Grimy Back Alleys Are the Hot New Real Estate Get in New York City

ah-01.jpg
Can we get a little more steam, here?
Nick Carr explores a modern-day conundrum in his recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, "Our Typecast Metropolis." You see, Hollywood considers New York City a sort of permanently 70s-era New York City, full of twists and dark turns and grit and danger and grime. Unfortunately, today's New York City is more full of Starbucks, Duane Reades, and Applebees than it is of gritty alleyways. Thus, hard-working Hollywood types have had to search far and wide for alleys gritty enough to resemble the "New York City" ideal. They found one -- Franklin Place in TriBeCa, portrayed in such diverse cinematic experiences as The Nanny Diaries, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. But, alas, that alleyway is being gentrified, to be turned into a luxury condo tower. Make a movie about that, Hollywood.

What will Hollywood do to remedy this alley problem? Fortunately, there are a few others, Carr writes, "hidden south of Canal Street, far from the rigid organization of the uptown street grid," where a person might tread with the expectant pleasure of possibly being mugged or otherwise maligned. (Not that this actually happens there -- the key is for it to seem possible!)

Among the options, there is Theatre Alley, Cortlandt Alley, Broadway Alley, and Great Jones Alley. While Theatre and Cortlandt are free beyond the permit cost, many back streets are controlled privately, which means owners can charge a pretty penny, $5,000 to $10,000 a day, for the use of their dingy, "rat-infested," old-world real estate.

Someone please tell the real estate developers seeding the city with luxury condos that they're going about this all wrong. Less horrible high-rises; more dark back alleys. Then we can sell them for the BIG bucks...until someone in Hollywood figures out they can outsource those "totally authentic New York City alleys" from Canada at half the price. Cinéma vérité!

Our Typecast Metropolis [WSJ]

[JDoll / @thisisjendoll]

Go to Runnin' Scared for all our latest news coverage.


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5 comments
Pearl Duncan
Pearl Duncan

The few alleys that are still left ungentrified in Tribeca are not alleys but one- or two-block streets like Staple Street.  Their charm is not the grit and grime but the fabulous mercantile loft-style colonial architecture, true gem from earlier colonial eras.  With the cobbled streets, cast iron or red brick loft facades, these buildings and streets are timepieces for period films.  I write about Tribeca, so it's awful seeing beautiful landmark-status buildings being demolished and replaced by schlocky, bland, modern condos, which have no architectural merit.http://newyork.nearsay.com/nyc... 

Pearl Duncan
Pearl Duncan

The few alleys that are still left ungentrified in Tribeca are not alleys but one- or two-block streets like Staple Street.  Their charm is not the grit and grime but the fabulous mercantile loft-style colonial architecture, true gem from earlier colonial eras.  With the cobbled streets, cast iron or red brick loft facades, these buildings and streets are timepieces for period films.  I write about Tribeca, so it's awful seeing beautiful landmark-status buildings being demolished and replaced by schlocky, bland, modern condos, which have no architectural merit.http://newyork.nearsay.com/nyc... 

Stephen Flanigan
Stephen Flanigan

Or.. here's an idea.. Hollywood location scouts could branch out a little.  Manhattan's pretty well gentrified, but cities upstate and across the region still have plenty of dark alleys and tons of neglected tenement type flats and those 19th century mills that, on the small scale, can easily capture the aesthetic they're looking for.  I photograph them all the time, but they have no interest in looking in a Schenectady, a Gloversville, Utica or Elmira for that sort of look.  Pity, because those movies could incorporate a lot of cities that could REALLY use the fees and income from a day or two shoot. 

nycscout
nycscout

We'd love to, Stephen, but we can't. Union rules keep up within a 30 mile radius of Manhattan for one thing, and a lot of towns outside of New York have restrictive ordinances that limit hours of filming, truck parking, etc, which don't work for the way modern films are made. We do definitely go to Westchester and Nassau County pretty regularly, but if you've got a perfectly good if overshot alley in Manhattan, most producers would be fired for spending the extra tens of thousands it would cost to move the production 20 miles north to have a slightly different version.

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