The Blog Sidebar contains links to Filming Location posts. These include:
- Eight "Breaking Bad" filming location posts;
- Three additional posts regarding "Breaking Bad" related subjects;
- Five "Better Call Saul" filming location posts;
- One additional post regarding "Better Call Saul" related subjects;
- One post regarding both "Better Call Saul" and "Breaking Bad";
- Two links to OldeSaultie's Google maps of "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" filming location sites. These are the best filming location maps on the Web! The KML files available at these addresses are particularly useful for importing locations into GPS-equipped devices.
Let me know if you have any problems or questions. E-Mail address: email@example.com
"A Guidebook To 'Breaking Bad' Filming Locations (Albuquerque as Physical Setting and Indispensable Character)"
I first published a book on 'Breaking Bad' filming locations in April, 2014. I have updated it several times since then (on the Third Edition now, with a Fourth edition coming after Season 3 of "Better Call Saul" is televised). If you already purchased the first or second editions, the updated version isn't so different that you also need to buy the updated version.
What distinguishes the Third Edition from the First Edition is:
1.) Suggested touring circuits have been simplified, even as more locations have been added;
2.) There are more anecdotes and historical facts about Albuquerque.
3.) In addition to the contributions of Sven Joli, there are also new illustrations by Brian T. Bailey and Tom Lamb.
To avoid unnecessary friction, I have redacted the addresses of all single-family homes in the book. (These addresses are still available in these blog posts, however.)
Many pictures posted on my blog are retained in the book, but the pictures in the print edition are black-and-white, in order to keep costs down. Pictures in the Kindle edition are in color, however.
(Publication date January 26, 2016; 335 pages in length.)
The Third Edition of the book can be ordered here: Print. Kindle
The Third Edition of the book can be ordered here: Print. Kindle
Vince Gilligan and company are using architectural and other background features to comment upon and complement various “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” scenes. Glass Block Windows are a favorite tool, as well as Pueblo Deco archways, tin ceilings, and commercial clerestory strip windows. This video describes an attempt to create a Visual Shorthand Vocabulary to help interpret these features.
Streamline Moderne and Jimmy McGill
The Circular Journey of “Slippin’ Jimmy”
Marc P. Valdez
February 9, 2017 (Updated February 28, 2017)
“Better Call Saul” features an increasing number of Glass Block Windows and Walls, particularly towards the end of Season 2. What do Glass Block Windows and Walls signify on “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad”? What stories are Vince Gilligan and his team telling us by using Glass Block Windows?
Glass Block Windows are an architectural hallmark of Streamline Moderne (sometimes called Art Moderne, part of the International Style), and popularized in the 1930s. Streamline Moderne is sometimes regarded as the last phase of Art Deco.
The name Art Deco comes from Paris’ 1925 “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes”. Art Deco has proven to be a very popular style around the world, and particularly so in the United States.
Streamline Moderne celebrates Industrial Design: “a machine aesthetic focused on mass production and functional efficiency.” Streamline Moderne can apply to automobiles and locomotives, and to commercial products like radios, as well as to architecture.
Streamline Moderne architecture contains a number of signature features:
Pan-Pacific Auditorium Example of Streamline Moderne.
• Aerodynamic and nautical streamlining - occasional circular portholes, oculi, and round windows;
• Ships railings.
Pastel Building Example of Streamline Moderne.
• Color references to the sea like blue and violet, and a variety of pastels;
• Rounded corners;
• Prominent eyebrows and parapets.
• A horizontal emphasis (as opposed to Art Deco’s vertical emphasis);
• Smooth, white stucco finishes;
• Glass Block Windows and mirrored panels – rays and vectors;
• Concentrated in neighborhoods built in the 1930’s – e.g. Miami’s South Beach;
• Commercial or apartment buildings with flat roofs, rounded edges, curved canopies, and asymmetrical facades; single-family residences less common;
• Ribbon band of windows with metal frames, metal double-hung or casement windows, and corner windows; and,
• Aluminum, chrome, and stainless steel used for door and window trim, railings, and balusters.
Locomotive Example of Streamline Moderne.
Aerodynamic streamlining can apply not just to buildings, but to automobiles, locomotives, and even to commercial products like radios.
Until mass production capabilities improved in the 1930s, Glass Block Windows were quite uncommon. (See this dissertation as well.) Glass Block Windows admit light but their cloudiness defeats clarity. Glass Block Windows can be laid to go around corners, and they are usually laid in the manner of a Cartesian grid – i.e. the blocks are not offset from row to row, as cinder block or adobe would be.
There are many examples of displays with repeating geometrical motifs in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”, and often present as Cartesian grids. Some of these displays include:
• Railyard windows (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 5, ‘Shotgun’);
• Philadelphia police-car divider (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 6, ‘Five-O’);
• Bingo cards (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 7, ‘Bingo’);
• Rifle target (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 10, ‘Klick’).
