At Z Movies

ScreenZ: Alexandria Is for Film Lovers—And Filmmakers!

River Farm, part of George Washington’s five farms, was used as an Eastern Shore inn for No Way Out. Mount Vernon has been the setting for scenes in several films. (Photo Kelly MacConomy)

Alexandria, VA – As the next-door neighbor of the capital of the free world and hometown of our nation’s first president, Alexandria is a mecca for filming locations – both for the big and small screens. Given 275 years of history, there’s a treasure trove of cinematic time-tunneling exploration for Port City film buffs.

Most Alexandrians recall with mixed nostalgia the final curtain drop for Landmark Mall in the West End. Now razed for a state-of-the-art INOVA hospital center campus, the second Wonder Woman flick, set in DC, was filmed at the defunct shopping ground zero, recreated to represent 1980’s mall mania.

The fun but flawed flick starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal, and Kristen Wiig was also shot around Georgetown and downtown DC. The resurrection of favorite Landmark storefronts and the legendary Commander Salamander on Wisconsin Avenue in GTown redeemed the otherwise arcane and convoluted narrative. Nevertheless, Gadot and Pine always provide cinematographic good vibes.

For more substantive and engaging movies filmed in Alexandria going way back to 1986, the Kevin Costner-Gene Hackman-Sean Young thriller No Way Out had several scenes shot in the city. 101 Quay Street across from Founders Park was the pied-a-terre of Secretary of State David Bryce’s mistress, played by Young. The weekend Annapolis getaway for Susan (Young) and Tom Farrell (Costner) was River Farm. Their drive in the red Alpha Romeo convertible was filmed along the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Alexandria. They pass under the stone bridge.

This townhouse at 101 Quay Street by Founders Park was used for several scenes filming No Way Out. Stars Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, and Sean Young had scenes here. (Photo Kelly MacConomy)

Mount Vernon has hosted a few film productions over the years. In 1993’s crime thriller The Pelican Brief, based on the John Grisham novel, Denzel Washington has a clandestine rendezvous with Jon Lithgow at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The legal murder mystery also stars Julia Roberts, Sam Shepherd, and the omnipresent Stanley Tucci in a chameleonic character role.

The King Street mile in Old Town has been a popular spot for movie settings, including restaurants and three films shot at the Masonic Temple. (Photo Scott MacConomy)

National Treasure, Book of Secrets, directed by Jon Turteltaub (The Meg, Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping), spotlights Mount Vernon with more depth. The 2007 misadventures revisited by historian Ben Gates, played by the irrepressible Nicholas Cage, has the president’s (Bruce Greenwood) birthday party held on the Mansion House East Lawn. Gates boldly plans to kidnap the president at the party somehow. He cajoles Greenwood into taking a tour of the secret tunnels discovered in the wine cellar. They make their way to the old ice house, where he’s released after spilling the whereabouts of the Book of Secrets.

Mount Vernon still offers the National Treasure: Book of Secrets special tour, which takes you into the mansion’s basement where you can see the foundation stone recreated as the tunnel turnkey latch in the wine cave. The ice house exterior is also part of the tour.

Earlier in the soirée scene, Ben Gates arrives from the Potomac wearing a dive suit over his tuxedo. His fellow treasure hunter/historian father, played by Jon Voight, is seen faux fishing near the river bank along Mount Vernon in the Potomac’s Hunting Creek Cove when he’s forced away by Secret Service agents. For this scene, crews were set up for days at River Park along the GW Parkway and on a bike path opposite MV. Cage and Voight are joined by fellow Oscar winners Ed Harris and Helen Mirren.

A pivotal scene between Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks in Broadcast News was shot at Restaurant 219 on King Street. (Photo Scott MacConomy)

Some standout movies produced more than a few traffic jams in Old Town and around Port City. Best Picture and seven-Oscar sweeping Broadcast News used King Street for outdoor scenes. There’s even a plaque marking a pivotal reveal scene between Holly Hunter and the hilarious comedian Albert Brooks in a booth at the 219 Restaurant, a serious role that won Brooks a Best Supporting Oscar. William Hurt earned a Best Actor for his phlegmatic pretty-boy role as anchorman Tom Grunick. Jack Nicholson also appears to scene-steal in this brilliant, must-see love triangle set amid the melodrama of newsroom chaos.

Other notable films to screen with an ALX connection are Jackie, with Natalie Portman, and J. Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Both were nominated for multiple awards and filmed at the George Washington Masonic Temple. Book of Secrets shot its opening scene inside the historic auditorium.

Sydney Pollock’s Random Hearts, starring Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas, was filmed along King Street, at Cunningham Funeral Home, and Grace Episcopal Church. Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, a vaguely disguised autobiographical account of her failed marriage to Carl Bernstein of Watergate/WaPo fame, also visited Port City. The dated tragicomedy used  King Street for a restaurant rendezvous. Heartburn stars Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, and it was directed by Mike Nichols, so it’s still worth a view.

Be sure to stop by 110 N. Royal St. to pay homage to the actual office site of the Loving litigants’ legal lion Bernie Cohen, who prevailed before the US Supreme Court in the Loving v. Virginia decision. Cohen’s victory legalized interracial marriage. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Nega deliver elegant and evocative performances as Richard and Mildred Loving.

The Carlyle House on North Fairfax Street was the setting for the occupied Union hospital during the two seasons of PBS’s Mercy Street. (Photo Kelly MacConomy)

The historic Carlyle House, the home built by City trustee John Carlyle in 1753, was the film location of the hospital on the marvelous and short-lived PBS series Mercy Street, which ran for two seasons from 2016-2017. Starring Gary Cole, the drama told of the occupation of Alexandria by Federal troops who turned the mansion into a Union hospital. The actual hospital was the former bank building next door, but the stylish mansion proved to be more telegenic.

While Remember the Titans was not filmed in Alexandria due to director Boaz Yakin’s fears of overhead air traffic noise issues, the story is epic for Alexandrians. Denzel Washington and Will Patton portrayed two TC Williams (now Alexandria City High School) coaches:  Herman Boone and Bill Yoast. In 1971, they led the newly integrated Alexandria high school Titan football team to a State AAA championship victory.

The Pier Bar, next to the Tall Ship Providence, used in two Pirates of the Caribbean films, is a perfect place to enjoy libations before or after a tour and cruise. (Photo Kelly MacConomy)

For the avid Alexandria film aficionado and history buff, the Tall Ship Providence is steadfastly piloting the Potomac. The Providence served as a film location for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. The full-scale replica of the 12-gun, 110-foot sloop was the first warship to serve in the Continental Navy with Captain John Paul Jones in command. The Providence can be found docked at the Senator John Warner Maritime Heritage Center along the riverfront at the foot of Prince Street in Waterfront Park.

Not only can you get permission to come aboard for a tour, but you can also go on a sail or a theme cruise. Last month, the crew offered Pride Cruising and sunset sails. If a booze cruise makes you seasick, you can always tour the ship docked, then enjoy a portside libation at the adjacent Pier Bar. Hollywood on the Potomac isn’t an established Alexandria tour- yet! Until then, let The Zebra be your guide.

ICYMI: Archaeologists Find Cache of Bottles Buried at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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