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North Side theater is X-rated — for Hollywood

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By Bill Vidonic
Friday, July 16, 2010

More than one person passing the former Garden Theater in the North Side did a double-take Thursday, likely wondering whether a decade of working to rid the block of porn establishments suddenly reversed.

Workers replaced the neon on the old X-rated theater's dilapidated sign. Next door, a painter finished the words "Adult Books and Videos" on the old Apache Bar facade, while others put finishing touches on the Trenton Tattoo parlor, complete with neon lights and spray-painted graffiti.

"(Former) Mayor Murphy took a nap, and here's what happened," painter Darien D'Alfonso joked.

Turns out it's just movie magic.

A production crew for the film "One For the Money" starring Katherine Heigl is transforming the blighted city block into a seedy Trenton, N.J., street; filming starts Wednesday.

That means bringing the exterior of the Garden back to life and creating fake businesses, including a hoagie shop, from vacant storefronts.

"From our perspective, it's quite ironic, but at the same time it's exciting," said Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. "There are good positive things happening in that area."

The city spent millions in a lengthy legal battle to clear dilapidated buildings from the section of North Avenue near Allegheny General Hospital before it bought the Garden for $1.1 million in 2007.

"I think it's great if it's bringing the city some money," neighbor Laurie Charlton said about the movie production. "Everybody in the neighborhood is excited about this block coming back to life."

The Northside Leadership Conference is accepting redevelopment proposals for the Garden and surrounding buildings. A meeting about the redevelopment is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in the Children's Museum.

"It's a new day there soon," Doven said.

For a little while longer, though, it will look like the old days.

"I think it's kinda stupid," North Side resident William McCue said. "They could have just been here three or four years ago, and everything would have been open for them."

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