Noel Von Joo and Matt Lightner in the "diner."

Unit #4 on the second floor of 180 Capp St. is no longer a sweatshop, but nonetheless, its current residents have been working long hours and doing manual labor to create The Secret Alley.

“When we first walked in, there were all these clothes tags covering the floor.  It was kind of creepy,” said Ariel Dovas, one of the Alley’s creators.

The Secret Alley could be described as an artists’ co-op or a micro-production studio for movies and art.  And after building out their offices on their own dime, they’re holding a fundraising party this Friday and Saturday night to bring the spot to the next level.

“This will be the first time we’ve asked for money.  It’s more for the next step,” explained Lightner.

“We’re the four main weirdos, but a lot of people are coming in and out helping us with the space,” explained Dovas.

The four weirdos, as they call themselves — Cody Frost, Matt Lightner, Noel Von Joo and Dovas — have been making projects for years.  Lightner, Von Joo and Dovas know each other from their Santa Cruz hometown, and picked up Frost in Sacramento in 2005, while working on their independent film When Gravity Changes.

After signing the lease, they immediately began constructing their very own whimsical world of movie “make believe.”  Upon entering the loft, their four offices greet you from both sides of the hall.  Each has its own façade dressed as a pawnshop, library, detective agency and old saloon. The hall leads to what could be called the main show, where’s there’s a kitchen designed to look like a burnt out diner, leafy trees made out of  fiberglass, casting shadows on the just-refinished floor and the grassy knoll where Bilbo Baggins could call home.

Lightner and Von Joo had some experience in construction, though they wouldn’t say they’re pros.  Using how-to manuals viewed on the web, including the occasional Bob Villa’s, and a lot help from their friends, they were able to build the mini set pieces.


The two-day fundraiser, named Between the Streets, will feature bands and short films starting on Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. Entrance fee is five dollars.  While there have been several parties held at Secret Alley, this is their debutante ball for the neighborhood.

Several of the performers are friends, but they also put the call out for interested artists and were well received. Street food celeb Natalie of Bike Basket Pies connected the team to a slew of the gourmet street cart vendors, who will be serving food at the event, including Soul Cocina, Sexy Soup and The Chai Cart.  Christian the Magician will also perform on Friday night.

“He’s a mentalist.  It’ll be interesting to see how artist crowd take the magician,” said Dovas.

It will also be interesting to see their last project, featuring zombie fetuses.

“I’m really jazzed about meeting people who want to do crazy shit together.”

Stay tuned for Mission Loc@l’s video of the Between The Streets.

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Brooke Minters was born and raised in Los Angeles, where she developed a taste for culture and cuisine at an early age. A taquería connoisseur and documentary maker, she's eaten her way through most of L.A., Granada, Havana, and New York. It's only fitting that she finds herself on the food beat in the Mission.

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