New York, You've Changed: Ghostbusters, Part One
Today marks the first installment of "New York, You've Changed," a new Scouting NY series in which the New York featured in movies is compared with the city of today. This is not meant to be the usual list of shooting locations and addresses to visit next time you tour the city. Instead, this is a full shot-by-shot dissection to see what New York once was and what it has become, for better or worse. I've tried to recreate the angles and framing as best as possible, and have presented the shots (more or less) in the order they appear in the film. Please leave feedback!
Though there are many movies I'm excited to cover for "New York, You've Changed," I had no choice but to start with the movie that first introduced me to New York City ...
I first saw Ghostbusters when I was about 8 years old and instantly fell in love with it. I watched it over and over, to the point where I could recite the entire film. Watching guys trapping ghosts with backpack nuclear accelerators was like a child's fantasy come to life, and I defy you to find a kid of the 1980s who will not confirm the magic Ghostbusters carried in their youth.
I had never been to New York City at the time, but the film made me desperately want to go. The public library, the university, the firehouse, Dana's apartment building ... New York seemed completely different from Boston, the only city I knew as a kid. Unfortunately, I only set first set foot in the city in 2000, and by then, New York was a completely different place.
Ghostbusters was shot in New York over a four week period beginning in October 1983, then returned to L.A. for months of soundstage photography. Yet in those short four weeks, director Ivan Reitman and team managed to capture enough of the city to make Ghostbusters an iconic "New York" movie. The New York of 1983 is very different from the post-Giuliani city of today -- it feels dangerous, gritty, dirty, tough, angry, and exciting. It seems like a struggle just to cross the street. How much has New York changed a quarter of a century later? Let's have a look...
The film opens at the New York Public Library, which has a ghost residing in its stacks. The first image of the film cranes to one of the NYPL's lions ...
... which seems to be thankfully unchanged all these years later. One of Reitman's goals in shooting was to focus on New York statuary, and it seems appropriate to start off the film with one of the city's most iconic symbols.
At the time of shooting, the Ghostbusters crew was disappointed to find that the library was going through restoration work, and had to shoot tight to avoid showing too much scaffolding. Nevertheless, this shot reveals the extent of the work ...
Today, the library is yet again under restoration -- the top portion is covered in canvas, and the bottom right area is blocked off. While the main reading room was shot on location, the stacks were actually filmed in Los Angeles.
Next up is Columbia University, shown beneath the logo. I'm not sure if it's a matter of color correction, a bad film transfer to DVD, or that New York was simply much smoggier back in the day, but I've never seen the campus look so dingy ...
Today, like the New York Public Library, the campus is essentially the same, although the building on the right in the Ghostbusters picture, Ferris Booth Hall, was demolished in 1996 to create the much larger Alfred Lerner Hall, the current student center. Other than there seeming to be much less smog than in 2009, little has changed, a rarity in New York.
When we first meet the Ghostbusters, they're working out of "Weaver Hall," the "Department of Psychology."
In reality, Weaver Hall is actually Havemeyer Hall, a classroom building primarily dedicated to science and math (in fact, this building has what I consider to be New York's finest lecture hall -- you can see it repeatedly in the Spiderman films; nice to know Peter Parker and Peter Venkman hung out in the same building). In comparing the two pictures, you can see that we've come so far since the 1980's -- we now recycle, and we no longer believe in handicap access! (just kidding, I'm sure there's an alternate entrance somewhere). Here's the full building, located in the north-western portion of the campus:
After getting booted from the university, Peter and Ray have a life-altering conversation on the east side of the campus.
I was shocked to see that Columbia has not installed a plaque on this block announcing that "Bill Murray drank here." If there was one single scene in a film that made me think "drinking is what the cool kids do" as a child, it was this. Other than some noticeable differences in foliage, Columbia continues to look the the same.
As they continue their conversation, you get a reverse view, and again, you can see the difference in student centers. Also note that a gate has been put up, preventing you from going into the area where they have most of their conversation.
After deciding to go into business for themselves, the crew takes a trip to the generically-named "Manhattan City Bank" to take out a mortgage on Ray's childhood home ("Everyone has a third mortgage nowadays"). I can tell from the footage that they were filming across the street from the New York Public Library ...
...but I think the entrance to this building has been completely renovated.
The only clue that this is the correct location is that wall of stone on the left hand side, which seems to match in color to the above photograph. I think the original entrance was more inset.
Finally, the Ghostbusters find their home: Tribeca's iconic Hook & Ladder #8 (also seen in Hitch and Seinfeld).
Note the new glass-curtain building on the right. The building to the left, which was probably considered a dump in 1983, is now the Bubbles Lounge champagne bar. Times have changed. The alley next to the firehouse is used for firefighter parking.
Shortly after Ray proclaims "You've gotta try this pole!", we head uptown to Dana's apartment at 55 Central Park West. Our first shot is of the building towering over the skyline, as seen from Central Park. Compare that to the actual view ...
Dana's building is dead center, but in reality actually seems somewhat squat compared to the surrounding buildings. Of course, the first image is actually a matte painting, in which a very realistic painting is superimposed on actual footage of Central Park. Not only did they give the building a much more menacing appearance, they also blotted out a number of the surrounding buildings. I wrongly assumed the field was Central Park's Great Lawn; it's actually the Sheep Meadow. Stand on the east side under the trees to get the correct view.
This is an aerial photo of the building in 1983 ...
...and a sketch of the addition:
Originally, the filmmakers had been planning to use 1 Fifth Avenue, the first building north of Washington Square Park, for Dana's apartment. Not only is it much taller ...
...it also features a roof that would lend itself naturally to a temple...
...especially compared to the top of 55 Central Park West:
Also, it was perfectly located for an iconic shot of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man passing by (or perhaps destroying) the Washington Square Park Arch. Unfortunately, the 1 Fifth Ave condo association couldn't come to an agreement on filming, and shooting was moved uptown.
Back at 55 Central Park West, we first see Dana leaving a cab while struggling with groceries.
Notice a difference? While the buildings are very much the same, New York's cabs have certainly changed ...
Dana walks across the street to the entrance of the building, nearly getting hit (if there's any major difference between New York of the 1980's and today, it's that I could stand in the street for a good 30 seconds taking pictures with cars swerving around me without a problem).
I believe that's a new bus stop pole. It also looks like the building might have had central air installed, as the air-conditioning units have been removed. But all-in-all, still very much the same. I love the light-up taxi globe positioned over the entrance:
Louis Tully tries to get into Tavern on the Green! The Ghostbusters montage it up through New York! And more! Part 2 coming Wednesday!