When I think of gritty cinematic streets and alleys, I think most of New York city and the Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, area where The French Connection car chase scene was filmed. [Check out Gene Hackman in action here]
Even better are places like Big Apple’s Cortlandt Alley, used to shoot segments of Men in Black, one of the TMNTs, Highlander, Gotham, Kate & Leopold, Boardwalk Empire, 9½ Weeks, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, and even The Smurfs. (Wikipedia)
What I hadn’t considered, until the beginning of this week, was how many iconic alleyways there were in California.
Searching for the perfect seedy Los Angeles back alley may sound like an odd way to spend one’s time—and even weirder considering I’m doing it from Michigan—but, having lucked upon an amazing shooting location some months ago [a historical mountain payphone] with preexisting lighting and plenty of production value … I was tasked by my director with finding a similarly cool and accessible spot which wouldn’t require a three-hour hike for cast and crew.
Where to begin …
According to Trust for Public Land (tpl.org) there are 900 linear miles of alleyway across the City of Los Angeles. An area which, combined, equals nearly three-square-miles.
So, armed with Google Street View, off I went.
Lemme tell ya, it hasn’t been easy.
Los Angeles isn’t know for its skyscrapers or even moderately tall buildings, or the type of architecture which lends itself to your stereotypical “movie alley.”
I was looking for old red brick, mounds of trash, graffitied dumpsters, wizened hobos, and the guy selling the big guidebook of inner-city clichés.
What I found was a lot of stucco, “no parking” signs, and tents on sidewalks. I come from northern Michigan, a place where there are few sidewalks and tents only exist in campgrounds.
Over and over I came across some neat little spots that, if not for chain links and rusty iron bars, might be perfect. I can only guess most of those gated alleys are of the private variety.
And, unfortunately, some of the best alleys would require burdensome travel times.
I even took a spin around Skid Row, which has the “seedy” elements but nothing that looked like a good old New York alley. Besides the fact that I’ve been advised this area is a hotbed of drugs, crime, and gang activity.
After a while, it didn’t seem like I was going to find anything useful.
But, after several hours of clicking and zooming, I can confidently point you to a number of taco restaurants, cannabis stores, and apartment complexes around the east side of downtown Los Angeles.
On a side note: if I ever make it to California, I’m getting a sweet potato taco from Guerrilla Tacos in the L.A. Arts District. They look delicious.
What with all the new construction and reclamation, some formerly seedy alleys now face modern apartment complexes and thriving businesses, and some alleys looked more like tourist attractions than lanes of ill repute. [See also Santee Alley below]
I finally did find four potential locations within our preferred filming area and another nearly dozen or so possible spots farther away than specified.
Of course, some of my favorite locations are a hop-skip-and-a-who’s-pitching-in-for-gas-money away … but I’ll leave that up to the nerds in accounting to worry about.
Here’s a cool shot from Werdin Place I really liked.
The sign reading: “Don’t even think of parking here” perfectly encapsulates the vaguely menacing flavor I look for in a good seedy alley, whether it be in New York City or Downtown Los Angeles.
Anyone with a recommendation on a good seedy movie-quality alley can email me at benjamingohs at gmail dot com.