My neighborhood isn't Georgetown. It just plays it in the movies.
At least it did last week, when a few blocks in Bolton Hill, a Victorian enclave in downtown Baltimore, became the set for a thriller starring Nicole Kidman. She plays a psychiatrist who lives in the District at 31st and P streets NW. And so for a time, we -- sort of -- lived there, too.
As the film crew took down signs for West Lanvale and Bolton streets and replaced them with 31st and P, my neighbors and I joked that our houses -- late 19th-century rowhouses, mostly, with a farmhouse on the corner -- had just shot up by about $500,000, which is about how much more they'd cost if they were plunked down in the real Georgetown. I was kidding about a windfall, of course, but it got me thinking: Does being the Hollywood stand-in for tony Georgetown have any lasting effect on the price of real estate in workaday Baltimore?
Well, no. The value of real estate role-playing is probably more anecdotal than financial, a couple of local agents told me, which struck me as a nice way of saying, "Dream on."
"There's probably no lasting value, at least not for individual houses," said Lynn Chambers, the agent who in 2003 helped me buy a rowhouse built in 1890. She did say, though, that the movie will mean "a perception change for the neighborhood that's probably less local than regional. When people see the film, it adds to the cachet of the neighborhood and of Baltimore." Except, of course, that they won't know it's Baltimore.
Still, the stories that we all take away from the filming might be somewhat marketable, said Eva P. Higgins, who has sold Bolton Hill real estate for 25 years. "Buyers love knowing about that sort of thing," she said, and playing Georgetown "is very flattering. But we can't all be Georgetown." I took that to mean that the real-life lore of a house or a neighborhood is both priceless and worthless.
Okay, so we'll forget about Georgetown cachet rubbing off on our bottom lines. The filming put some loose change into the pockets of many of my neighbors, anyway, and masquerading as Georgetown was a kick. In the movie as in real life, it was October, and Nicole (we saw her so often for those few days that we began to think of her on a first-name basis) would be taking her young movie son trick-or-treating. So our blocks were lavishly costumed with scary decorations, harvest vegetables and every chrysanthemum in Baltimore.
My house was considered "deep background," a set designer told me, so all it got was a large purple mum and a pumpkin on the front steps, corn stalks tied to the tree out front and a "boo hoo" scary ghost banner plunked into the sidewalk tree well. We weren't paid for allowing the film people to dress up our house, though we did get to keep the mum and the pumpkin.
Some neighbors -- the ones who could barely see out their windows what with all the spider webs, pumpkins, witches and goblins -- were paid $100 to $200 for their trouble and were asked to leave lights on inside during nighttime shoots of the street outside.
The true bragging rights went to the homeowners whose houses are featured in the film, "The Visiting," which is yet another remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Carolyn Karr, whose three-story, pale-green brick rowhouse was the stand-in for the exterior of Nicole's house, was paid $2,000 for allowing several short scenes to be filmed there. As it happens, Carolyn used to live in Georgetown, near 31st and Q streets NW. Like many of us, she fails to see a strong physical resemblance between the two neighborhoods.
A larger, red brick house a couple of blocks away became the interior of Nicole's house, and filming and prep work there took nearly a month. Its owners and their two children had to move out for part of that time, but it was worth it -- they were paid something like $30,000 plus lodging expenses (they'd rather not say exactly).
"We were flattered that they liked our house," Ellen Lupton said. "But then they took away all our furniture, all our art. They drain your house of color. They turned it into the 'beigeoisie' -- everything went to beige: the walls, the sofa, the curtains. And then in the end, they turn it all back."
Ellen said it felt like a very short love affair: "The location manager is romancing you and telling you how much fun it is going to be and all about the improvements they're going to make and how careful they're going to be. Then the crew arrives, you sign the contract, you get out of the way. And you're not going to meet Nicole Kidman."
Hardly anyone did, though we all became blase about seeing her cross the street or approach a front door over and over, in take after take. But given that she spent a week filming in Ellen's house -- hanging out in her kitchen, filming the big horror scene in her front hallway -- mightn't some of that Hollywood panache, that star power, rub off on Ellen's house? Doubtful.
Valerie Olson's 1850s farmhouse fronts the corner of Lanvale and Bolton streets (or "31st and P") and will likely show up in the several scenes that were shot just beyond her fence, such as the one where the small boy trick-or-treating is bitten by a dog and falls right where Valerie usually puts out her trash. But she's sure there won't be any uptick in the house's prestige or value once it hits the multiplex: "Tennessee Williams ate dinner here in my dining room, and that hasn't added to the value either," she said.
The days of Nicole were sunny and unseasonably warm. There was a festival-like sense among the neighbors, who were milling about the set at all hours, taking photos under the floodlights, admiring the lavish look of the place, admiring ourselves. With so much foot traffic day and night, there was an added sense of safety. The film company left a security guard on the corner all night, but it seemed unnecessary; the decor stayed up for nearly a week.
Then, in a single morning, the crew struck the set. The temperature dropped. The skies turned cloudy. The cherry picker that had held the massive lights that blazed all night was stuck on the side of the road, out of gas, tying up three parking spaces for the rest of the week. The fantasy was over.
A couple of mornings later, my movie pumpkin was snatched from the front step and smashed with a couple of others in the street.
And then I noticed that on the corner that was 31st and P, only one of the old street signs is back up on the post. "Lanvale" is there, but "Bolton" is missing. I ask around: Didn't the movie people replace our signs? They tried to, I'm told. But while the set dresser was up on the ladder screwing in one sign, the other was stolen from the sidewalk below -- taken, no doubt, by someone who wanted a reminder of the crazy bright days when our little corner was a star.
About 200 crew members descended on Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood to make the film "The Visiting," which stars Nicole Kidman.
Rowhouses at Bolton street and Lollipop Lane were lavishly decorated for a trick-or-treating scene.
Set designers said anything less than over-the-top, outdoor Halloween decorations, such as this bat hanging from a tree on Bolton street, would be too subtle for nighttime filming.