Several other examples:
Staycation wood-block wall (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5b, episode 12, ‘Rabid Dog’).
Cartesian grids as props
Cartesian grids appear many times, but less often as props. When a Cartesian grid is flashed as a prop, it is always in the context of a question, and it generally means “help me understand” or “please clarify”. Examples include:
Letter grid used to communicate with Hector Salamanca (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 10, “Face Off”).
Walls serve multiple purposes in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”. Walls create spaces and make them easier to control. For example, Chuck McGill uses Mylar Space Blankets to create a Faraday Cage in order to better control his electromagnetic hypersensitivity, and also block out what might seem a threatening world. Glass Block Windows and Walls may potentially do the same to Jimmy McGill.
Attorneys are particularly adept at building figurative walls. To assist their clients, attorneys create useful narratives by isolating facts and testimony in manageable, impermeable “information silos”. Building walls is what Chuck and Jimmy are trained to do.
Nevertheless, wall-building, carried too far, results in dangerous isolation – in extreme, to dungeon-like isolation. Michel Foucault has written about dungeons in the context of the Panopticon. Quoting Foucault:
The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions - to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide - it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap.
There is an excellent discussion regarding Foucault’s fascination with prisons in the 1993 documentary entitled "Michel Foucault: Beyond Good and Evil". Michel Foucault, who was from Poitiers, France, was inspired by the tragic example of Blanche Monnier, the woman known as “Séquestrée Poitiers”:
In the film, they describe a short story by Hervé Guibert which recounts the true story of Blanche Monnier, The Séquestrée Poitiers, who was imprisoned naked in a filthy room by her mother for [much of her life]. In the documentary, the narrator says that when authorities found her they found this inscription on the wall:
“To create beauty not out of love or liberty but solitude forever you must live and die in a dungeon.”
Chuck McGill is nearly living in a dungeon already. In his own affable way, Jimmy McGill may eventually inhabit a dungeon of his own creation too.
Jimmy McGill has four identities in the course of “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”:
• Jimmy McGill, a small-time Chicago con artist known for his slip-and-fall shakedown, hence the nickname "Slippin' Jimmy" (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Uno’);
• Bailed out of jail and given a fresh start in Albuquerque, Jimmy McGill strives to emulate his successful brother Chuck (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 3, ‘Nacho’);
• Jimmy reinvents himself as breathtakingly-corrupt lawyer, Saul Goodman (episode not shown as of this writing); and,
• After "Breaking Bad", fugitive Saul assumes the identity of Gene, mild-mannered manager of an Omaha Cinnabon eatery (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Uno’).
Uses for Glass Block Windows in “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad”
Despite Jimmy’s changing identity, certain things remain the same over the years, such as ever-present Glass Block Windows. There are four kinds of uses for Glass Block Windows in “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad”:
Chicago Alley - Marco and Jimmy perfect their Rolex scam in a Chicago alley - the Glass Block Window is part of a parking structure: (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 4, ‘Hero’).
Chuck lies to Jimmy about their dying mother’s last words in the lobby of a Chicago hospital (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 5, ‘Alpine Shepherd Boy’).
“Slippin' Jimmy” runs past a Glass Block Window to observe Chuck suffer his own slip-and-fall (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 9, ‘Nailed’).
Personal Space - offices or living quarters
Jimmy's nail salon office (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Uno’).
I was struck by the similarities in composition between the overhead image of Jimmy McGill's Nail Salon office (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Uno’) and Surrealist painter Salvador Dali’s 1954 work, “Corpus Hypercubus”. Dali was convinced that the separate worlds of science and religion can coexist. I attended a talk where Vince Gilligan described himself as a seeker after truth, and expressed similar thoughts. [Ref.: “In Conversation with Vince Gilligan”, University of California, Davis, Mondavi Center, December 10, 2015.]
Jimmy McGill’s and Kim Wexler's new law office (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 8, ‘Fifi’).
The former DiNicola Insurance Agency building on Montaño Road in Albuquerque dates to about 2000 (based on 1996 and 2002 Google Earth imagery), and is now a realty office.
Jimmy McGill’s and Kim Wexler's new law office (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 8, ‘Fifi’).
Beautiful Glass Block Windows and a copper ceiling.
A plan-view image (as seen from above) of the Diamonds Apartments (where Gene in Omaha ostensibly lives) can appear as diamonds.
A plan-view image (as seen from above) of the Diamonds Apartments can also appear as Glass Block Windows, depending on how the image is rotated. It’s possible diamonds are equivalent to Glass Block Windows.
Any kind of Chicago connection
Since Jimmy McGill is from Chicago, any Glass Block Window in his offices or personal space is a Chicago connection too.
