On location Television: From sunny gardens to neighborhood bars to dingy alleys, "Homicide" introduces the rest of the TV-watching nation to Baltimore.

November 17, 1996|By Beth Reinhard | Beth Reinhard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

They are the real estate agents of "Homicide," searching for the perfect kitchen, garden or street corner where, more often than not, a body will be found.

Location manager Kathi Ash and production designer Vince Peranio cruise the city two days a week in a green Ford Aerostar van, scouting locations to rent or borrow -- from the rowhouses of Highlandtown to the alleys of Pigtown -- for the Baltimore-based NBC television drama.

"I look at this show as a documentary of Baltimore," said Peranio, a veteran of John Waters movies who grew up in South Baltimore. "I don't want the show to look like L.A."

Like beat cops patrolling a neighborhood, Ash and Peranio drive up and down city streets. They knock on doors and ask residents or business owners for a peek inside.

Sometimes they're looking at city landmarks like the Bromo Seltzer Tower or the Peabody Conservatory; other times they're considering a rundown housing project for a shoot.

"Once we were looking for a crack house for the show and ended up in a real one," Ash said. "There are times when we feel a bit nervous, but we wouldn't be doing our job if we just went to the pretty places."

The location they choose has to jibe with the director's vision for a particular episode and be close to other filming locations to minimize the number of times the crew has to move.

A coming episode calls for a murder in a Korean grocery store, so on a windy, sunny morning, Ash and Peranio scour the neighborhood around the selected location -- the Flag House Courts recreation center on South Exeter Street.

Ash, a 30ish, petite woman in a short skirt and tights, and 51-year-old Peranio, lean and comfortable in baggy corduroys and a "Homicide" baseball cap, visit six grocers that day. At several of the stores owned by Asian immigrants, explaining their mission is difficult.

"It's a television show on Channel 11. Maybe you've seen it?" Ash asks one puzzled store owner.

"A murder? In my store?" demands another owner.

"It wouldn't be you," Peranio assures him.

"Murder can be a bit of a hard sell," he notes.

After a location is chosen, Peranio and the show's decorator may totally revamp it to fit the look of the scene. Walls may be painted, pictures hung and furniture rearranged. Christmas decorations may need to come down, since a scene filmed in December will appear on the show long after New Year's.

As many as 100 people and a two-block-long assortment of trucks come to each location.

"We're like a big crazy army invading these people's lives," Peranio said.

Perhaps no neighborhood has been invaded as much as Fells Point, where much of the filming occurs and where the heart of the show -- a phony police headquarters -- has become a waterfront landmark.

"Homicide" has virtually taken over Recreation Pier on Thames Street, transforming its old ballroom into a squad room with paper-piled desks and a board on the wall listing fictional murder victims.

Built about 1914, the building has served both recreational and maritime needs over its history. Designed by Theodore Wells Pietsch, the pier beckoned sailors with its lights spelling "City Pier Broadway."

Some Fells Point residents have grumbled about filming that requires sporadic street closings, but most people Ash and Peranio come across are delighted to lend their home or business to the show.

"It was like a dream come true," said Barbara Enders, whose Stirling Street rowhouse was used as the home for a murder victim's husband. "This show has a very special place in my heart."

"It's so much fun to be part of it," said Carolyn Brownley, whose Fells Point home belongs to Detective Frank Pembleton on "Homicide." Her home has been filmed nearly a dozen times. "I still get silly whenever I see my house on TV."

Private owners who let "Homicide" film on their property must sign an agreement that gives NBC the rights to the photography. They receive a fee from $50 to $500 per episode, depending on how long filming takes and how much the owner is inconvenienced.

Peranio and Ash try to sample different neighborhoods to avoid disturbing one community too often.

"We'll never run out of places to shoot," Peranio said. "There's always a place we've never seen before for a body dump."

Life on the streets

Vince Peranio, production designer for "Homicide," lists some of his favorite Baltimore filming locations:

Favorite bar: Waterfront Hotel Restaurant at 1710 Thames St. This is the wood-paneled bar owned by Detectives Bayliss, Munch and Lewis on the show.

Favorite building: The old American Brewery at 1701 N. Gay St. This stone, brick and iron relic from 1887 evokes the era when Baltimore was known for its many brands of beer.

Favorite church: Lovely Lane United Methodist at 2200 St. Paul St. Designed by famed 19th-century architect Stanford White, the Romanesque domed church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its congregation dates to 1772.

Favorite residential block: The 2600 block of Wilkens Avenue. The 1,180-foot block of 54 orange-brick homes is the longest uninterrupted block of rowhouses in the city. The homes were built in 1912.

Favorite cemetery: Mount Auburn in Westport. Founded in 1873, Mount Auburn is Baltimore's oldest black cemetery. Some of Maryland's most prominent African-Americans are buried in the 33 acres, including world boxing champ Joe Gans.

Favorite diner: Jimmy's at 801 S. Broadway. The brick-walled diner with red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and a counter serves breakfast anytime. Owner Nick Filipidis' parents opened Jimmy's in the mid-1940s.

Pub Date: 11/17/96

LTC

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