Berlin on the Hudson: Pan Am Lands in Audubon Park

Vintage cars lined up on RSD the night before Pan Am shoot
Film crews visit the Audubon Park Historic District so often, we’ve become quite blasé about being a set, except for the irritations. Since most filming is in an apartment or perhaps a hallway in one of the buildings in the historic district, beyond the eyes of the curious, mildly-curious, or ostentatiously uninterested, our main exposure to filming is the semis and trailers parking outside our windows from 5:00 A.M. until well after midnight, the wheeled wooden boxes crowding lobbies and hallways, and the hordes of assistants telling us we can not cross the street, can not enter the building, and can not under any circumstances make noise – any noise. So, considering the tepid welcome we usually give film crews, we might be excused for assuming when we saw notices for a shoot late last summer – something called Pan Am– that we were in for a couple of days of movie hell.

Our first clue that this was not a routine shoot came on a Wednesday night when the cars arrived: a dozen vintage VWs and Vespas along with a sporty looking coup, a VW van, and some sort of truck parked along Riverside Drive. Except for the admonition that we could not touch, we could give them a close-up inspection.

Riverside Drive and 157th transformed to
Belziger und Gothaer (with locals passing through)

The next morning, the transformation – and the fun – began. The semis and trailers arrived as usual, but they parked on side streets, leaving the intersection of Riverside Drive and 157th where the Grinnell and Riviera meet, conspicuously open. Then, while one crew dropped a phone booth over a mail box – and not just any phone booth, but one labeled in German (Fernsprecher) – another replaced the 157th and Riverside street signs with Belziger Str. and Gothaer Straße and a loudspeaker. A little later, “movie chairs” appeared along the sidewalk in front of the Riviera, reserving seating for Kate, Collette, Laura, and Maggie. An outdoor shoot! We hadn’t had one of these since Gloria gunned down the mafia thugs and caused the spectacular car crash in 1979. Well, maybe a couple, but certainly none as exciting as that.

Those of us on the way to work figured we would miss all the excitement, but when we returned home in the late afternoon, we found that Riverside and 157th was still decked out as Belziger Str. and Gothaer Straße. As shooting time approached, efficient (and very courteous) assistants asked the locals to vacate the set, assuring us we could watch from across the street, and a costumed crowd gathered in front of the Riviera, ready to cheer as a VIP drove by in a limousine. After a few takes, it was over and a crew began setting up lighting for an interior shoot at the Grinnell.

Filming for Pan Am

Lighting technician provides “daylight” for an interior
shoot at the Grinnell

Filming lasted through the evening, but the goodwill generated earlier in the day carried over and silenced the usual grumbling and complaints about noise and inconvenience.

If you’ve been following Pan Am since its premiere on September 25th, or even if you haven’t, but have seen previews of this week’s show, you’ll know that the glamorous Kate, Collette, Laura, and Maggie are on their way to Berlin where JFK is about to make an important speech. Maggie had campaigned for the president and is determined to meet him … tune in to see what happens – and to see Audubon Park transformed into Berlin.

A couple of weekends after the shoot, signs appeared in all the local buildings, inviting the entire neighborhood to an afternoon of free icecream as a thank you from the production company, a really nice gesture from a crew that is welcome back any time.

Link to episode: Ich bin ein Berliner
Exterior scenes shot in Audubon Park are about 10 minutes into the show, mostly around the oval with a great shot of the Grinnell at the beginning, and then street-level shots of Craigmoor Dwellings, Riviera, and 157th Street (Kanawah Court and Hortense Arms). Kate’s hotel room is a Grinnell dining room.

Publicity stills: Ich bin ein Berliner photos