Various allusions to Glass Block Windows
In addition, there are various allusions to Glass Block Windows throughout the show. For example:
The folds in the Mylar Space Blankets used to make Chuck’s Faraday Cage allude to Glass Block Windows (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 10, ‘Klick’).
The fluorescent lights in the office that Jimmy first proposes to share with Kim resemble Glass Block Windows when seen from a shallow angle (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 7, ‘Bingo’).
The Chicago bar, Jimmy and Marco’s second home, features windows with a repeating, 3-4-5 Pythagorean-Triple pattern (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 10, ‘Marco’).
Glass Block Windows and Chicago's "Century of Progress" Exposition
At first, it wasn’t clear to me what Glass Block Windows signified in Vince Gilligan’s work, but then I happened across a post in a Facebook group discussing Albuquerque’s Kelvinator House (also known as the Raabe House, located at 324 Hermosa Dr. SE, and built in 1938), the first residence in Albuquerque to feature Glass Block Windows.
The architect, William Burk, Jr., was inspired by the 13 futuristic model houses at the 1933–34 Chicago World’s Fair “Century of Progress International Exposition”.
Chicago’s “Century of Progress” Exposition was Ground Zero for the spread of the Streamline Moderne style in America and the rest of the world. For example, America’s first modern building constructed from Glass Blocks, the Owens-Illinois Glass Block Building, was built for the Chicago Exposition. [Ref: “Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair”, Schrenk, Lisa D., University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007, pp. 141-4.]
Albuquerque was hardly alone in following the architecture of the Chicago Exposition: many other cities around the country followed suit. Fairs and exhibitions quickly followed Chicago’s lead, such as Dallas’ Centennial Exhibition of 1936; the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40; and the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939.
Regarding the Chicago Fair:
One of the 1933 fair’s most popular exhibits featured thirteen futuristic houses clustered together on the shores of Lake Michigan. Those houses, built from innovative construction materials and with several examples clearly paying homage to the European “International Style” or the colloquial “Streamline Moderne,” turned out to be crowd pleasers. Few fairgoers actually contemplated living in homes like George Fred Keck’s Glass House, a three-story, glass-clad, polygonal tower suspended from a central pole that clearly owed a lot to Le Corbusier’s idea of the house as a “machine for living,” but most attendees marveled at the technology displayed within and without. Keck’s house controlled its own climate via central systems and sealed windows. It included not only a garage for the car but a hanger for the family plane. Keck’s design, which the fair billed as the “House of Tomorrow,” made the June 1933 cover of Popular Mechanics. The idea of an “automatic” house that heated and cooled itself, rotated to face the sun, and opened its own venetian blinds caught the fancy of fairgoers. It likewise influenced architects throughout the United States in the subsequent years before World War II. Bits and pieces of the fair’s dramatic architecture showed up on the cultural periphery, even in places like New Mexico, a location that many Americans thought was not even part of the United States, and even in Albuquerque, its largest city but one that contained only about 30,000 inhabitants in the mid-1930s. One of those architects, William Burk, Jr., a local practitioner in Albuquerque, demonstrated this far-flung influence and the way it transformed residential architecture in the United States. He brought the design elements of both the International Style and the more mass-market-oriented Streamline Moderne style together in the house he built on Hermosa Drive SE in the late 1930s, in the city’s Granada Hills district, the subject of this case study.
Thus, Glass Block Windows, as used in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”, generally symbolize a connection to Chicago.
Nevertheless, Vince Gilligan’s real target may be the “Century of Progress”, about which he seems to feel great doubts and reservations.
In 1933, forty years had passed since Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of 1893. After the tyranny of the Al Capone years and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, Chicago needed a makeover, and Chicago’s centennial in 1933 offered the perfect opportunity.
Chicago’s “Century of Progress International Exposition” celebrated Chicago’s past century, and the century to come. Technological innovation was the theme, with the motto: “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms“. There was heavy corporate influence among the sponsors (nearly two dozen corporate-sponsored pavilions vs. nine for the Chicago’s 1893 “World’s Columbian Exhibition”).
Advertising played an important role. Political and business leaders promoted consumerism and cooperation between science, business, and government in order to bootstrap America out of the Great Depression. FDR, among others, appealed to extend the fair, originally planned for just 1933, for another year.
With his optimism, faith in technology, glib superficiality, and corporate consumerism, Jimmy McGill is the perfect child of Chicago’s “Century of Progress”.
In “Better Call Saul” there is a direct reference to Chicago’s “Century of Progress” Exposition. The Chicago Waterfront as seen in the ‘Chicago’ montage is filmed from the Adler Planetarium on Northerly Island, home of the “Century of Progress” Exposition (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 10, ‘Marco’).
Vince Gilligan places Jimmy McGill in the classiest tradition of Chicago burlesque. (Of strippers, one can say that there is often less there than first appears.)
