Back to Padua High

You might already know '10 Things I Hate About You' was largely filmed in Tacoma. But we bet we can still surprise you with 10 things you didn’t know about this classic teen flick.

As the now-classic teen romance 10 Things I Hate About You opens, the first thing viewers see is a city skyline that, thanks to the Space Needle, is unmistakably identifiable as Seattle, while the late-’90s anthem “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies blares.

Everything about this movie screams “Seattle,” from the opening credits to a romantic afternoon in Gas Works Park to prom at the iconic Paramount Theatre. And yet, as most Tacoma residents know all too well, the movie was largely filmed right here in the City of Destiny.

Insert a totally ’90s eye roll and “duh” retort here.

Maybe it’s the COVID-induced isolation that has us wistful for our high school days in the waning months of the 20th century that made us pull out a worn VHS copy of this modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Or maybe we’re just bored, lonely, and in need of a little Heath Ledger crooning Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” with that heart-stopping smile that has us saying, “I burn, I pine, I perish.” Whatever the reason, we figured this was as good a time as any to don a pair of Sketchers and a Prada backpack for a trip back to Padua High School (aka Stadium High School) circa 1999. Though first, a recap is in order.

New kid on the block Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls hard for Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik). Cameron isn’t allowed to date her because her single father is a paranoid OB-GYN who has delivered one too many babies to teen moms. The caveat? Bianca can date when her angry feminist older sister Kat (Julia Stiles) gets herself a beau, and since Kat has major attitude regarding the patriarchy, that seems highly unlikely. So, of course, Cameron devises a plan to push Kat into the arms of Padua’s hottest delinquent, Patrick Verona (Ledger).

Classic high school movie moments — like the singing of the aforementioned love song, a painfully clichéd party thrown at the home of an unsuspecting nerd, and a Breakfast Club-like detention session — follow as the two couples fall for each other despite the worst intentions of the jerky pretty boy (Andrew Keegan), who also wants to bed the youngest Stratford sister.

Kat finds out her relationship with Patrick is a set-up, so she writes an angry Shakespearean sonnet about Patrick — the titular “10 things” — and he buys her a guitar. They kiss as the camera zooms out to reveal Elliott Bay (Commencement Bay), and they all (supposedly) go on to live happily ever after, even though (plot hole) … isn’t Kat going to school on the East Coast the following year?

OK — now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are 10 things you might not know about this teen romance. Note: This will not be in iambic pentameter — sorry.

Courtesy of Pretty Gritty Tours

1. Outdoor and indoor scenes of the Stratford home were filmed at a 5,760-square-foot residence on North Junett Street then owned by the William McGovern family. Due to the Victorian home’s local fame, it sold in April 2018 for $1.5 million. While its current owners are likely enjoying its 3½ baths, 5 bedrooms, hardwood floors, and views of Commencement Bay, it’s unknown whether they enjoy the fame or the occasional sightseeing fan.

2. While longtime residents and alumni of Stadium High School know the school’s history, many transplants might not know it was originally built in the late 1800s as a luxury hotel financed by the Northern Pacific Railroad Co. and the Tacoma Land Co. However, financial problems and a subsequent fire shuttered the structure before its original purpose could be realized. In 1906, the building opened as Tacoma High School, later renamed Stadium in reference to the grandiose and now-iconic 15,000- seat stadium bowl.

3. Though filmed over summer break, many of Stadium’s students and teachers played small roles in the movie. For example, biology teacher Margaret Walter played, fittingly enough, a biology teacher during the scene when Ledger’s bad-boy character stabs a dissected frog with a switchblade. Though Walter only makes a blurry three-second appearance, she was paid not only as an extra, but also a set designer. “They wanted all the lab stations to have frogs dissected on them in the background, so they hired me to dissect them and set up the stations,” Walter said. “I also suggested they use these big bullfrogs we had in a bucket for the main characters, so they would really show up on camera.”

4. Some of the students, Walter said, got a lot more camera time than her own blurry sighting. The marching band that accompanied Ledger’s performance was Stadium’s own, as was the girls’ soccer team, of which Stiles’ character was a member.

5. Incoming freshmen hoping to visit the same cafeteria where Ledger, Gordon-Levitt, Keegan, and others ate will be disappointed to find that a 2005-06 remodel of the school converted the cafeteria into the present-day library. Today’s cafeteria is built on the footprint of the school’s former gym.

Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

 

6. When the film wrapped, it left its mark on Stadium, according to Chris Staudinger, Pretty Gritty Tours owner and tour guide, who often gave tours of the 295,000-square-foot school prior to COVID. Staudinger spent so much time during the tours talking about 10 Things, in fact, that he began giving tours specifically for fans of the movie during which he’d point out little leftover touches of Padua, like posters in the teacher’s lounge.

7. Staudinger also is quick to point out the iconic concrete “S” in the school’s courtyard during the tour. “To complete the look, Touchstone (Pictures) brought up the mosaic ‘S’ that historically adorned the center of the courtyard at Stadium High and replaced it with a ‘P’ for Padua,” Staudinger explained. “They never put it back, though, and the original mosaic tiles are in a cardboard box in storage at the school. They paid to have the concrete ‘S’ installed that we see today, I believe.”

8. The best part of the tour, Staudinger said, is the school’s attic. “For the last 100 years, a select group of students gets invited up annually to sign their names; you can find signatures dating back to 1906,” Staudinger said. “I have it on good authority that the cast of 10 Things all signed, but I haven’t found their signatures yet. The principal and a lead night engineer both claim to have seen them, but I continue my search.”

9. Several scenes also were shot in one of Stadium’s parking lots, including the one where AV geek Michael Eckman (David Krumholtz) loses control of his motorized bike, sending him flying over a ledge toward the stadium. In a video for Pretty Gritty Tours’ 10 Things movie night at the stadium bowl in 2019, Krumholtz revealed an interesting tidbit about that particular scene. “He talked about how he didn’t know how to ride a bike before filming and had to learn in a nearby lot before filming his scene,” Staudinger recalled.

10. As the credits begin to roll, we see Padua High School from the air while the band Letters to Cleo — Kat’s favorite band — rocks out to “I Want You to Want Me” on the roof. Rumors about this particular scene abound, most notably that the director didn’t have permission to access the roof or spend the $500,000 to shoot the scene. Meanwhile, the band reportedly was a tad uncomfortable up there. “We’re all arranged on top of this postage-stamp-sized roof with chicken wire the only thing protecting us from toppling to our deaths into the Puget Sound,” the band’s frontwoman Kay Hanley told The New York Times in a 2019 interview. “The music starts playing, (and) we start pretending we’re in a music video. We hear the whir of a chopper right above us, and then it dive-bombs us.”

10 Things I Hate About You is now streaming on Disney+. Pretty Gritty Tours will be offering a virtual 10 Things I Hate About You tour March 12.

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is the managing editor of South Sound magazine. Email her.
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