It’s not often that you get a chance to walk around in your own imagination.
Let me explain: Ever since it first premiered in 1993, I have been a massive, MASSIVE fan of Homicide: Life on the Street.
The writing, the acting, the characters, the cinematography, its use of music… I loved it all. It’s one of my favorite television series of all time. And it gave us Richard Belzer as Detective John Munch, TV’s Crossover King.
Homicide was based on the Edgar Award-winning nonfiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, where he spent a year documenting the Baltimore Homicide Unit, following them on cases, and dispelling many of the illusions we have about cops from movies and TV. The book caught the eye of director and Baltimore native Barry Levinson, who slightly fictionalized the detectives and the crimes they investigated into Homicide: Life on the Street. The show premiered 25 years ago today: January 31, 1993, after Super Bowl XXVII. It was a high quality show, getting critical praise right from the start, ultimately earning a total of three Peabody Awards and an Emmy for Andre Braugher.
But even with that critical recognition, Homicide‘s lot in life is that it’s constantly, constantly been overshadowed. When it was on the air, it was overshadowed by the flashier and much higher-rated NYPD Blue. After Homicide ended in 1999, Richard Belzer and his character of John Munch moved over to the new show Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, where he stayed for a staggering fifteen seasons, more than twice the time he was on Homicide. So it’s no wonder that more people know Munch from SVU than Homicide.
And in 2002, along came that other crime show set and filmed in Baltimore: HBO’s The Wire.
The Wire caught the zeitgeist that always eluded Homicide, and consequently, Homicide is now the second show people think of when they think of Baltimore crime shows produced by David Simon. And as great as The Wire is, that’s a shame.
Heck, Homicide is so underappreciated that it isn’t currently available on any streaming services in the U.S. Which in a weird way, makes me love the show even more. I love an underdog, I guess. And even though I only live a few hours away from Baltimore, I never took the opportunity to take a road trip out there to see some of the Homicide filming locations when the show was still on the air.
So when I made an impromptu trip to the Baltimore Comic Con last September, I knew that there was something I just had to do after the Con: run over to Fells Point and finally see the place where they shot one of my all-time favorite television shows. I may not be able to visit the 221B Baker Street that Conan Doyle wrote about, and I may not be able to walk around the real sets of Star Trek (although I came close), but damn it, I can still see the place where Frank Pembleton, Tim Bayliss, John Munch, Meldrick Lewis, Mike Kellerman, and all the rest came to life.
The Fells Point neighborhood isn’t too far from the Baltimore Convention Center, and I was able to find it without too much trouble. Thames Street in Fells Point has a nice homey atmosphere, a sort of friendly neighborhood vibe in the middle of a major city. I particularly like the brick streets. Before too long, I spotted the place where Homicide filmed for seven seasons: Recreation Pier.
I eventually found a parking garage and walked back over to Recreation Pier, and again, except for some banners, it looks pretty much the same as it did back in the 90s. From a distance, the basic structure of the building still looks the same. But as you’ll see in a second, it’s been pretty extensively renovated.
You see, in the last year or so, Recreation Pier has been transformed into a high-end luxury hotel, the Sagamore Pendry.
I talked to the valet up front, and asked her about the filming history there. She said that The Wire had been shot there in addition to Homicide, which I don’t think is true, but whatever (You see what I mean about H:LOTS always being unappreciated?). I asked if it was okay for me to wander around the public areas a bit, and she said it was fine as long as I didn’t disturb any of the guests.
The door on the left was the main entrance to the Station House on the series, and except for the addition of a canopy, it looks more or less the same as it did from 1992-1999, when Homicide was shooting there.
I have to admit, I got goosebumps when I started to climb up the steps myself, even though they looked very different than they did on the show. Just the thought that this is where it all happened excited me.
There’s no longer a reception desk at the top of the stairs, and the space around the main hall is basically a cocktail area. I sadly couldn’t poke my head in to the area that was once the Homicide squadroom, as there was a private event going on. I think it was a wedding reception. Near as I can tell, the space has been transformed back into what it originally was: a ballroom.