For example, Chicagoan Bob Fosse’s film “All That Jazz” is celebrated in the ‘It’s Showtime Folks!’ musical-tribute montage (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 2, ‘Mijo’). [Ref.: “Fosse”, Sam Wasson, an Eamon Dolan book, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, p. 29, 2013.]
In turn, Bob Fosse choreographed many tributes to Sally Rand’s “Fan Dance”. Just like ‘Little Egypt’ before her had become THE star of Chicago’s 1893 World Columbian Exposition (and in the process introduced America to belly-dance), Sally Rand became THE star of the 1933-34 “Century of Progress” Exposition. [Ref.: “The 1933 Chicago World's Fair: A Century of Progress”, Ganz, Cheryl R., University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 2012.]
Art Deco’s Southwestern Legacy
Streamline Moderne is only one descendant form of Art Deco – Art Deco applied to the world of Industrial Design. In the American Southwest, there is a sister descendant form – Pueblo Deco, an architectural form combining Art Deco with the Pueblo Revival style. The KiMo Theater in Albuquerque is the best realization of the Pueblo Deco style.
Whenever Art Deco or its descendant styles appear as a backdrop or set, Vince Gilligan and team are signaling that they are dealing with the world of false appearances.
Pueblo Deco archways, in particular, are associated with tragedy.
Pueblo Deco architecture features stucco, plaster, or plastic abstractions of Pueblo Revival post-and-lintel archways. Pueblo Deco archways are present, for example, at the public entrances into the Albuquerque Sunport. We are familiar how “Breaking Bad” used black-and-white teasers at the beginning of Season 2 episodes to foreshadow the aircraft tragedy at the end of Season 2, but what hasn’t been clear till now is how views of the Airport terminal itself (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 9, ‘Four Days Out’), with its Pueblo Deco archways, also foreshadow the aircraft tragedy.
The stucco imitation of Pueblo post-and-lintel style archways in Gale’s Apartment (“Breaking Bad”, Season 3, episode 13, ‘Full Measure’) and Jesse and Jane’s Duplex (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 5, ‘Breakage’) is Pueblo Deco style. (The interior of Gale’s Apartment may even be the same place as Jesse and Jane's duplex.) Pueblo Deco archways in Gale’s apartment foreshadow tragedy.
The intriguing Pueblo Deco archways inside Jesse and Jane’s duplex signal that their romance will be a tragic one. [Ref.: Thanks to my friend, Architect Karl Schindwolf, for identifying the Pueblo Deco style of the archways in Jesse and Jane’s duplex.]
The Pueblo Deco archways inside Jesse and Jane’s duplex signal that their romance will be a tragic one.
In contrast, the Cottage Style of Andrea’s new home (known as the Toulouse House) signals that there is enduring potential there.
Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood, with its Streamline Moderne commercial architecture, may have inspired Vince Gilligan. Nob Hill was founded in 1916, with 90% of its buildings completed by 1942. Many commercial buildings in Nob Hill feature Streamline Moderne styling, including Glass Block Windows.
Vince Gilligan lived in these condos in Nob Hill while filming “Breaking Bad” (which also served as Walt's single apartment in Seasons 3 and 4).
Barrymore's Antiques, across the street from the condos where Vince Gilligan lived demonstrate Vince Gilligan need not have gone far for inspiration.
Alternatively, slang usage of the term “Art Deco” may have inspired Vince Gilligan. The adjective “Art Deco” refers to sharp outlines, bold colors, and synthetic materials. “Art Deco” is nearly-synonymous with “High-Maintenance” - used in a sentence: “that Jimmy McGill is so Art Deco.”
There are also various nuances to the term “Art Deco” (from Lana Del Rey’s 2015 song “Art Deco”):
• Callow, adolescent rootlessness - “You want in but you just can't win”;
• Inexplicable appetite – “You want more (why?)”;
• Dramatic display - “You're not mean, you just want to be seen”;
• Sociable - “A little party never hurt no one, that's why it's alright”;
• Careless - “Put your life out on the line; You're crazy all the time”.
Glass Block Windows in “Breaking Bad”
It’s important to look back at “Breaking Bad” and see how Glass Block Windows were used there. Glass Block Windows appear early in “Breaking Bad”, but a Chicago link is tentative at first;
The DEA arrives at the meth-lab bust riding their vehicle’s running boards much like 1920s Chicago gangsters (“Breaking Bad”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Pilot’).
Walt threatens Tuco in his headquarters with explosive fulminated mercury in the episode ‘Crazy Handful of Nothin’’, which refers to the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke” - "Oh Luke, you wild, beautiful thing. You crazy handful of nothin'" - which is warmly-celebrated in reviews written by Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert.
