On a frigid winter evening in New York City, a lone woman is standing in the middle of Perry Street, braving the cold – gloveless – to secure a perfect picture of the apartment in front of her.
From afar, the apartment in Manhattan's West Village looks like all the other brownstones next to it: tall, brown, with a stately staircase and intimidating double doors. Up close, however, you can see the metal chain hanging across the staircase, and a sign reading: “PEOPLE TAKING PICTURES: Please do NOT go on the steps”. To the right of the stairs is a donation box, urging visitors to toss in their spare change for stray animals. A third sign blares: “Do NOT go on the staircase please.”
The woman is a French tourist, and the apartment is 66 Perry Street – the famed, fictional home of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. The sidewalk around it is nearly empty now, but during the day it will be packed with tourists. At night, drunken groups will stumble by, shouting “Carrie!” into the darkness. Some men have even been known to propose on the storied stone steps.
The French woman – a big fan of the show – is mid-photoshoot when a man bustles out of the apartment, interrupting her. He asks her to turn off the camera flash (Doesn’t she know how invasive that is?) and declines an interview with The Independent.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s real life apartment is around the corner, he says. Wouldn’t we like to see that instead?
Such is the daily struggle for countless New Yorkers, who live in homes suddenly made famous by movies and TV. A major hub for the film industry – and a generous bestower of tax credits – the Big Apple is a go-to location for hundreds of films per year. In the two years between 2011 and 2013, New York was home to more than 500 movies and 17,241 filming locations, according to the Mayor’s Office.
Many unsuspecting residents, meanwhile, have found their homes turned into a major tourist attraction – even years after the fact.
In 2014, 10 years after Sex and the City ended, the residents of 66 Perry St were surprised to find their home in the news again, when Ms Parker used the front steps of “Carrie’s” apartment to showcase her SPJ Collection shoe line. The residents were not pleased.
“I heard about the shoot,” Gerald Banu, president of the Perry Street Association, told Page Six at the time. “They didn’t get the permission from the owner. The situation with ‘SATC’ visitors is still very intense. People who live here get upset that the sidewalks are constantly jammed.”
But Lois Murray, an elderly woman living just half a mile away, doesn’t seem to mind the attention her own famous apartment brings. A former Episcopalian priest who spent most of her life in Colombia, Ms Murray welcomed this reporter into her handsome brick apartment.
She also had a frank assessment of the show that made her home famous.
“I don’t think most kids these days have even seen the Cosby Show!” she exclaimed.
For 13 years, the Cosby Show used Ms Murray’s Greenwich-Village apartment as the bustling, Brooklyn Heights home of the Huxtable family – or it least, as the exterior. The interiors were shot at NBC's Studio One in Brooklyn, and later moved to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.
Ms Murray is happy to regale visitors about the history of the house; from the park across the street (it used to be a graveyard) to the streets themselves (notice how they’re paved, not cobblestone, like the streets around them?) She is less interested in talking about the Cosby Show.
Tour groups still visit the house occasionally, Ms Murray said. She likes to watch them pass by, “like schools of fishes," from her floor-to-ceiling windows. The tour guides wave their hands wildly and the visitors pause briefly – but few bother to take pictures.
One day, Ms Murray said, she snuck into one of the tour groups, just to hear what the guide was saying. It can’t have been anything too impressive though. She doesn’t remember what he said.
A few blocks away, at the apex of Grove and Bedford Streets, Austin Cook says tonight is the quietest he’s ever seen the area. Mr Cook started working at The Little Owl – the restaurant located on the corner – three months ago. Since then, he says, there’s been a consistent stream of anywhere from two to 20 people standing outside, peering up at the apartment above.
The unremarkable beige, brick building is known to fans as the exterior of the Friends apartment, where Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe all congregated in the hit 90s sitcom. Mr Cook says people come into the restaurant every day asking about the apartment. Most of the time, he has to let them down.
“Lots of people want to go upstairs into the apartment,” he says. “They're so disappointed when they learn [the show] was shot on a soundstage.”
In fact, the restaurant itself is a disappointment to many tourists, who come expecting to see the Central Perk – the main coffee shop from the show.
"Then they realise that’s not real, either,” Mr Cooks says, “Because there's no way that could fit in this tiny space.”
Indeed, the infeasibility of these television apartments has become somewhat infamous. The New York Post recently calculated that the two-bedroom, one-bathroom Friend’s apartment would cost more than $4,000 a month to rent, if it actually existed. Carrie Bradshaw’s five-bedroom, three-bath pad, meanwhile, sold for $9.85m back in 2012. The buyer kept their name a secret.
In this way, New York’s famous homes are a bit like the city itself: The space a little tighter, the rents a little higher, and the neighbours a little less friendly than Hollywood would have you believe.
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