So yeah, the Station House is looking pretty different these days. Fortunately, there’s another Homicide shooting location right across the street that is largely unchanged: the Waterfront.
The Waterfront, as you might recall, was the bar bought by Tim Bayliss, Meldrick Lewis, and John Munch in season three that became the regular hangout of the Homicide Unit. It’s a real bar and hotel that was a hangout for the Homicide cast & crew, and the owners were nice enough to let it be used as a filming location.
Unlike Recreation Pier, the Waterfront still looks much the same as it did on the series, inside and out.Here’s the view right as you walk into the Waterfront. I half expected to see Kyle Secor or Richard Belzer working the bar.Like the Fells Point neighborhood overall, the Waterfront has a nice low key, friendly vibe. Not too crowded or noisy.If you look at the center behind the bar, you may remember that that was where Homicide had a photo of Bayliss, Lewis, and Munch dressed in old-timey police uniforms.Today, it’s been replaced by a skull, which has an appropriate spooky vibe.
Here’s the back room, where you might remember Lennie Briscoe hustling Munch at pool during the first Law & Order/Homicide crossover:
I hadn’t eaten dinner yet when I got to the Waterfront, so I ordered a burger, fries, and a cider. Good stuff.
I made a point of ordering a Natty Boh, a local Baltimore brew that I remembered Frank Pembleton ordering a shot of in the first L&O/H:LOTS crossover episode. If I remember correctly, I don’t think it’s being brewed in Baltimore itself any more, though.
I talked to the bartender a bit while I was eating my meal, and I asked him about the renovations of Recreation Pier into the Sagamore. I was particularly curious about one part of the old Homicide set I didn’t see on the outside by the parking area: a plaque commemorating the fact that the building once served as the set of Homicide. It didn’t seem to be relocated to a more discreet location, either. Was it still around anywhere?, I asked.
“Oh, that was the first thing to go!” the bartender said good naturedly.
Personally, I think that’s a shame. I get that the plaque might not fit with the high end image the hotel wants to project, but that doesn’t mean that you should throw out the building’s entire history. To a large number of people, the Sagamore will always be the place where Homicide was shot, and I feel that that fact should be commemorated. To do otherwise is disrespectful to the hundreds of people who worked on Homicide and all time and effort they put into it. If someone connected with the Sagamore happens to read this, I hope they reconsider and put the plaque back.
Upstairs on the second floor, the Waterfront has a more upscale bar/lounge area.It’s a bit quieter than the main bar area below, and I imagine it would be a perfect place for a private party.The walls are filled with lots of cool black & white photos of musicians, and it has a nice, relaxing vibe.As I explored up on the third floor, I was amused to see a poster for the upcoming Fell’s Point Festival, which I remembered was mentioned on Homicide where Meldrick Lewis met his wife, Barbara Shivers. Everywhere I looked, I was seeing connections to the show.The third floor had a smaller bar area & tables, which weren’t too crowded, even though it was a Saturday night.The center area on the third floor was open, allowing you to look directly down at the bar on the ground floor.Here’s the first floor from the POV of the stairs.After I finished my meal and stepped outside, I took a few more pictures of Recreation Pier from across the street. Here’s the right side of the building. If I have the geography of the Homicide sets right, that large window on the second floor would be where the detectives had their coffee room.Here’s the left side of the building, with the main entrance area again. Again, it’s not too tough to imagine Pembleton & Bayliss charging inside, working on a case and getting on each other’s nerves.Around the corner from the main entrance, there’s water on the left hand side of the building. It must be gorgeous during the day.
Here’s the right side of the building. You can see where the hotel rooms were built behind the main building.
During the Homicide days, there was a small playground behind the station house overlooking the pier. You often saw the detectives go out there to have private conversations or a heart to heart.
I wasn’t able to walk around that area, of course, but it was cool to see it, even from a distance.
Overall, it was fun to finally see the filming location of Homicide myself, even though it’s changed quite a bit over the years. I wish I’d done it back when the show was still filming.
So Happy 25th Anniversary, Homicide! Here’s hoping you get more of the recognition you’re due in the next 25 years.
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See you next week!