Beneke Fabricators is where the Chicago connection first becomes strong. Beneke Fabricators may be named after Beneke Corporation, the toilet seat manufacturer founded in Chicago in 1893. Beneke Corporation carries two completely separate channels of distribution for their product (e.g., their downscale ‘Tuffy’ line and their upscale Magnolia line).
More importantly, Vince Gilligan is referring to the 2001 failure of Chicago’s Big 5 accounting firm Arthur Andersen, due to document-shredding and massive accounting fraud in the Enron scandal. (Skyler White is also involved in accounting fraud.)
Arthur Andersen’s failure highlighted the rampant greed and tax avoidance that degraded accounting standards nationwide in the 1980s and 90s.
Arthur Andersen split into acrimonious parts in an effort to develop separate channels of distribution, analogous to Beneke Corporation’s successful strategy for selling toilet seats, but with a more-complicated product, Arthur Andersen ultimately failed.
Fragments of Arthur Andersen still operate from Chicago’s “Q” Center under the management of 4 LLCs named Omega Management I through IV. Vince Gilligan operates from Albuquerque’s “Q” Studios and has an interest in ‘Omega Man’, ‘Doomsday Device’, and ‘End of History’ themes.
There are interesting octagonal patterns in the Glass Block Windows at Beneke Fabricators. Octagonal symbolism is present in several places in "Breaking Bad". In Christianity, the octagon symbolizes the New Covenant. The importance of the number eight is truly ancient, found in both Judaism and Buddhism:
"For Jews 8 was the number which symbolized salvation, rebirth and regeneration ... But for early Christians 8 was the number which symbolized the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the formation of the New Covenant. ... It is for this reason that Christian churches built during the Byzantine period were 8-sided structures."
Saul Goodman’s Office is a Streamline Moderne marvel, featuring an octagonal wall and nautically-themed portholes. Even the plastic Ionian columns are a good fit.
The octagonal design here may be a tribute to Richards House (Watertown, WI), the 19th-Century American Utopian inspiration for George Keck’s popular, dodecagonal “House of Tomorrow” at the Chicago “Century of Progress” Exposition. [Ref.: “Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair”, Schrenk, Lisa D., University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007, pp. 162-3.]
Saul Goodman’s Office features an Art Deco sconce, probably of Northern California origin.
As with “Better Call Saul”, Glass Block Windows in “Breaking Bad” signify a Chicago connection. For example, the façade of RAKS Hardware Store in Los Lunas, NM, where Walt invites a meth cook competitor to “stay out of my territory”, contains Glass Block Windows (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 10, ‘Over’).
I have been long been mystified why Vince Gilligan would choose that store for filming rather than the Rio Bravo RAKS store previously-used in Season 1 of “Breaking Bad”, which is closer to “Q” Studios, but the presence of the Glass Block Windows would explain that choice. These Glass Block Windows may refer to Chicago’s True Value Hardware Cooperative’s persistent accounting problems of the 1990s and 2000s.
The Glass Block Windows in the Car Wash reception area.
There are Glass Block Windows present in the A1A Car Wash reception area, but since no Chicago connection was desired here, their presence was ignored, either by filming them at a shallow incidence angle or through other means to mask them.
Glass Block Windows present in the Car Wash reception area are deliberately effaced in this scene (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5b, episode 11, ‘Confessions’).
Nevertheless, the Car Wash Office, which is first seen in Season 4, has Glass Block Windows (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 2, ‘Thirty-Eight Snub’). The actual Car Wash doesn’t have an office like the one filmed – it’s a studio construction – and thus the creative team had full latitude to design an office to taste.
Here, Vince Gilligan may be honoring actor Marius Stan, who played Car Wash owner Bogdan Wolynetz. In 2010, Stan accepted a position at Argonne National Laboratory and moved from Los Alamos to the Printers Row neighborhood of downtown Chicago.
The only time Glass Block Windows are visible in the hospital in “Breaking Bad” is during Brock’s poisoning crisis (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 12, ‘End Times’).
“Big Joe’s Polka Show” is playing on Casa Tranquila’s TV (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episodes 8 & 10, ‘Hermanos’ and ‘Face Off’) when Gus, and then Walt, come to visit Hector Salamanca (although the particular band playing, Fritz's Polka Band from Verona, New York, has a faster, more Slovenian-style of polka rather than a Chicago-style polka). In ‘Face Off’, there is an additional hint of an Upper Midwest connection - the Bingo Caller has an Upper Midwest accent.
Is there a polka connection between Casa Tranquila and Chicago? There is one simple link:
“An important venue for live performances of polka music was Club 505 at 13505 S. Brainard Ave. in the Hegewisch neighborhood on the Southeast side of Chicago.“
Central New Mexico's telephone area code is 505. (Apparently when Vince Gilligan calls up anyone in New Mexico, in the back of his head, he’s thinking polka.)
