, a laundry room and a family room with a stone fireplace. The attic was transformed into an owners’ suite/exercise room as part of the expansion, as well, bringing the number of bedrooms and baths to five and three, respectively, and the total square footage to 4,274.
The surrounding lot, which today measures 3.22 acres, boasts a large pool and gazebo, a barn, a milk house, three sheds and a detached three-car garage.
It is at the striking property that Nicole and Chase attend Brad’s party, aka their “last pre-Centennial event.” As the two enter the house, Nicole utters what is easily my favorite line of dialogue in the entire film. Turning to Chase on the home’s long front path, she says, “Can I negotiate an entrance of hand-holding?” as the strains of “(You Drive Me) Crazy” begin to play in the background.
Unfortunately, things don’t go smoothly for the duo from there. Their fake relationship comes crashing down when an inebriated Chase spots Nicole chummily chatting it up with Brad, instantly becomes jealous and, in an ill-advised attempt at retaliation, kisses her best friend, Alicia (Susan May Pratt). Teenage drama at its finest!
The actual interior of the house, which can be seen in photographs on the NRHP registration form, also appears throughout the scene as the fake couple fumbles their way through a very real breakup. Don’t worry, though, Nicole and Chase, inevitably, find their way back to each other by the time the end credits – set to the tune of “(You Drive Me) Crazy,” of course – roll.