The New York Filming Locations of The Godfather, Then and Now
January 27, 2014 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Because the film is a period piece, The Godfather actually presents a fascinating record of what 1940s-era New York City locations still existed in the early-1970s. Sadly, many of them are now gone. What still remains? Let’s take a closer look.
posted by timshel (27 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
If you get database errors while trying to load the pages, just hit refresh. The pages do eventually load and are definitely worth it. Nick Carr obviously spent a lot of time and effort figuring out where different scenes took place in the movie, so he could get his current photos to show the same locations. Very cool to see.

The shots in Queens’ Calvary Cemetery are neat! You can see 40 years of trees growth on the trees.
posted by zarq at 9:42 AM on January 27, 2014

Nice! Can't believe that in the shots of the Liberty Park killing, he doesn't mention the movie's best line: "Leave the gun. ...take the canolis."
posted by entropone at 9:44 AM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

man I love these!

A few years ago Mrs. Bitteroldman and I went to Santa Monica, California and tried to find all the landmarks that appeared in the opening credits of Three's Company. We found the pier, rode the carousel, and then walked the hilly streets trying to imagine where Jack, Janet, Chrissy, Cindy, Terry, Larry, the Ropers and Mr. Furley would have lived, where the Regal Beagle would have been.

Obviously 99% of the show took place in a studio, but each time we passed a building that looked somewhat like their building, we would take pause and pretend that our pals still lived there.

Drove up to Santa Barbara county, and did the same for the movie Sideways - we even had dinner at the Hitching Post!

It's funny how movies and TV, rooted in fiction can have such an emotional impact on us!
posted by bitteroldman at 10:02 AM on January 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

For the longest time, I assumed the scene where Michael is picked-up outside Jack Dempsey's was a studio set, since it's just an exterior shot. But, it turns out, Dempsey's was still in business in '71, when they filmed The Godfather. It closed in 1974.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:12 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

40 years growth on some trees, but it looks like a few were replaced, too.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:41 AM on January 27, 2014

Wow, The Godfather started principal photography exactly ten years to the day before I was born.
posted by Sara C. at 10:45 AM on January 27, 2014

New York parochialism often gets my eyes rolling when it comes to New York things, but Scouting NY is one place that can snap me out of it. He's a great ambassador for the city.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 10:53 AM on January 27, 2014

Also, more germane to the topic at hand, I always assumed the Little Italy stuff was shot on a studio backlot. I don't know why I thought this, because I actually know the propmaster on The Godfather, and he's a New York guy, and it was mostly shot on location in New York. But, I dunno, all the Little Italy street scenes just look so backlottish to me.

Oh, and the St. George hotel referred to in the first link is now a college dorm. I'm not sure why he's so confused about this, as it's a very well-known landmark in Brooklyn Heights. Maybe it's just interior photos of the lobby bar that he couldn't find?

The diner he's wondering about looks a lot like the diner in Long Island City that used to be M Wells. It's close to a bunch of the film studio space in NYC, and if we were talking about a contemporary film it would be the obvious choice for "deserted diner", but I'm not sure any of those studios were open for business back in '71.
posted by Sara C. at 10:58 AM on January 27, 2014

Amazing detective work on Sonny's death scene at the tollbooth. But where is Clemenza's house? DON'T FORGET THE CANNOLLI!!!!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:58 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I wonder how much it's worth in extra real estate value to own a house that was in a recognizable exterior shot from this movie.
posted by norm at 11:09 AM on January 27, 2014

norm: In one of Christine Vachon's book Shooting to Kill, she mentions that a storefront in London is copyrighted and that if it's included in any films the owners will charge a fee. Don't know if that's doable in the States, but it's an interesting way to monetize something like that.
posted by pxe2000 at 11:11 AM on January 27, 2014

Hmmmm, the fact that the 59th street bridge was used makes me think M Wells could be the deserted diner. That's not far from there, and would have made a reasonable choice for the schedule on that day.
posted by Sara C. at 11:11 AM on January 27, 2014

Don't know if that's doable in the States, but it's an interesting way to monetize something like that.

Yes, though it's usually only for incredibly iconic landmark type places. For instance I believe the Chrysler building needs to be specifically cleared in advance and there are licensing fees on top of any city permit one would need just to shoot on the street.

I'm not sure how the Chrysler Building situation works out in terms of, like, seeing it off in the distance in a helicopter shot or from a high floor of another building, though.

For most location work there would be a location contract and the fees paid for the location would cover any kind of licensing fee for proprietary designs/brand identity/etc., but New York presents a unique challenge because it's perfectly legal to shoot out on the street with permits from the city, not location agreements made with a particular site.