Two Glass Block Windows are seen on Central Avenue at the end of the episode when Walt first fails to assassinate Gus (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 12, ‘End Times’):
• Posh Nightclub; and,
• Albuquerque Alibi, the city’s alternative newspaper’s office.
I’m not aware of any link between Posh Nightclub and Chicago (although there are suggestive geometric patterns within the club and the upstairs lounge has a tin ceiling), but the Albuquerque Alibi changed its name from NuCity due to a naming conflict with Chicago’s Newcity alternative newspaper.
New identities and temporary refuge are granted at the Vacuum Cleaner store (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5b, episode 15, ‘Granite State’).
There is a Chicago connection here. In order to rescue Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) reluctantly accepts the identity of George Kaplan at Chicago’s Midway Airport in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “North by Northwest”. The association with vacuum cleaners may be Breaking Bad’s second Alec Guinness reference, for his role as a British spy working undercover as a vacuum-cleaner-parts salesman in the movie “Our Man in Cuba”. (The first Alec Guinness reference was “Bridge Over the River Kwai”, playing on the television at Casa Tranquila; “Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 11, ‘Crawl Space’).
Cinema buffs have noticed in “North by Northwest” that Cary Grant is mostly-shown on the left-hand side of the screen, in order to favor his (better) right profile. Similarly, while at the Vacuum Cleaner Store, Walt is shown roughly 70% of the time on the left-hand side of the screen (planning his revenge against Jack and showing his better side).
(According to the store's owner, the Basement was staged in the shop's garage.)
Walt moves to the right-hand side of the screen when raging or seething (thus exposing his uglier side).
Chicago connections can be obvious, or obscure. Early in “Breaking Bad”, The DEA first assumes the ‘Badger’ role, an old Chicago gangster slang term for one who compromises loyalties and entraps others (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 8, ‘Better Call Saul’).
Later in the same episode, Badger assumes the Badger role. As Jesse warns Badger that he’s sitting on the wrong bench during a complicated double-entrapment scheme, the camera is placed some distance from the action, in order to flatten out the view and keep the background in focus, thereby keeping Glass Block Windows on a building in the background in focus. (That building has since been razed and replaced.)
Later in “Breaking Bad”, Mike Ehrmantraut assumes the Badger role. Mike tries to sway Jesse’s loyalty away from Walt to Gus. Glass Block Windows are intermittently visible at Garcia’s Café during these scenes (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 4, ‘Bullet Points’, and episode 5, ‘Shotgun’).
In “Better Call Saul”, Badger Mike entraps Tuco by provoking him to violence, under the gaze of the Glass Block Windows at El Michoacano Restaurant (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 4, ‘Gloves Off’).
The dark alley behind Lindy’s Diner at 5th and Central Ave. SW in Albuquerque (representing Philadelphia’s McClure’s bar) possesses Glass Block Windows (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 6, ‘Five-O’).
‘Lucky Lindy’ made it across the Atlantic in 1927, but had extremely-bad luck on two occasions when flying from St. Louis to Chicago, and was twice forced to bail out of his plane.
The Veterinarian that Mike consults for occasional protection-racket jobs makes money on the side, in a clinic that features Glass Block Windows (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 3, ‘Amarillo’).
The Chicago connection here reflects that veterinary focus. Abbott Laboratories of Lake Bluff, IL, is located in the northern suburbs of Chicago, and makes the product ‘Ensure’, used to keep Walt’s weight up in his New Hampshire exile (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5b, episode 15, ‘Granite State’). Abbott has long been a false-advertising lawsuit target for ‘Ensure’.
In the past, Abbott Labs focused on anesthesia & painkillers. Abbott Labs helped fuel the underground amphetamine scene in the 60s.
Abbott Labs has been a perennial PETA target for its treatment of beagles and other animals. Abbott recently sold its animal care division to Zoetis and bought St. Jude & Alere, refashioning its portfolio out of animals and into human cardiovascular care and diagnostic devices.
In the vacuum left behind after Abbott Labs’ departure from animal care comes the Veterinarian. With his protection rackets, The Veterinarian can protect you against pain – for a price.
No Glass Block Windows Present
It’s also important to note when Glass Block Windows are absent, when they might otherwise be found. No Glass Block Windows appear where there is no Chicago connection or strong personal commitment. For example, Davis and Main’s office (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 1, ‘Switch’).
Glass Block Windows are absent. Hinkle Video Game Arcade (“Breaking Bad”, Season 3, episode 13, ‘Full Measure’).
There are indications in the Combo Corner scenes (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 11, ‘Mandala’ and Season 3, episode 11, ‘Abiquiu’) that Vince Gilligan is tempted to use the distant BPL Plasma building in the background with its gorgeous Glass Block Windows.
