Spruce Hill: Hollywood Comes To West Philly As ABC Films Drama Pilot

Television crews occupied several blocks of Spruce and Locust Streets from March 11 to 17 as ABC filmed the pilot episode of its new drama TV series in and around a house on South 42nd Street.

City police, in cooperation with the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, placed parking restrictions on the south side of Locust Street and north side of Spruce Street from 40th to 42nd Streets. About a week before filming began, local residents found flyers explaining the restrictions on their car windshields.

The show is called How to Get Away With Murder and will star two-time Oscar nominee Viola Davis as law professor and criminal defense attorney Annalise DeWitt. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the show will focus on DeWitt and the students of her Criminal Law 100 class as they become “entangled in a murder plot that could rock their entire university and change the course of their lives.”

The pilot episode, which was also taped at Bryn Mawr College, was penned by Peter Nowalk, who also wrote for Grey’s Anatomy. The show is produced by Shondaland, the production company behind Scandal.

Part of the episode takes place in Professor DeWitt’s home, a three-story stone house (pictured above) that, in real life, belongs to Bettsy Mccoubrey.

“They’re using outside, three big rooms on the first floor and a stairwell and a bedroom on the second floor,” Mccoubrey said.

One of the many "No Stopping" signs placed on Locust and Spruce between 40th and 43rd Streets.
One of the many “No Stopping” signs placed on Locust and Spruce between 40th and 43rd Streets.

Mccoubrey, who has lived in the house since 1970, said that location scouts came to the neighborhood and liked the look of the homes, many of which were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“They left notes on all the doors and several of us called back,” she said. “They came to look at the house and decided after looking at a bunch of houses that they would like to film it in our house.”

Mccoubrey said she agreed to have the filming in her home because the filming would be good exposure for the neighborhood and good for Philadelphia in general. “Lots of employment, for example,” she said. “A lot of them are union jobs.” She expressed amazement at the sheer amount of work put into filming the episode. “There are people who worry about the colors and the furniture, and the people who move things in and out.”

The film crew was very friendly, said Mccoubrey, who lived in the house while filming was taking place. “Our children live sort of in the neighborhood, so I sometimes have gone to live with them,” she said. “But I have my room and I’ve had mostly all of the kitchen.”

Other neighborhood residents had similarly smooth experiences. “The filming was very close to our house, but it did not affect us at all,” said Clara Franzini, whose house is on the same block as Mccoubrey’s.

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However, some residents were inconvenienced by the filmings, particularly regarding the parking. Vicki McGarvey, a local parent, was displeased with the fact that parking restrictions were placed around the Penn Alexander School and the Parent-Infant Center child care facility.

“Since they have taken over all of the drop-off zones (which they aren’t even using most of the time), it has been a huge inconvenience to parents,” said McGarvey in an email.

Penn Alexander School, along with the Parent-Infant Center, is located on the 4200 blocks between Spruce and Locust Streets.
Penn Alexander School, along with the Parent-Infant Center, is located on the 4200 blocks between Spruce and Locust Streets.

“Personally, I would hope that the production company would make a sizable donation to the Parent-Infant Center’s scholarship fund in recognition of the hardship they have caused,” she said. “I hope the city will be more cognizant of issues like this in the future before granting these blanket ‘no stopping’ zones.”

Elena Zimmerman, who also lives on South 42nd Street, enjoyed the experience overall and hasn’t heard of anyone complaining. However, she encountered some trouble with parking as well.

“It was kind of tough,” she said. “I had to find a place to put the car for the days that (the street) was shut down. We just took the bus and the El everywhere.”

Mccoubrey also acknowledged the problem. “Parking is a big deal in this neighborhood,” she said. “They have put signs up saying no parking for certain periods, and people count on parking.”

For now, the taping is over, although the east side of South 42nd Street will continue to be under parking restrictions until March 28. If the pilot is picked up, ABC will create a construct of the house and the garden outside, Mccoubrey said. The pilot will air on ABC in late spring and many Spruce Hill residents are looking forward to watching it.

“It’s a great house and a great neighborhood,” said Mccoubrey. “So I think it’s wonderful for the neighborhood that this is happening.”


-All text and images by Nicole Gattone and Mark McHugh.

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