Revisiting the library location in ‘I Love You to Death’ (1990)

Was this library scene filmed in Tacoma?

Recently, I was reading my monthly email newsletter from my local public library, Tacoma Public Library (TPL), and I came across this very enjoyable blog post, “Mostly filmed in Tacoma.” I had forgotten that the black comedy, I Love You to Death (1990) had been filmed in Tacoma! Years ago, back in 2012, I had written a post about the public library scene in that movie, Love in the stacks in ‘I Love You to Death’ … perhaps I can be forgiven for forgetting about that since I wrote that post before I actually moved to Tacoma? 😉

Here’s a trailer for I Love You to Death, starring Kevin Kline, a philandering husband named Joey, and Tracey Ullman as Rosalie, his wife who tries several times to have him killed. The movie is based on a true story (!!!) and has become a cult classic.

I Love You To Death (1990) Trailer” video uploaded by madeinthe80s, Standard YouTube license

The library scene, although clocking in at only a minute long at almost 30 minutes into the movie, is a brief but pivotal one, as it’s when Rosalie discovers that Joey is cheating on her. “Caught in the act” is the name of this library scene on this DVD’s scene selections menu!

The library scene is #9, “Caught in the act”

I searched online for several different movie location sites to see if they could shed any light on where the library scene was filmed, as well as the Filming & Production page for the movie on Most sites, like the site, plus the TPL blog post, mentioned the usual suspects of filming locations from Tacoma that are recognizable in the movie, including: Bob’s Java Jive, the Bostwick Building, the Elks Club Building, and the Holy Rosary Church. But no mention anywhere of a library or another location used for the library scene.

I then revisited the post I had written back in 2012 to see if I could figure out if the setting for the library scene was filmed at one of the TPL branches. This was the best screenshot I had taken back then, but it didn’t provide much to go on:

Screenshot from ‘I Love You to Death’ (1990)

I then followed up with the person who wrote the recent TPL blog post, Spencer Bowman, a librarian who works in the Main Branch’s Northwest Room, which houses local archives and historical documents. I asked Spencer if there was any more information in the Northwest Room on a possible location for the library scene in this movie.

His response was illuminating:

As for the library in I Love You to Death, judging by the windows in the image capture below I’m fairly certain the scene was shot at the Collins Library at the University of Puget Sound, not a Tacoma Public Library.

Here’s the screenshot Spencer provided:

Library scene with distinctive paned windows

And here is where you can compare-and-contrast the windows in the movie’s background with the windows in this photo of Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound [UPS].

Comparison of windows in I Love You to Death (left) and at Collins Memorial Library (right). “University of Puget Sound- Collins Memorial Library” photo on right by Washington State Library via Flickr is licensed under a CC BY NC 2.0 license.

I also checked out a DVD copy of the movie through the TPL — so meta! — and rewatched the movie myself. There were some extra details in this scene that were very interesting!

For example, the door that Rosalie enters is an older style, with studded detailing.

Door with studded detailing & Tacoma Public Library sticker on computer

And while I watched Rosalie walk toward the Circulation desk, I spotted a sticker on the side of the (hilariously) large computer monitor… and I recognized the sticker! Yep, I live in Tacoma, and I am a library card-carrying member of the Tacoma Public Library, so I recognized the TPL logo and sticker! 😀

Below is the best closeup I could get of the sticker. It’s a little blurry, but I think you can make out the words “The Tacoma Public” along the top, and then word “Library” makes the shape of an open book. Quite distinctive!

Closeup of Tacoma Public Library sticker on librarian’s computer

If this scene was indeed filmed at the Collins Memorial Library — or any other library or location other than a TPL branch — then BRAVO to the prop buyer or set decorator who found and used a TPL logo and sticker to add just that little bit extra verisimilitude to this library scene. A perfect finishing touch! 😀

However, I cannot help but point out a few niggling details that may negate the possible location being the Collins Memorial Library, including:

  • There’s no record that I can find online in which the UPS claims its moment of fame as one of the locations used in a movie that was filmed in Tacoma — not in a Spring 2010 edition of their Arches magazine, and not even in a 1990 edition of its yearbook, in which they specifically highlight I Love You to Death in its list of “Celluloid Highs” (seen below). If they were going to highlight the movie for “Tacoma get[ting] a taste of fame” in 1990, the year this movie was released, isn’t it likely that they would also take the opportunity to boast that their campus was part of that?
“Celluloid Highs” excerpt from UPS yearbook in 1990. I Love You to Death is listed at the bottom of this list!
  • And finally, I (re)visited the Collins Memorial Library — library field trip! — and this smaller window that’s visible in the screenshot below doesn’t seem to be visible along the exterior of the library building.
That smaller window in the middle of this wall is a curious architectural detail — and a sticking point to pin down this locale for the library scene!

But even taking those contradictory details into account, I do agree with Spencer Bowman, that the Collins Memorial Library is the most likely setting for this library filming location — or at least another, similar building on that same campus. The distinctive tall, paned windows — plus the heavy, ornate style of door — are common architectural details visible all over the UPS campus.

And yes, I also looked over the TPL branches — almost all of which I’ve visited in person — and the only locations that have older architectural details like the studded door and tall, paned windows (potentially the older part of the Main Branch and the Wheelock Branch locations) don’t match the configurations seen in that scene.

Could this reel library scene have also been filmed at another, non-library-related location altogether, or just on a sound stage set? Sure. (But that’s no fun!) Also, this movie made extensive and purposeful use of locations in and around Tacoma… so it just feels right that this small but pivotal scene was filmed here, as well.

Overall, this was a super enjoyable exercise to revisit this movie and this pivotal library scene. It put a smile on my face to be reminded that this movie was filmed in the city I now call home… and I felt SO happy to recognize that TPL sticker on the librarian’s computer!

Have you seen this movie? Do you know any additional details about this library scene and where it was filmed? Please leave a comment and share! And if I find out more details, we’ll revisit this reel librarian movie again! 🙂

Sources used

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