Particularly in ‘Mandala’, the camera focuses on time-wasting action in the foreground in order to keep the background building in view as long as possible. Unfortunately, there are no dramatic reasons to have a Chicago connection in these scenes, so he has to let the opportunities pass.
It’s important to note that since Chicago has had such an outsized impact on American history, it’s possible to associate Chicago with almost anything - a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” situation – so there are no assurances that any of these inferences are correct. Nevertheless, when Glass Block Windows appear, at least one plausible Chicago connection can usually be made.
It's not clear why some tragedies merit a Pueblo Deco archway, and others don't. The picture here remains incomplete.
Other Notable Building Features
Commercial clerestory strip windows composed of glass squares are used several times in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”, but inconsistent styles and dates cloud the intent. These include:
The green windows at the Family First Clothing Store are a Pueblo Deco design. The Family First Clothing Store, now the Holocaust & Intolerance Museum of New Mexico, is the former Wright’s Trading Post, and dates to 1937 (“Breaking Bad”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Pilot’).
Outside the church with its self-help group, the Annapurna Chai House provides a backdrop of (likely post-WWII) clerestory strip windows (“Breaking Bad”, Season 3, episode 11, ‘Abiquiu’);
Jimmy and the Skateboard Twins plan an ambush in front of a street-corner café and across the street from the Albuquerque Community Foundation, formerly Champion Grocery Store, which dates to 1904 (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Uno’).
Clerestory strip windows with glass squares at the Albuquerque Community Foundation (formerly Champion Grocery Store).
The building housing Lindy’s Diner at 5th and Central Ave. SW in Albuquerque (representing Philadelphia’s McClure’s bar) possesses both clerestory windows and Glass Block Windows (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 6, ‘Five-O’).
These commercial clerestory strip windows may be associated with false fronts and pretenses. It’s hard to tell in the encounter in Family First Clothing Store who is bluffing most, Walt or the bullies. Jesse, Badger, and Skinny Pete discuss subverting their self-help group by selling meth surreptitiously. Jimmy and the Skateboard Twins attempt to ambush Mrs. Kettleman by staging an accident in order to lay a claim on the Kettleman’s ill-gotten wealth. Mike Ehrmantraut feigns drunkenness in order to catch his policeman foes unawares.
Tin Ceilings signal a face-to-face fight. The tin ceilings in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” span a variety of ages and styles (e.g., Louie’s Bar; Family First Clothing Store), and were an Old West favorite. In Albuquerque, tine ceilings are closely-associated with Pueblo Deco architecture.
The ‘Family First Clothing Store’ is Pueblo Deco style, but since it has no Pueblo Deco archway, the confrontation with the insolent teen never becomes a tragedy. The tin ceiling and pretty windows are likely the most sought-out characteristic of this site.
View of the tin ceiling at Jesse and Jane's just before Mike slaps Jesse.
The tin ceiling is rarely shown at Jesse and Jane’s duplex. One such time is just before Mike strikes Jesse in the face.
“Grace has a grand laughter in it.” - Marilynne Robinson.
Grace - “The love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it” - as represented by the Christian Octagon, is combined with Streamline Moderne and Pueblo Deco several times in “Breaking Bad”. For example, the Glass Block Windows in Beneke Fabricators contain octagonal forms.
While the DEA interview Skyler, the octagonal penthouse of the Albuquerque Federal Bldg. & United States Courthouse, 421 Gold Ave. SW, is visible out the window ("Breaking Bad", Season 5b, episode 15, 'Granite State'). Perhaps Skyler is under the protection of divine grace.
When Hank tries to persuade Skyler to turn state's evidence, much of the restaurant is lit with sunburst lamps with octagonal symmetry ("Breaking Bad", Season 5b, episode 10, 'Buried').
Jesse too is protected by divine grace ("Breaking Bad", Season 5b, episode 10, 'Buried').
When Jesse casts his money away and retreats onto park playground equipment, he is found on a spinning octagon, with (what appears to be) a jungle gym nearby in the very-specific crystalline form of a Snub Cuboctahedron. (I'm sure the creative team loved the name!)
Legacy of the Sixties and Seventies
I dearly hope coming seasons of “Better Call Saul” delve more into Jimmy McGill’s childhood and teenage years, in order to see how Vince Gilligan deals with the legacy of the Sixties and Seventies.
In the scene focusing on Jimmy McGill’s impressionable youth (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 7, ‘Inflatable’), young Jimmy McGill is shown perusing a Playboy Magazine. Young Jimmy is doing more than looking at the magazine centerfold. Jimmy is taking inspiration from the example of Omaha-born Hugh Hefner, who found success in Chicago. As Hefner said, “You create the persona that you want to have.” Years later, displaced to Albuquerque, Jimmy McGill strives to follow Hugh Hefner’s example as he creates the role of Saul Goodman.
