“The Bikeriders” Helps Unlock a Small Village’s Past

The new 1960s-set biker gang movie gives Lockland an overdue close-up.

“Regional specificity has been what has made my films attractive to rest of world,” says Jeff Nichols, writer and director of the new film The Bikeriders, starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, and Tom Hardy. For a milieu that looks “working class but not falling apart,” Cincinnati was “perfect for our purposes. No other city would have worked.” (It’s scheduled to open here on June 21.)

Dunn Street Station as it looked in September 2023 after filming of “The Bikeriders” was finished.

Nichols’ past features have showcased both the beauty and blight of rural Virginia (Loving), Texas and the Florida Panhandle (Midnight Special), and his home state of Arkansas (Shotgun Stories). The new movie about a fictional biker gang in the 1960s is set in Chicago, but Cincinnati, as a stand-in, offered a better mix of historic Midwestern architecture, mild fall weather (for late 2022 filming), and movie-production tax credits. The film showcases so many tristate locales that it doubles as a warts-and-all love letter. No location gets more screen time than a corner building in Lockland that served as HQ for both the filming and the production office.

“It almost feels like a movie backlot,” Nichols recalls thinking upon first seeing the 1910 building at Dunn and Mill streets, which houses two storefronts and a ballroom and offices upstairs. Crew and stars milling about the intersection for three months brought buzz to the spot. Unexpectedly, the “show” (in industry-speak) has since influenced the future of the building.

The Lockland building as it looked in 2022 before filming began.

The larger storefront with a diagonal corner entrance, which once housed the Vaughn-Helsey pharmacy, was transformed into the movie’s Stop Light Bar, the biker gang’s hangout. “We were lucky to find it,” Nichols says. “It looks like the world grew up and left this little pocket behind. You could shoot anything you wanted from a 360-degree wedge from there and, with minimal [set dressing] work, bring that corner to life.”

Todd Snapp, a onetime Lockland resident now working as an architect in Chicago, was similarly smitten with the 9,500-square-foot property when he bought it in February 2022. Snapp, 52, who has worked in construction, made renovations on weekends when he came to town to visit friends and family. He estimated it would take about three years to revamp it and build a hometown pied-a-terre for himself in it, and he was in no hurry.

Renting it out to the film production, however, “accelerated three years of work into two months,” he says. The crew gutted the 1,600-square-foot pharmacy space, removing the electrical and plumbing infrastructure, installing a vintage linoleum floor, and replacing plate glass vitrines with glass block. They then built out a realistic-looking bar with period fixtures and furniture, much of it mid-century.

A photography book from the movie depicts Austin Butler outside of the Lockland bar.

The production office, where Nichols and crew viewed dailies, was set up in the next-door storefront, which housed a Kroger store in the early 1900s. Its original shelves were still in place. Upstairs, designated as a green room for the cast, was quickly upgraded from its raw-space condition by Snapp and three business partners who made repairs and installed air conditioning. Antique lights found in the attic added to the renovations. The film’s stars, instead of scurrying back to their respective trailers, would spend breaks in the groovy getaway along with crew members, which made for a convivial atmosphere, says Snapp.

When Nichols and company wrapped the film, they bequeathed the bar furnishings to Snapp, complete with a Wurlitzer jukebox and classic neon beer signs. “We want the building to tell us what it wants to be, and this experience reinforced that: something to do with performance, art, and community,” says Snapp. “We’ve since put in a full production studio for music and video performances upstairs.” In early June, a Makers Market with live music and gourmet food by a local chef allowed him to “kick the tires” and see what resonated with the public.

Three months of mystique and chatter during the movie-making fostered conversations among locals (and cordoned-off onlookers) that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. Confabbing with so many locals sparked additional ideas for Snapp. “I’m meeting with the Lockland mayor about housing the historical society here. They need a place for their archives. And maybe we’ll do a coffee shop.”

As for the Hollywood-supplied watering hole that will soon be splashed across cinema screens nationwide, its future is in question. “I don’t want to run a bar,” says Snapp, “but that could change.”

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