Ditmas Park

Tom Hanks ‘lives’ in this Ditmas Park house in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Bridge of Spies’

Eye On Real Estate

November 4, 2015 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Here's famed director Steven Spielberg lying on the street in this October 2014 photo. He's figuring out camera angles to film a “Bridge of Spies” scene in Ditmas Park. Photo by Tom Parker
Share this:

Welcome to Tom Hanks’ house in Ditmas Park.

His on-screen house, of course.

For four days last year, Tom and Elisabeth Parker handed over their beautiful Victorian Flatbush home to Steven Spielberg for the filming of his terrific new movie “Bridge of Spies.”

The famed director turned the Parkers’ century-old residence into Home Sweet Home for Oscar winner Hanks in his role as Brooklyn lawyer James Donovan, who negotiates a complicated spy swap during the Cold War.

“Steven Spielberg was incredibly gracious,” Elisabeth told the Brooklyn Eagle in a recent interview. “I felt like the house was in good hands.”

Hanks shares scenes in the house with Amy Ryan, who plays his on-screen wife Mary, and their on-screen kids — one of whom is played by Bono’s daughter, Eve Hewson.

DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 Pictures’ film is based on the true story of how Donovan negotiated the release of American pilot Francis Gary Powers from a Russian prison in exchange for convicted Soviet agent Rudolf Abel, played in a star turn by Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance.

Other film sites in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights

The Parkers’ house is one of several Brooklyn locations that caught our eye when we saw “Bridge of Spies” the other day. Here are some other locations fellow Brooklynites will recognize in the gripping film:

* DUMBO’s Adams, Plymouth, Water and Pearl streets at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge appear at the beginning of the movie, with the storefronts altered by old-fashioned awnings.

* In another scene, Hanks’ character stands outside the state Supreme Court Appellate Division building on Monroe Place in Brooklyn Heights.

* Hanks’ character goes walking on a rainy night along Pineapple and Hicks streets in Brooklyn Heights. Coleman Cleaners, a real-life business, is visible, along with a fake dress shop inside of present-day pet-grooming salon Perfect Paws.


Who’s that lying in the street?

The Parkers, who stayed at a nearby bed and breakfast with their two children during the October 2014 filming session at their house, had some memorable moments when they went home for visits.

One night, Tom Hanks surprised the Parkers’ kids by talking to them in the voice of Woody, his character in the animated “Toy Story” movies.

One day when everyone was prepping for a scene, Spielberg stepped over to a piano and started tapping out a tune, Tom Parker recalled. A crew member recognized it. It was the theme song to Spielberg’s blockbuster film “Jurassic Park.”

On another occasion, Tom Parker saw Spielberg lie down in the street — on the bare asphalt — to figure out some camera angles for filming the house. After a while, somebody brought Spielberg a blanket. He lay down on it and kept working.

The Oscar-winning director took the time to pose for pictures with the Parker family. The resulting cellphone snapshots looked pretty conventional. So Elisabeth and Tom asked if he would pretend to photo-bomb a pose for their Christmas card.

Spielberg enlisted one of his professionals to take the photo-bomb pictures. A few days later, a FedEx package with printed photos arrived at the Parkers’ house from Germany, where the filmmakers had gone to continue working on the movie. Spielberg signed one of the prints with a message: “Thanks so much for your house-pitality.”

Turning a Victorian house into a 1950s home

Film crew members made changes to the Parkers’ house so it would look just right for the time period in which “Bridge of Spies” takes place.

They painted the yellow house a stone-gray shade, which the Parkers picked out. The color looks pale blue in the movie.

They painted the entire house a single color because “they wanted it to be circa 1950s, not circa 1902, when the house was built,” explained Tom, who’s an associate director at Hirschl & Adler Galleries. Elisabeth is the international head of Christie’s rugs and carpets department.

Victorian house façades are often multi-colored. After the filming, Tom Parker worked with a consultant to pick out a historically appropriate hue, a complex greenish-gray, for the top floor of the two-story house. The first floor remains the color the filmmakers had painted it.

One of the many changes the movie crew made inside the first floor of the house was the temporary addition of metallic floral wall paper in the dining room.  

In the living room, the film crew installed trick windows made of sugar. When they’re broken, the pieces resemble real shards of glass.

The faux window panes added to the realism of a scene depicting a drive-by shooting.

The Parkers got a look at the real mess that the fake shooting caused. It was there when they returned home after the filming was over — with shattered fake windows, broken lamps and food all over the place. The film crew wasn’t allowed to strike the set until footage from the scene had been reviewed to make sure no additional filming was necessary.

Spielberg did not use the Parkers’ kitchen or their second-floor rooms for filming. Instead, a photographer took lots of pictures of paneling, doorknobs and other architectural details to help Spielberg’s set builders replicate the rooms on soundstages at Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

At the time of the filming, the movie’s working title was “St. James Place.”


Key grips and gaffers liked the open-floor plan

Advance material that DreamWorks issued about the film describes the Parkers’ house as “a beautiful, free-standing Victorian home full of charm and period detail, and with an open-floor plan, which was greatly appreciated by the key grips, gaffers and best boys.”

The material mentions that Hanks’ on-screen wife was intrigued by the house.

“I felt like I was a bit of a time traveler when I was on set,” Ryan said. “Whether I was walking down the street or moving throughout the house, it just felt like I was in the home of a perfect nuclear family, which in so many ways characterizes the Donovans.”

Before it was selected for Spielberg’s film, the Parkers’ house had appeared in Lena Dunham’s HBO hit series “Girls” and other TV series including “The Good Wife” and “Smash.”

Elisabeth and Tom didn’t find out until after agreeing to have their house used for Spielberg’s film that the high-profile director and Hanks were involved in it.

By the way, Tom Parker’s favorite Hanks film is “Apollo 13.”

“He comes across as the solid Everyman,” Parker said.

“I loved him in ‘Bosom Buddies,’” Elisabeth said. For those with short memories, Hanks starred in this TV sitcom at the outset of his career.


Donations for civic groups

Victorian Flatbush has become a busy venue for film and TV shoots.

The Parkers were mindful of the inconvenience that filming causes to neighborhood residents who don’t share in its economic benefits.

“Not everyone is enthralled by the notion of a film shoot,” Tom said. “I can understand their frustration.”

To help compensate for the inconvenience, the filmmakers donated money to the Ditmas Park Association and the Flatbush Development Corp., as the Parkers had stipulated in contract negotiations.

Some neighbors received fees for parking period-appropriate cars in their driveways during the filming.

The Parkers have lived in Ditmas Park since 2007.

The 1981 Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report for the Ditmas Park Historic District calls their home “one of the finest houses in Ditmas Park.”

When they decided to move out of Manhattan, the Parkers chose Ditmas Park as their new neighborhood because “it’s for people who want the space and charm of a suburban setting, but aren’t willing to move to the suburbs,” Tom said.

“We’ve always loved great houses and great spaces,” he said. “We’ve always loved the authenticity of an old house.”

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment