The Sopranos prequel highlights the path from Newark neighborhood to suburban McMansion

The Sopranos’ McMansion is a key part of the original show. The new prequel movie might help explain how the family ended up in a New Jersey McMansion:

Photo by Dhyamis Kleber on

By the 1990s, the mob was operating out of detached villas with swimming pools in upstate New Jersey, but if you want to learn precisely why the adult Tony Soprano lives in a gilded McMansion rather than a clapboard house with a stoop in Newark like his mother’s, The Many Saints Of Newark has the answer.

As Harold’s fortunes rise, black families move onto the same streets as Italians, causing much angst to the latter, including Tony’s parents, Johnny Boy and Livia Soprano. It makes Tony’s racism that much more obvious when, 30 years later, his daughter, Meadow, brings home her mixed-race college boyfriend. “I think there was talk, back in the day, about ‘Were black people getting short shrift on The Sopranos?’” says Odom Jr. “Was our story being told? I think David had a desire this time to look at an arc that really didn’t get explored the first time, at how the two communities intertwined and where they butted up against each other.”

This sounds like a white flight story line: as the population of Newark changed, as more Black residents moved into what were exclusively white neighborhoods, white residents moved out. This happened in numerous cities across the United States (as my own research on religious groups in the Chicago area adds to). In The Sopranos, Tony and cronies make money off housing programs in the city.

At the same time, this narrative could say more about a general move to the suburbs and less about the specific move to the suburban McMansion at the heart of the show. Tony Soprano presumably used his wealth to purchase a big home in a quiet subdivision to hide his work and give his family an opportunity at a more normal suburban life. But, did he go straight from Newark to the suburban McMansion? Did his journey include a more modest suburban starter home or a suburban apartment (as it did for other characters on The Sopranos)? Did a young adult Tony Soprano make his moves from a suburban split-level or anonymous apartment off a major suburban road?

The housing path of Tony Soprano is not an inconsequential part of the story that is being developed here; it highlights his family history, his success, and his goals in life. If I see The Many Saints of Newark, I will be keeping an eye on the residences depicted within the film.

Publication on the Soprano’s McMansion

The home of Tony Soprano and his family on HBO’s The Sopranos is a key setting for the show. It is here that Tony considers his own unrest and anxiety, where the family interacts with each other alongside Tony’s other “family,” and the home embodies the search for the suburban good life as encapsulated in a spacious home in a wealthy neighborhood.

I am grateful for the opportunity to explore this in more detail in a recently published paper: “A McMansion for the Suburban Mob Family: The Unfulfilling Single-Family Home of The Sopranos” in the Journal of Popular Film and Television.

Convicted mobster and his supposed “Sopranos-style McMansion”

As part of his sentencing, a New York mobster has to sell his large home. One media source claims it is a “Sopranos-style McMansion”:

During his sentencing on Aug. 15 in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Giallanzo was ordered to serve 14 years behind bars, pay $268,000 in restitution to his victims, forfeit $1.25 million in assets and sell his mansion in Howard Beach.

Federal prosecutors said that Giallanzo used proceeds from his racketeering ring to transform his home from a humble ranch into a two-story palazzo that could have rivaled Tony Soprano’s digs on “The Sopranos.” The mob captain reported spent more than $1 million to reconstruct and furnish the home, which features five bedrooms, five bathrooms, radiant heated floors, luxury appliances, three kitchens and a salt water pool with a waterfall.

This is certainly now a large home and has an interesting exterior. While it would meet the definition of a McMansion (in at least two ways), it is quite different from the McMansion of the Soprano family.

Let’s start with the McMansion definition. The picture of the home as it stood at least a few years ago (according to Google Street View) is helpful. It was once a ranch home on a corner lot. Not very big, in a residential neighborhood, and in a tight corner lot that offered little opportunity for a backyard. The new home is a teardown. The house is now two stories. On a small lot, the home even pushes closer to the edges. This is a teardown McMansion.

Additionally, the home has a mix of architectural features. It has a consistent brick facade (at least on the two sides facing the street). It has a round turret on the corner; given the placement of the windows, this could be a staircase. The front entrance includes a entry with a roof and columns and numerous windows of different shapes. The roof has multiple gables on the front. On the whole, the design of the home is too busy. Definitely a McMansion with its mishmash of architectural styles.

The comparison to the Soprano home on The Sopranos would seem to make sense: the owner of the home above was in the mob, he lives in a large house, and he was able to live there because of his ill-gotten gains. But, the home above is very different from the Soprano home. Here are just a few differences: a corner lot in a more urban neighborhood versus a big suburban lot with the home set back from the street and at the top of a longish driveway; whatever style the teardown is built in versus the French styling of the Sopranos home; and current interior features (three kitchens! radiant floors!) versus the 1990s McMansions of the Sopranos home (mostly about size, lots of room, and certain decor).

While these homes might both fit the general category of McMansion, they are quite different. Arguably, the Sopranos home is more tasteful or at least stands out less from its surroundings (because most of the nearby homes are similar).

(See an earlier post about the McMansion features of the main residence on The Sopranos.)

A room by room look at the McMansion on The Sopranos

My study of what the term McMansions means included several newspaper references to the McMansion owned by the Soprano family on the HBO show. The Chicago Tribune story about my study included a large picture of the Sopranos eating a meal in their large dining room. Here is the house from the front:


Here is my look at the individual parts of the house to assess whether it contributes to the McMansion nature of the home.

