In the Christopher Nolan movie, Oppenheimer, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and its surroundings were a significant part of the film. Using movie magic, most of the sets were studio-created outside of Santa Fe to give the feel of the vast, empty countryside.
However, several of the Los Alamos scenes used buidlings that are still standing, or have been recreated within the city. On our latest visit to Los Alamos in October 2021 to also visit the Trinity site, the Oppenheimer residence and Civilian Women’s Dormitory had just been acquired by the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and were in the process of preservation.
During our visit in October 2021, the Oppenheimer residence on Bathtub Row had just been acquired by the National Park. The building has since been preserved and is open for display, similar to the Hans Bethe House.
Civilian Women’s Dormatory
Although not open to the public, this is one of the remaining dormitories still standing in Los Alamos. The Civilian Women’s Dormitory, or T-101 (Technical Area) housed non-military staff for the project. During our visit, the previous tenant had just vacated, and the process of turning over the building to the NPS was in process.
Fuller Lodge was the dining hall for the old ranch school and served as a community center for Manhattan Project workers. The lodge is currently used as an event hall, art center, and more by the Los Alamos Community.
You’ll see this in the movie with basketball hoops on either end of the hall. A short walk from the lodge, be sure to grab a picture with Oppenheimer and Groves.
Lamy Train Station
Several scenes in the movie involve trains – riding them, talking on them, or just hearing them. An active Amtrak station for the Southwest Chief (Chicago to Los Angeles), Lamy is where all the Manhattan Project scientist and workers arrived on their way to Los Alamos. Operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway at the time, the arriving guests would then take a short line on the Santa Fe Southern into Santa Fe, now operated as an excursion ride by Sky Railway.
The charm of the building is palpable, and there is now a cafe and taproom to enjoy.
Main Gate Park
Just before you enter Los Alamos along the highway, you’ll find a reproduction of the Los Alamos Main Gate in a rest area. Now just a facade for the restrooms, it’s a faithful reproduction of the main gate to the original facilities.
Open for visits in April and October each year, the Trinity Site is where the test occurred on July 16, 1945, at 5:29 a.m. The site is part of the active White Sands Missile Range. The Army expects a record number of visitors for the open house on October 21, 2023, because of the film, so be prepared (and be early!) if you plan to visit this year. The next date is April 6, 2024.
There is so much to see and do in the Los Alamos area, from the Los Alamos History Museum (the best place to start; including several blog/interview posts about filming the movie on their web site), Bandalier National Monument (where many of the scientists relaxed, picnicked, and hiked) as well as the Valles Caldera National Preserve.