What do “Spider-Man,” “Sex and the City,” “Friends” and the season-two opener of the CBS legal drama “All Rise,” which aired last week, have in common? All four prominently feature a tucked-away section of the Warner Bros. Studio backlot known as “Tenement Alley.” The small urban streetscape, situated in the northeast corner of the Burbank production facility, was originally constructed as part of the New York-themed Hennesy Street set for the 1982 big screen musical “Annie.”
The massive 13,000-square-foot “block,” which took five months to complete, was created by Academy Award-winning production designer Dale Hennesy on the site of what was then a decaying ramshackle span of buildings known as “Tenement Street.” Gutting and re-imaging the entire venue, Hennesy built an extraordinary cityscape boasting a length of 270 feet and a width of 25, as well as façades towering four stories above the pavement below. According to “Annie’s” Official Movie Souvenir Program, it was the largest outdoor set to be built at Warner Bros. since the castle for 1967’s “Camelot.”
The many storefronts, apartment houses, and buildings lining the block were built as practical sets, meaning both the interior and exterior are functional for filming. So practical is Hennesy Street, in fact, that not only are the fire escapes real (they were repurposed from actual New York buildings), but each was installed via OSHA guidelines to allow for use during “Annie’s” many musical numbers. The site is also capped by façades at each end to accommodate shooting from all angles.
Recognizing the future filming possibilities of such an extensive and unique set, Warner Bros. footed half the $1 million construction bill with the intention of keeping it intact for subsequent productions to utilize. When Hennesy passed away unexpectedly in the midst of the “Annie” shoot in 1981, the sprawling cityscape was named in his honor. And thus, Hennesy Street was born.
Today, the highly versatile backdrop stands largely as it did when it was originally built almost four decades ago, a testament to Hennesy’s lasting legacy in the world of film. It is also one of the busiest areas of the Warner Bros. lot, largely thanks to Tenement Alley, which sits at Hennesy Street’s southeast tip.
For more Dirt on Tenement Alley from “All Rise,” click over to the gallery.