Young Jimmy would have eagerly embraced some of the early, Cartesian-grid-based video games of the 70s, such as:
“Breakout” (1976); and,
I note the album cover for The Who’s “Tommy” is the antithesis – almost like a photo negative - of a Glass Block Wall. The grid glows rather than the windows, and the windows are clear rather than cloudy. Tommy is the story of a traumatized boy transcending his limitations:
(From ‘Amazing Journey’)
Ten years old
With thoughts as bold
As thought can be
Loving life and becoming wise
When Mrs. Walker smashes the mirror, Tommy is cured – Jimmy McGill would simply buy another. Tommy is about transcendence; Jimmy is not. Jimmy is the Anti-Tommy.
A Comprehensive Critique of the “Century of Progress”
Vince Gilligan may intend a comprehensive critique of the “Century of Progress”. Catholic thinkers have been debating whether Progress and Original Sin can be reconciled for more than a century, and as a thinking Catholic, Vince Gilligan may be influenced by these arguments. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was the most optimistic Catholic philosopher with regards to the value of Progress, no doubt because he was also a paleontologist and geologist. Teilhard (1881-1955) aimed at a metaphysic of evolution, holding that humanity was converging towards a final unity that he called the Omega Point.
What does Vince Gilligan believe about the Omega Point?
Meanwhile Marco, The Omega Man (Mel Rodriguez from the television show “The Last Man on Earth”), is busy with small-time gambling and spinning new cons in a Chicago bar.
Chicago Bars are a world unto themselves. Regarding small-time gambling in his family’s Chicago Bar, (which was slated for removal by progress), Charles D'Ambrosio has written:
“As long as you could fall further you distinguished yourself from the fallen. … Gambling offered a refuge from the outside world, its advances, its mysterious evolution. No one believed the bar would end, not because we didn't believe in progress but instead, more precisely, because our kind of gambling, the wish of it, was an attempt to salvage the past. We weren't so much hoping to change the future as we were trying to amend history. We wanted the past completely restored and made livable. We believed that was the only kind of winning that counted.”
[Ref.: Charles D'Ambrosio’s essay entitled "Brick Wall" is from the Fall 2000 issue of "Nest", and is reproduced in the November, 2001 issue of Harper's Magazine, pp. 27-32.]
The inoperative switch at Davis and Main (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 1, ‘Switch’) may refer to the Omega 13, a device with an unknown function in the 1999 movie Star-Trek tribute movie “Galaxy Quest”. Ship’s crew are hesitant to turn on the Omega 13 device, since they don’t know for certain what it does. When the Omega 13 device is finally used as a last resort, it sends the spaceship back in time 13 seconds. As a television trope, the Omega 13 operates as a Chekhov Gun.
In contrast, the switch at Davis and Main is presented as an idle curiosity rather than as a last resort. A sign warns not to turn off the switch – the exact opposite of the Omega 13 device. Presumably the switch does the opposite of the Omega 13, and sends the law firm into the future by eighteen seconds (the amount of time Jimmy has the switch turned off).
As a television trope, the switch operates as a Reverse Chekhov Gun. Eighteen seconds would have transpired anyway, so the switch is useless in every respect. The Omega Point has no point and Progress itself is an illusion.
Vince Gilligan demonstrates a disdain for Progress in a number of ways. As previously noted, “Streamline Moderne is a machine aesthetic focused on mass production and functional efficiency”. For example, nothing is better geared to the needs of business and more functionally efficient than an education delivered via Internet. Yet, is an Internet education of value?
By focusing Chuck’s disdain on Jimmy’s law degree from the fictional University of American Samoa, Vince Gilligan seems to say no (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 8, ‘Rico’ and episode 9, ‘Pimento’).
We are approaching the end of Chicago’s Second “Century of Progress”. Glass Block Windows signify the tension between the promise of the “Century of Progress” and the past Jimmy McGill can't escape. Streamline Moderne implies travel – people in motion. Jimmy McGill is in constant motion, yet appears to be going in circles. No matter how much progress Jimmy McGill makes in his life, he’ll remain ‘Slippin' Jimmy’, forever.
As St. Augustine states in commentary on Psalm 140 - “The wicked walk in a circle”:
“He who goeth in a straight line, beginneth from some point, endeth at some point: he who goeth in a circle, never endeth. That is the toil of the wicked, which is set forth yet more plainly in another Psalm, The wicked walk in a circle. But ‘the head of their going about’ is pride, for pride is the beginning of every sin.”
In closing, here is a picture of “Shark Car”, by Sid Kurz & Seattle’s Lodi Camp, from the 2016 Burning Man celebration.
“Shark Car” has a long history at Burning Man, first appearing in 2002, and returning every year with a different finish. In 2016, “Shark Car” returned with a shiny Airstream aluminum finish. I looked at this picture and thought, 'There's Saul Goodman's ride.'