An ABC television crew has swooped into Prince George's County to film an episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," for which an army of designers and construction workers will toil round-the-clock for a week to build a dream home for a Capitol Heights woman and her eight children.
They got off to a roaring start yesterday morning, demolishing Veronica Ginyard's dilapidated two-bedroom home to make way for a three-story, six-bedroom house. But even before they started, the crews got a rough reminder of Prince George's crime problems.
The wife of a crew member was beaten with a gun Saturday morning during an armed burglary in the lobby of a Largo hotel where some in the crews were staying. A man demanded and received money from the front desk of Extended Stay America and then beat the woman in the face before leaving the hotel off Central Avenue near the Capital Beltway, Prince George's police said. She was taken to a hospital, where she received a few stitches, police said.
The crew members, who were staying at the hotel and the Hampton Inn next door, packed their bags and are now staying at the more expensive Greenbelt Marriott.
Crime is not new to the two Largo hotels, where police said four burglaries have taken place in the past two years.
"I'm not going to comment on our hotels or any incidents that happen in our hotels," said Linda Wiley, a vice president for the Spartanburg, S.C.-based Extended Stay America chain. "We believe our hotels are safe."
County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) is working closely with ABC to ensure the crews' safety and is beefing up the police presence at the Marriott and at the construction site, county spokesman John Erzen said.
The show's executive producer, Denise Cramsey, said the crew was saddened but not entirely surprised by the attack. "We did know we were coming into a tricky area," she said. "Frankly, a lot of our homes . . . are not in the best areas."
The Emmy-nominated reality series sends producers across the country in search of families that need a new home. For its first episode in the Washington region, ABC selected the Ginyards, pointing to Veronica Ginyard's struggle as a 44-year-old single mother raising eight children, ages 10 to 17, including two sets of twins.
Ginyard's modest home on the southwest corner of Urn Street and Eden Avenue -- just outside the District line and a few blocks north of Pennsylvania Avenue -- had become hazardous, with exposed wires sticking out of the drywall, mold from constant flooding in the basement and holes in the walls and ceilings. Several of the children had makeshift bedrooms in the attic with no air conditioning.
Ginyard told producers that she recently hired a contractor to renovate parts of the home but that the contractor took her money and left without finishing.
"Nobody should live like that," said Allen West, president of Somerset Homes, the Charles County builder commissioned to oversee construction on the new home.
Filming began yesterday. Crews expected to lay a concrete foundation on the narrow corner lot last night and planned to begin building walls this morning. The home designs and construction plans are being kept secret from the family, which ABC sent to Disney World for a vacation. The Ginyards will return this weekend for the unveiling. ABC has not set an air date for the show.
Eduardo Xol, one of the show's celebrity designers, tried not to disclose any design secrets but said the home would have a clean, modern feel. The designers are still selecting furniture, fabrics and colors, as well as deciding on the exterior look and landscaping, he said.
The crews will shop at Sears, a sponsor of the show, and other area stores for supplies, appliances and furnishings. Storehouse Furniture has donated about 100 pieces worth $80,000 for this home, Storehouse President Caroline Hipple said.
Xol said the designers want to give the Ginyards enough space to live comfortably. The house will be significantly larger and more modern than the modest homes that dot the Capitol Heights neighborhood. "We try to maintain some sort of integrity with what's going on in this neighborhood," he said. "But it's going to be an extreme transformation for them."
The first day of filming drew a crowd of volunteers wearing blue T-shirts and white hard hats who stood in the searing heat to catch a glimpse of the action.
Four women from the Professional Association of Custom Clothiers arrived to help make curtains and bedspreads. They carried a basket of chocolate chip cookies, which quickly became a clue to their real agenda: to meet Ty Pennington, the show's jack-of-all-trades who is known to work shirtless.
"Everybody I've told asks if I'm gonna meet Ty," said Doralee Billings, 47, of Columbia.
"It would be un-American not to love Ty," her friend chimed in. Said a third woman, "Chocolate chip cookies open a lot of doors."
Staff writer Lisa de Moraes contributed to this report.