`Frasier' Meets The Real Seattle -- Belltown Is Transformed And A Bit Bemused As Sitcom Finally Comes Home

When Hollywood visits your hometown, it's exciting and good for image and a lot of fun and all that.

But it can also teach you something about your own city.

Take yesterday's filming of "Frasier," one of the country's most-popular situation comedies. Set in Seattle but never filmed here during four years on NBC (KING-TV), the show finally came to town this week to shoot scenes for its 100th episode, which will air in November.

Stars Kelsey Grammer (Dr. Frasier Crane) and David Hyde Pierce (Dr. Niles Crane), who were to be joined today by the rest of the cast in other scenes, were at three locations yesterday, acting out the occasion of Frasier's 1,000th broadcast on fictional KACL radio. They were ostensibly trekking across town to a Space Needle ceremony - with numerous complications, of course.

The shooting itself went smoothly. Surprised onlookers had a great time and got some autographs. National and local media fell over themselves covering the show's first visit to its hometown.

And one neighborhood was astonished to see a corner of itself briefly transformed.

To hear some residents tell it, Belltown's Regrade Park is not a place where unaddicted people sit and relax, much less take their children.

Yesterday morning, the day-shift bag lady was shooed away and the park was overrun with bicycle cops, Catholic schoolgirls, gawking tourists, a mostly local production crew and the Hollywood tricksters who had converted it.

"It's the first time I've seen children in this park," said Abe Vinikoor, who works nearby. "Usually it's filled with derelicts sleeping it off, and drug needles."

Said Maris Seperis, a merchant seaman who lives across the street in the low-income Marvin Gardens apartments at Second Avenue and Bell Street: "I don't like this park because of all the dope dealers and homeless people." He said the city should pay as much attention to it after Hollywood goes home.

There's another way to look at it: Hollywood came to a hideous park it could have passed by.

Credit Seattleite Tony Grob, who makes his living scouting locations for movies, television and commercials. "We wanted a park that was very urban and very pretty - this is a very pretty park - and they wanted a place where kids would be playing," Grob said.

Perhaps the operative phrase should be "could be playing."

In any event, the momentary metamorphosis of the neighborhood wasn't entirely fantasy. Across the street, in an alley, Grammer and Pierce filmed a scene in which their characters were mugged.

And in Regrade Park, without a quarter to call for a ride, Frasier and brother Niles plotted to steal a coin from a blind street musician, played by extra Gary Turner. White-collar crime - but crime nonetheless.

It didn't pay. The Catholic schoolgirls (actually Bremerton Girl Scouts working as extras) caught Niles with his hand in the man's saxophone case and gave chase.

The scene is part of a story that will place Frasier and Niles all over downtown. In the episode, the milestone broadcast of Frasier's advice show is to be marked with the mayor - played by the real guy, Norm Rice - declaring it Frasier Day.

"In a bit of perversity," said Pierce, referring to the city's usual reputation, "the writers had us say how lovely the weather is." The weather being so nice, Frasier and Niles decide to walk from fictional Cafe Nervosa (their initial stroll was shot in Pioneer Square) to Seattle Center, where their friends, family and the mayor are waiting.

While they pass through Pike Place Market, a thrown fish grazes Niles, who spills coffee on Frasier's suede shoes. The shoes have to be replaced. They get mugged. They try to take the Monorail, but it breaks down. Simple intentions are rendered insurmountably complicated, as in all good sitcoms.

Seperis, the Belltown mariner bemused by the invasion of fantasy, has the same first name as the estranged wife of Niles in the show. But he's never watched "Frasier."

Not so the hundred-some other onlookers who were delighted to encounter Seattle's most-famous non-residents in the flesh.

Dave and Vicki Weatherby of New Castle, Del., have been traveling the state. Yesterday was their first day in Seattle. They had heard "Frasier" was in town and kept their eyes peeled. They saw the white production trucks while driving by. They left with a photo of Dave posing with Grammer.

Hollis Mitchell is unemployed and was on his way from a meeting. He stopped by and got an autograph from Grammer. "I watch all the time," he said, grinning.

Coming to Seattle is something Grammer has wanted to do for a long time. During his time on "Cheers," the cast and crew bonded with Boston. Shooting on location "reinforces the show in my mind," Grammer said. "It gives it credibility."

"They portray this city really in a very classy way," said Donna James, director of the mayor's Office of Film and Video. "We hope they come back. `ER' visits Chicago every six weeks or so."

The filming of "Frasier" at various locations in Seattle is to continue through tomorrow.

The cast has off-camera appearances planned, too. Last night they were invited to a reception at the Lake Union studio of glass artist Dale Chihuly, who was to create a piece for the "Frasier" set in Los Angeles. Tonight, an invitation-only benefit dinner for the Seattle Symphony.

Tomorrow, the cast will be at the Kingdome for the Mariners game, and Thursday, at noon at Westlake Park, Rice is to proclaim it "Frasier" Day in Seattle - for real.