As a Pittsburgh native, I was enthralled when I realized that Prime Video’s A League of Their Own was filmed in the surrounding areas around the city. Not only was I drawn into the story of these women passionately playing ball on their terms, but seeing your home city taken back in time is a surreal experience. Production designer Victoria Paul lovingly transformed Pittsburgh (and its surrounding areas) to a worthy place for the Rockford Peaches to call home.
I joked with Paul about how much Pittsburgh-ites love seeing their city on screen. League is such a fantastic showcase for it. Within the first few episodes, we are on Carson Street on the Southside, and we see Dee’s Cafe’s and the Benedum Center downtown. What made the Steel City so attractive for Paul and the series?
“The city, and the surrounding towns, was so rich for us,” Paul said. “There was so much from the mid-1800s, and Pittsburgh is essentially a brick city. You don’t have to go into downtown to bump into a lot of glass and steel. There was a lot there that was time capsuled for us, and there were some areas that were very alive like the Southside Flats on Carson Street. We shot Schwartz’s Market there. Take away all the signage, and the main thing we had to do was to make the aluminum and steel doors disappear. There was an invisible design layer that doesn’t hit you over the head. It helps you not be pulled out of the moment. In McKeesport, we did a scene where the girls’ bus pulls up and they go into a convent. It was a simple shot, but we did almost there. We covered some anomalies with greens, but the brick textures were very helpful for us.”
One of the most striking sets is the large, blue house where the Peaches reside when they are not on the field. A lot of time is spent on the large wraparound porch, and the large space has many rooms that the women begin to call their own. Some walls are painted a deep, forest green that reminds us of the green baseball field where the Peaches play–as if the game is always on their minds.
“That neighborhood had a lot of really well-preserved buildings from the late 1870s to the 1920s and there was the occasional horror story from the ’50s,” Paul said. “It was a pretty great street. That house was on a bit of a rise, so you could look up at it–I loved the presentational angle. It was this Victorian home on a quite literal yellow brick road. The interior was built on stage. We took some of the clues from the house, and we worked hard to match the front door and the windows since we had a lot of ins and outs. We built a gorgeous front door and gave it to them when we were done. That green was their palette. We called it stadium green, and we tried getting the exact shade into the house. In the stadium, we painted it, but then we spent weeks and weeks distressing it and sanding it and aging it. In the house, in the hallways, we get the more pristine version of that. That green was also upstairs in Carson’s bedroom. It kind of traveled throughout the house.”
For a baseball team, a locker room is a sacred space. The Peaches are the first female team to take over that room while the men are away, and to see how these women slowly make the cubbies their own throughout the first season is another layer of character to develop. It is one of Paul’s favorite spaces.
“What we started out with was the idea that, in real life, the locker room would be underneath the stadium,” she said. “It was important to me to get the stepped ceiling so it felt like we were under the stands, so on one side, there was the tunnel that leads up to the stadium. It allowed me to add in a row of high windows to bring that light in. It was the combination of the daylight-colored light coming in from high and some warm incandescent hanging fixtures. It was just lit so beautifully, and it all looked great in that lighting. It also lent itself to moodier moments where a player was left along in the locker room, so it could go pretty down without letting the actors disappear.”
When Carson stumbles upon a gay bar, it feels like she steps through a curtain to Oz like Dorothy does in The Wizard of Oz. With its low ceilings and dark lighting, it provides the women a sanctuary in its dark corners. Finding the right location was a perfect happenstance.
“That location, more than any others, was script dependent,” Paul said. “We need to know that she’s by the theater and we see her walk into the alley. That was already established before when they were excited to see the movie. It was very specific, and when we turned the corner beside The Benedum Center, we knew we found it.”
Paul’s biggest undertaking was the stadium where the teams play. You assume that it was a found location, but Paul and her team built the stunning stadium from scratch. The amount of distressing is staggering, and Paul infused it with not just history but a love of the game. It was one of the designer’s biggest bits of research, and its execution deserves nominations at every awards body it competes in. Every element–from the scoreboard to the signs in the outfield–
“One of the first things we had to establish was the size, and that was dependent on things like how many extras we could wrangle in period clothes. Would we have to do digital people? There was a lot of discussions initially of just how big the stadium needed to be. I did a lot of research on the wooden stadiums of that era. There’s one in Erie, Pennsylvania and another in Quakertown near Philadelphia and there are some in Ontario and Los Angeles. They were all around the size of stadium that we ended up with. Around seven hundred people would fit in there. While we were talking about size, we were trying to figure out where we could build it. Initially, we looked at more urban spots, and we did liked the idea of it being in a city somewhere. We found some places, but it wouldn’t allow us to build other things inside of it like the ticket booth or the road into the stadium or the parking lot.
We built everything. We found that at a community college north of Pittsburgh, and the diamond was there. It was very important to us that it was regulation sized–90 feet base to base and an official distance to the outfield. It had to have space around it. There were two sets of rusty bleachers that I use in the factory field. Since we were leaving it, it had to be adaptable for the college for things like ACA rules. We worked really hard to make it look like something that had been there for years, but we did everything. We had to excavate, lay our a path, put up a retaining wall, put in drains–we had to build a road to get there.”
A League of Their Own is streaming now on Prime Video.