1. The front exterior. I don’t know that the front looks that garish. There is certainly a large entryway with a double door and little vestibule but it has a two car garage, the proportions aren’t too bad, and roof has a smaller number of gables. Interestingly, the first season includes several long shots of the house from a distance (including prominent floodlights on the house/driveway) but later seasons include more views from the house down to the street and it appears much closer to the other homes and interlopers, like federal agents, pull into this shorter driveway multiple times. McMansion rating: looks like a big house but not too garish.

2. Foyer. McMansions often have expansive foyers. The Soprano’s house has two sets of doors, one to the outside and then another set into the room. It is a fairly big space with the main staircase to the house to the left when you enter. The foyer also has two columns which we see in later scenes have guns stored inside (they are locked up). McMansion rating: pretty big space.

3. Dining room. The family seems to be shown eating here more than they do in the eating area just off the kitchen. These meals include family members as well as “family” members. It is a big table but not too large. McMansion rating: not really.

4. Kitchen. The room is decorated in a more country style with lighter colored cabinets and floral patterns. The kitchen also has a large island that faces out to the foyer, eating area, and family room. The usable kitchen space itself is decently large but there is a lot of open space just beyond the large island. McMansion rating: no stainless steel, dark wood cabinets, or granite countertops but plenty big.

5. Family room. This room involves one large couch, some other seating, and a decent-sized TV (though nowhere near the common large flat-screen TVs of today). McMansion rating: big but not too ostentatious.

6. Garage. While it is only a two-car garage, it is quite deep. The show doesn’t have too many scenes in the garage but it seems to have lots of space. Also, it is pretty clean. McMansion rating: plenty big.

7. Upstairs. The kids’ rooms aren’t too large but the master suite is pretty  big and also has an ensuite bathroom. A pretty dark room, particularly when Tony is depressed and the curtains are drawn. McMansion rating: plenty big.

8. Basement. This unfinished space is where Tony often carries out face-to-face work conversations while in the house. It is used for some storage and for laundry. It has some decent light next to the laundry area. It is a little strange that the family owns a pricey house and hasn’t finished off the basement. McMansion rating: nope.

9. Pool and pool house. There is a large in-ground pool in the backyard and some important scenes, including Tony’s fascination with ducks in Season One and AJ’s attempted suicide in Season 6, take place there. Tony seems to use the space more than anyone else; we never see Carmela out there alone and the kids aren’t playing in it regularly on the show. There is a pool house which acts as a theater space. This is a definite luxury point in the home. McMansion rating: large luxury items.

10. Backyard. This is pretty large as there is space for a pool, pool house, areas for Tony to hide cash, and it is a little hike to the back fence to interact with neighbors. McMansion rating: plenty of space.

Areas of the house not examined: the more formal living room (rarely used), the eating area just off the kitchen (a small table with four chairs fills the space), the bathrooms (not portrayed much).

Overall, this home fits the general McMansion definition of a large house. It is hard to estimate from watching on the screen but the home is at least 3,000 square feet. Unlike some other McMansions, it is on a large lot – a mobster can’t live in a large house where the next door neighbors are peering in the windows just a few feet away. The architecture and design doesn’t seem too jumbled though there is a clear emphasis on space. And, the home is clearly a reminder of the suburban nature of the Sopranos: the house is the setting for both “normal” suburban life as well as the unusual family life that made Tony’s purchase of the home all possible in the first place. Such a home is intended for the boss, whether it is Tony or John Sacrimoni, as the guys below the boss tend to live in denser suburban settings.

Connecting Arrested Development’s George Bluth and McMansions

Amidst news that the television show Arrested Development will return via Netflix, I saw recently a connection between the patriarch of the show, George Bluth, and McMansions in an opinion piece dealing with a New York Times op-ed on sprawl from earlier in the week:

Rarely is a discouraging word ever spoken against government spending millions to widen roads, install sewerage mains, and build schools so George Bluth Bill Pulte can build yet another exurban mcmansion development.

The reference to Bill Pulte refers to Pulte Homes, self-described as “one of the nation’s largest homebuilders.” (From personal experience, I can safely say Pulte did not build only McMansions.) This is not the first time I’ve seen this connection. Indeed, a quick Google search of “George Bluth” AND McMansion turns up 708 results. One poster in a discussion of McMansions at even went so far as to ask ” WWGBD? What would George Bluth do?” Probably not the best question to guide one’s life.  An Entertainment Weekly review after the pilot emphasized McMansions as part of the setting for the show:

Shot in digital video and freed from the enhanced indulgence of a studio audience, the show romps in McMansionland and finds plenty to laugh at: grad students practicing Native American drum rituals, maids on public transportation carting racks full of furs for storage, and housing developments with names like Sudden Valley.

I don’t know if this is an authoritative site including all AD scripts but this search for “McMansions” turns up no matches. And having seen all of the episodes, I do remember the show poking fun at these neighborhoods (giant homes built in what looked like partially completed neighborhoods in a desert) but can’t recall the main characters really ruing the fact that the family business involved building McMansions. While the irony was surely intended to draw attention to the absurdity of such homes, are they ever specifically denounced on the show?

This isn’t the only television show connected to McMansions. The Sopranos also invited comparisons as they lived in a well-appointed New Jersey home and certain reality shows, like The Bachelor/Bachelorette have prompted critics to say the contestants live in McMansions.