You can't "copyright" your house because it was in a movie and you want to make money off of that. At best, maybe a future buyer would be really intent on wanting to live in the Godfather house, and would be willing to pay more in a bidding war situation? But I don't think it would appraise higher, or that the current owners could reap any real financial gain from it.
posted by Sara C. at 11:18 AM on January 27, 2014

It's gotta be worth an extra 10k or so to be able to say "yeah, I live in Clemenza's house."
posted by norm at 11:20 AM on January 27, 2014

It would also be criminal of me not to mention that the court steps where Barzini gets whacked are (I'm almost positive) the same court steps which are often used on Law & Order and its various NY-based spinoffs.
posted by Sara C. at 11:43 AM on January 27, 2014

It's gotta be worth an extra 10k or so to be able to say "yeah, I live in Clemenza's house."

The show I work on now, in Los Angeles, is using one of the locations from Chinatown (very comparable to The Godfather in terms of this sort of thing) and AFAIK barely anybody even knows that it was in Chinatown, let alone having any impact on the business or being monetized in any way. Even down to how much it's costing us to shoot there -- doesn't seem to be any more expensive than any similar location we'd use.

New York could be different, because everything in New York is more expensive for trumped up reasons that Angelenos refreshingly don't seem to be worried about, but as someone who actually does this stuff and has worked in both cities, I don't know, I really don't think it's as big of a thing as one would think.

Though, as I said, there could be some guy out there who's willing to pay $10K more than someone else because it's Clemenza's house.
posted by Sara C. at 11:53 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can't "copyright" your house

posted by thelonius at 11:58 AM on January 27, 2014

I grew up on Long Island... and remember the Toll Booths on the way to the beach where Sonny gets gunned down. Good times!
posted by This vs That at 12:05 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think "Law & Order" shows just greenscreen the court steps, now.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:08 PM on January 27, 2014


posted by Sara C. at 12:15 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Scouting NY piece on the locations of Taxi Driver makes a pretty interesting contrast with the locations of The Godfather.

The vast majority of all the locations in Taxi Driver no longer exist, while for the most part, the only things in The Godfather that no longer exist are specific shops that have gone out of business or changes to the locations done for the purposes of the film. I'm not sure if this is because the outer boroughs have faced fewer changes over the years, or if it's specifically because Taxi Driver documented the gritty ephemeral New York that modern day New York is in reaction to.
posted by Sara C. at 12:36 PM on January 27, 2014

Oh, good. I'm glad to hear I was misinformed. I think I was misremembering one of the shows on the demo reel from a company that does green screening. (previously)
posted by rmd1023 at 1:00 PM on January 27, 2014

Though, as I said, there could be some guy out there who's willing to pay $10K more than someone else because it's Clemenza's house.

I live in the house where Pat Carney grew up. It adds nothing. (Although I'm pretty sure this photo was taken in my basement.)
posted by slogger at 1:27 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

rmd1023 - Maybe that's from the credits sequences?

I worked on one of the L&O series and we shot at that courthouse pretty regularly from between 2006-2010. I think my very first day on my very first job on a TV series was to do a "run" to set at that location with some vital prop needed for a scene later in the day.

I would be pretty surprised to find out that a series like that, which is specifically shot in New York to be able to take advantage of those types of locations, is now using green screen on a soundstage for mundane NYC exterior walk-and-talk scenes.
posted by Sara C. at 1:36 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was there. It was all filmed in NY. A lot in Staten Island, Long Island and lower Manhattan. Some studio scenes shot in a studio in Bronx including a scene that took place in LA.
posted by claptrap at 2:14 AM on January 28, 2014

Great post. Not to derail, but one LA landmark that definitely charges and fights to maintain as much copyright as possible is the Stahl house- "the most photographed house in the world." But a good chunk of that fee is for the view not just the house. And in addition to making the family some money, it helps maintain an absolutely beautiful example of LA architecture- well worth a trip. An hour tour was the highlight of my trip to LA this past fall. I am curious of the legal basis of copywriting a building's image.
posted by T10B at 6:58 AM on January 28, 2014

The difference between the Stahl house and something like the Chrysler Building is that you can't "steal" shots there from public streets. If you want to shoot at the Stahl house, you pretty much have to negotiate with the people who administer the property and pay their various fees and sign their various contracts.

The Chrysler Building is trying to protect it's "brand identity" by controlling who can use it in film, in a situation where anybody can stand out on 42nd and Lexington and say, "I'm a whore and I work out of a brothel in the Chrysler Building!" while pointing at the structure itself. If the building is trademarked, it's harder to get away with that sort of thing.

The Stahl House doesn't really have a brand identity, inasmuch as it's a private family home.
posted by Sara C. at 9:19 AM on January 28, 2014

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