Rumors have long circulated online that Pasadena’s historic Brookmore Apartments served as the inspiration for the building where Caltech scientists Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and their struggling actress neighbor, Penny (Kaley Cuoco), lived on the CBS mega-hit “The Big Bang Theory.” Though establishing shots of the trio’s homestead, purported to be at 2311 N. Los Robles Ave. (a fictional address), were never shown on the Pasadena-set series and interiors only ever existed on a soundstage at Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, that has not stopped fans from endlessly speculating as to its probable location based upon the views visible from the characters’ windows, as well as its potential real-world inspiration.
Of the latter, user Jcc551f9n wrote in to “TBBT” Fansite to offer up the Brookmore Apartments as a viable prospect, saying, “I lived in the building for two years and the inside looks like the exact replica of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ apartments. Exposed brick, stairwell looping around the elevator, very similar front doors as the show. And the Brookmore Apartments elevator was always broken. Even the laundry room looks the same. A number of Caltech and JPL physicists live there, as well as more than one aspiring actress.”
While the building’s elevator actually appears to be situated across from the stairwell and not enveloped by it, another commenter named Ottonomy shared Jcc5519n’s recollection and furthered his theory, stating, “Hmm . . . the Brookmore Apartments were one of the first places I considered when trying to guess where the apartment might be. You’re spot on about the stairs and elevator. I remember delivering pizzas there in the eighties. It was run down, and the halls were lined with addicts, prostitutes, and their dealers and pimps. The renaissance of Old Pasadena had changed it by the late nineties when I started working as a locksmith and made frequent appearances there to open locked doors for people who were better at rocket science than at keeping track of their keys. It’s amazing how much the place has improved, though the elevator was indeed not working when last I was there.”
Whether or not their hunch is correct has never been verified, but the Brookmore Apartments is currently enjoying another small-screen claim to fame courtesy of the new ABC show “Not Dead Yet.” Created by David Windsor and Casey Johnson, who served as co-executive producers of such beloved series as “This Is Us” and “Don’t Trust the B—- In Apartment 23,” the single-camera comedy is a very loose adaptation of best-selling author Alexandra Potter’s 2020 novel “Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up.” Airing Wednesday nights on ABC and the following day on Hulu, the show tells the story of newly-single journalist Nell Serrano (Gina Rodriguez) who, following a five-year stint living in London with a boyfriend, returns to Los Angeles and her former paper, the SoCal Independent, only to be put on the “dead beat,” aka obituaries, much to her chagrin. Adding to her malaise? The fact that she can now somehow see dead people, with the subjects of her obits visiting her throughout the writing process to offer poignant life advice, though their appearances are short-lived. As soon as Serrano completes a write-up, her otherworldly caller is sent to the great beyond, with a new specter arriving in tow at her doorstep the moment a new obituary is assigned.
That doorstep is none other than the Brookmore Apartments, located just a couple of blocks from Old Town Pasadena at 189 N. Marengo Ave. The handsome four-story brick-clad structure dates back nearly a century, originally designed in 1925 as a hotel/apartment complex by local South Pasadena-born architect Edward B. Rust, who was also responsible for the nearby Town House Apartments, the famous Los Altos Apartments in L.A.’s Windsor Square and the Stratford on Irving mansion in Hancock Park, which John Lithgow’s E.B. Jonathan character recently called home during the first season of HBO’s “Perry Mason” reboot.
Commissioned by wealthy Pasadena denizen A.D. Walker and fashioned from fire-proof bricks, at the time of its completion the property comprised 15 hotel rooms and 36 single and double apartments, each with its own bathroom, a novelty for the day. As reported in a Pasadena Post article chronicling Brookmore’s unveiling, the building also boasted “a big well-lighted lobby, handsomely decorated, with a fine ornamental pattern hardwood floor, fine upholstered furniture and comfortable chairs.” Rates for hotel rooms started at $45 per month (about $750 today), with single and double apartments running $60 to $90 a month, respectively ($1,000 to $1,500 today).
As Ottonomy summarily addressed on “The Big Bang Theory” Fansite, Brookmore did fall into disrepair in the 1970s and 80s, along with the area surrounding it, but was thankfully resurrected by Ted Taylor, who purchased the place in 1988 for $1.45 million and proceeded to rehabilitate it to the tune of $500,000. The reimagining included an update of the interiors while leaving many original details intact, with the Los Angeles Times reporting, “A carved wooden flame still decorates each door. Ice boxes and milk delivery boxes from the 1920s remain today in each apartment.”
Renovated once again in 2013, ice boxes and milk delivery crates can no longer be found on the premises, but the building, which was named a Designated Historic Property by the City of Pasadena in 2011, remains a glorious mix of old and new, with units featuring updated kitchens and baths, Art Deco tile work, pedestal sinks, exposed bricks and free wireless internet. Apartments range in size from studios measuring 275 square feet to two-bedroom, two-bath units boasting 1,247 square feet, with rates starting at $1,925.
Building amenities, also thoroughly modernized, include a business center, a back patio with a grilling station and seating, a recreation room with a television, foosball table and kitchen, a 24-hour complimentary coffee bar, a dog run, laundry facilities, a guarded parking garage, vending machines, 24-hour maintenance service and a continental breakfast offered gratis every Friday. Most importantly, the elevator appears to be in full working order today.
On “Not Dead Yet,” Nell finds the apartment – and her quirky roommate, Edward (Rick Glassman), whose persnickety personality is very reminiscent of Sheldon Cooper’s, coincidentally – via a Craig’s List ad. The building’s exterior pops up regularly in establishing shots on the freshman series, which is certainly proving a stellar addition to ABC’s lineup, with The Hollywood Reporter noting that it “pulled in the biggest debut audience for a comedy on the network in more than four years — since ‘The Conners’ premiered in October 2018.”
Only the exterior of the Brookmore Apartments is featured on the show. The interior of Edward and Nell’s unit, with its classic arches, glass-fronted built-ins, mantled fireplace and transom windows, is a set created by production designer Dina Lipton on a soundstage at the Fox Studio Lot in Culver City, which serves as the series’ home base. The exterior of the SoCal Independent office, where Nell and her best friend, Lifestyles Section editor Sam (Hannah Simone), report to work each day, can also be found on the lot – it’s the studio’s Old Executive Building.
Unfortunately, Fox does not offer tours at this time, but fans of “The Big Bang Theory” do have the opportunity to see Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment set on display at Warner Bros. at the facility’s Stage 48: Script to Screen exhibit. And those hoping for an even more extensive “TBBT” experience can also hit up Pasadena’s Cheesecake Factory, the California Insitute of Technology, Lucky Baldwin’s Pub and the city’s commemorative “Big Bang Theory” Way street sign.