Reel Estate

Reel Estate: "You've Got Mail" (and a suspiciously nice Upper West Side rental)

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When a movie or TV show is set in New York City—and if the people making it are savvy—real estate becomes part of the story itself. In Reel Estate, we look at some of the more memorable domiciles to grace the screen.

What is Valentine's Day if not for watching 17-year-old rom coms, and stalking their characters' impossibly nice pre-war apartments? Such was our logic in revisiting You've Got Mail, which is as much of a love letter to a certain oh-so-90s version of the Upper West Side as it is to, well, love letters.

It's both a classic story and one oddly prescient of New York's recent wave of small business casualties: Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) runs a bookstore mega-chain that opens a branch on the Upper West Side, and in the process, drives a beloved children's bookstore run by Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) out of business. After meeting in an over-30 AOL chatroom where they quip about things like fussy Starbucks orders (again, it was the '90s), the pair become email pen pals, not realizing each one is trying to destroy the other's business. As Untapped Cities points out, Fox Books was an obvious stand-in for Barnes & Noble, which, ironically, has since been forced to close its huge branch near Lincoln Center along with hundreds of other stores, though it does still have a location in the West 80s.

In any case, Kathleen lives in the kind of dreamy, shabby-chic Upper West Side pad that befits the heroine of a Nora Ephron movie; it's cozy and aspirational, but not Nancy Meyers-level ostentatious. (Design*Sponge even has a guide on decorating like Kathleen, if you're so inclined.) Let's have a look:

(Photo credits: Hooked On Houses and Cann Enhance)

If you find yourself feeling bad about your lack of high ceilings or giant windows, don't. Most of the interiors were filmed on a New Jersey sound stage, notes On The Set of New York, with a real Upper West Side brownstone used for the exterior shots. And while we've seen carping in a few different blog posts as to why an indie bookstore owner could afford an entire brownstone, it would seem that she's just got one apartment in the building. In one scene, she spies on her boyfriend through her front door's peephole, which clearly indicates that she doesn't have the entire building to herself. (Or if she does, she's making some creepy decor choices.)

(Photo credit: On The Set of New York)

The building itself is 328 West 89th Street, a brownstone that is, indeed, split up into seven units; a one-bedroom in the building was listed in the fall of 2013 for $2,295 a month, according to StreetEasy. Pricey, yes, but not totally out-of-reach, and likely much cheaper in the pre-Bloomberg years.

As for Joe, he lives nearby in a comparably sized, if more modern spread (there's even an espresso machine. Heavens!). The exterior was filmed at 210 Riverside Drive, a pre-war co-op where a one-bedroom was recently listed at $3,850 a month. You'd think there'd be a bigger difference in lifestyle between Hanks' hard-nosed corporate CEO and Ryan's quaint independent business owner, but the apartments do seem reasonably realistic for both of them.

After getting stuck for an hour in his building's old elevator, Joe breaks up with his girlfriend, and moves on to his boat at the 79th Street Boat Basin (where rents run a few thousand dollars per season, a relative deal).  At the same time, Kathleen ends both her relationship and her business, and after a long, contentious back-and-forth, well, you can guess what happens. Here's hoping Joe held onto that boat in case they both need a place to move after Fox Books gets driven out of business by Amazon.


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