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‘100 Centre Street’ set to be moved to Astoria

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For now, however, the only suggestion of the transformation is a small wooden sign with “100 Centre Street”...

By Dustin Brown

In two months, a step inside the warehouse at 4-15 26th Avenue in Astoria should give every impression that the true address is 100 Centre Street.

For now, however, the only suggestion of the transformation is a small wooden sign with “100 Centre Street” scrawled in black marker, hanging on the chain-link fence that encloses the property.

Since March, the facility has been rapidly turning into a television studio where the A&E series “100 Centre Street” will begin shooting in mid-June.

The popular program, named for the street address of Manhattan Criminal Court, focuses on two judges played by Alan Arkin and LaTanya Richardson, who oversee criminal arraignments. It was conceived and produced by Sidney Lumet, a celebrated director of more than 40 films, many of which were filmed in New York City.

“We felt very strongly that if we could find a place that wasn’t a studio but could be converted to something, it would be a benefit to the neighborhood it happened to be situated in,” said Steve Rose, one of the show’s producers.

The place they found is a warehouse owned by Parmatile owner James Vissas, who will lease the space to 100 Centre Street Productions year-to-year for three years.

The program’s first season began in January, and the last of its 13 episodes aired this month. Reruns of this season are currently shown on the A&E channel Mondays at 9 p.m.

Last year the show was primarily taped on a stage in Kaufman Studios, a television and film production center on 36th Street in Astoria.

The rest of the set occupied half the third floor of a government office building at 80 Centre Street — next to the Criminal Court the show is named for.

“All the windows look out onto 100 Centre Street and the park around it,” said Chris Nowak, the show’s production designer. “It was the right look for where we were supposed to be.”

Despite the added realism supplied by the location, shooting one door down from the show’s real-life setting was an expensive hassle that producers were anxious to eliminate. Camera and lighting equipment had to be hauled in hampers to the third floor, while wires ran down to a street side truck which housed the camera controls.

The new 30,000-square-foot studio is more than twice as large as the Kaufman stage, allowing all of the show’s sets to fit in a single space, which eliminates the need for the Manhattan site.

The change of address shouldn’t be apparent to viewers. The old sets will be moved or rebuilt in the new space, while sites in Queens will remain a frequent backdrop for location shoots.

“Much more than half of the locations we shot last year were here in Queens,” Nowak said. “We never say it’s Queens, but it was.”

Queens locations used in the program’s first season included Charlen Grocery at 32-02 34th Ave., Garon’s Travel Agency at 42-12 Broadway, apartments at 34-20 32nd St., and Astoria Heights Park on 30th Avenue.

“They represent our characters’ homes who don’t all necessarily live in Manhattan,” Nowak said. “In fact, a number of our characters very well might live in Queens. We don’t specifically say where it is.”

The company promises to return any site they use for shooting to “the same or better condition,” although location manager Daniel Strol acknowledged that having more than 100 members of a television crew tromping through a house can be more aggravating than homeowners realize. Still, Queens residents who hosted the show describe the shoot as a rare and exciting experience.

“It’s a pleasure — a breath of fresh air,” said Bob Shapiro, owner of the Walters Hardware store on 35-17 Broadway, where the show taped one scene last year. “When they packed up and left after being in my store for about half a day, I got depressed — it was such a high.”

Community leaders expressed enthusiasm about the project, which they say recalls the borough’s historical role as a hub of the early film industry.

“We’re doing everything we can to accommodate them with the necessary permits and the fixing-up of that neighborhood,” said George Delis, district manager of Community Board 1, which includes Astoria and Long Island City. “It’s an area that has pretty much been neglected, so I’m excited to see that they’re going into that area.”

The future studio is located in the Two Coves neighborhood of Astoria, a peninsula which juts into the East River between Roosevelt and Randalls islands.

“We’re very appreciative of all new business activity in the area,” said Rex Davidson, executive director at Goodwill Industries of Greater New York, whose headquarters are located one block from the studio. “We welcome ‘100 Centre Street’ to the area, and we’re hoping that we can expose some of our kids that are in the youth program to the film.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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