'Shameless' in Canaryville? Not Exactly

By Casey Cora on January 11, 2013 7:08am | Updated on January 11, 2013 9:42am

NORTH LAWNDALE — As it’s portrayed on the TV show “Shameless,” the home of the Gallagher family is a beat-up house in Canaryville.

In reality, it’s the Bell family's tidy abode in the 2100 block of South Homan Avenue in the North Lawndale neighborhood. The home has become a tourist attraction of sorts, with fans of the Showtime program wanting to take a look.

“It’s funny. You look at your house on TV and it’s weird,” said Vivian Bell, 57, a stay-at-home grandmother who’s lived at the "Gallagher" home for 40 years.

The Showtime series, which follows the exploits of a dysfunctional Irish-Catholic family led by an alcoholic father played by William H. Macy, makes its third-season debut on Sunday.

Though mostly shot at a Los Angeles studio, the production has visited Chicago two or three times each year, staying for about a week each for each shoot, said Chicago Film Office director Richard Moskal.

Sharp-eyed Chicago viewers will catch storyline references to Canaryville, a neighborhood whose name may have originated from legions of sparrows that fed off refuse from the old Union Stock Yard, though it also applied to its "wild canaries'' — its rambunctious youth not unlike the mischievous Gallagher brood.

Indeed, the neighborhood has deep Irish-Catholic roots and a rough-and-tumble working class tradition. What it doesn't have are "L" cars running through, an ever present but inconsistent feature of the show.

Whatever the actual neighborhood, it’s clear cast members were enamored with their short stays in Chicago.

Emmy Rossum, who plays reluctant matriarch Fiona Gallagher, tweeted as filming resumed here this summer: “Chicago, I missed you. You are beautiful and rainy and romantic and I wanna hold your hand."

Exact figures on the economic impact of the local production weren't immediately available, but Moskal said an average production for an episode of a TV show that size would take "eight days to shoot and will spend approximately $2 million on local crew, equipment, goods and services."

Aside from the occasional parking restrictions, North Lawndale neighbors said the production wasn’t disruptive and the cast and crew were pleasant. Bell said one of the the stars, Emma Kenney (Debbie Gallagher), often played with Bell’s 5-year-old grandson, D.J.

Like other TV favorites, "Shameless" has legions of loyal fans, some intent on making the pilgrimage to see the characters' homes for themselves. Neighbors said dozens of gawkers have posed for pictures outside their houses, with one set of fans venturing from Texas.

Geoff Parish is a North Carolina-based blogger who chronicles the real film locations of fictional shows on his “90210 Locations” blog. The comment board on his "Shameless" post has lit up with fans looking to make the trek.

They might not know they're visiting one of the city's dangerous neighborhoods, so Parish includes a warning.

"Though it appears gritty most times on the show, I think people probably underestimate how potentially unsafe some of those locations may or may not be," he said. "And even though I put up a warning/disclaimer, and many of the comments allude to the fact that it might not be safe, people don't always believe that.

"By the same token, there have at times been angry [borderline hostile] comments from people who claim that it's not bad at all."

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