“New York, You’ve Changed” is a new Scouting NY site feature in which the New York depicted in movies is compared with the city of today. This is not the usual list of shooting locations and addresses to visit next time you tour the city. Instead, it is a full shot-by-shot dissection to see what New York once was and what it has become, for better or worse. Today, we finish our look at Taxi Driver (if you missed the previous articles: Part 1/Part 2; for those who missed our look at Ghostbusters: Part 1 & Part 2!). Enjoy!
Just finding us? Start with Part 1 of our Taxi Driver examination to avoid confusion!
Continuing along where we last left off, Travis takes Betsy to Times Square for their ill-fated movie date. Exactly where they are is tough to place as they walk along Broadway/7th Ave, but based on the median, I believe they’re at the corner of 45th & Broadway (note that this section of Broadway is now closed off to traffic as a pedestrian walkway):
Travis takes Betsy to the Lyric, a former 42nd Street playhouse and movie theater.
The actual show Travis brings Betsy to see is not the above-advertised Sometime Sweet Susan, but actually, a 1969 Swedish sex educational film called Language of Love. Currently, the Hilton Theatre is gearing up for the 2010 release of the Spider-man musical.
In this photo, you can see the full Lyric facade. Originally designed as an opera school, the Lyric opened as a theater in 1903, with 1,350 seats, 2 balconies, and 18 box seats. In 1934, it was converted into a movie theater to survive the Depression. At some point along the way, it became a porno theater. In 1994, the Lyric and neighboring Apollo theater (on the left) were demolished to make way for a theater combining the two. Major architectural elements were carefully removed and re-installed in the new building, which currently is known as the Hilton Theatre.
Shortly after the film begins, Betsy storms out of the Lyric (would she have the same problem with Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark?).
Travis desperately tries to talk with Betsy, offering us a glimpse across the street of what I believe is the New Amsterdam theater (like the Lyric, it had been converted from a theatrical stage to a movie house during the Depression and was in shambles by the time Disney leased it in 1993).
If you look closely, the theater across the street is playing Clint Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction:
Travis later stops at McAnn’s Bar, a location I cannot find anywhere. There are several McAnn’s in the city, but none of them have addresses that match the building numbering (McAnn’s should be 692 or 694…). Any ideas?
Travis makes a call to Betsy to apologize, and amazingly, this scene was shot in a place where I spend a good amount of time when working on films: the lobby of the Ed Sullivan Theater building which, in addition to the Letterman studio, also houses the Mayor’s Office of Film. It’s looking quite a bit different these days, but I like that they left the metal phone book holder:
Angry, Travis storms around the corner out the front door:
Travis tries unsuccessfully to talk to Betsy at the campaign office, and while we’ve already covered the location in detail, I wanted to note the oddly-named restaurant across the street, “Aunt Fish” (no longer around, of course).
Travis then meets up with his buddies at the Belmore Cafeteria, a former grease joint on the corner of 28th & Park. Sadly, the owner sold the property in 1981, and a bland highrise was built in its place:
An angled view of the new building:
Travis steps outside with fellow cabbie Wizard for a discussion about guns. We get a quick glimpse north (the building on the right past the Belmore is now Les Halles, the restaurant owned by TV personality chef Anthony Bourdain):
The reverse view shows a fight on the street – you can make out a pretty neat subway globe lamp. Meanwhile, a McDonalds is now on the corner.
Across the street, more changes:
Travis continues to follow Betsy, and parks outside her building on Broadway between 62nd & 63rd streets. Across the street, you can see the AAA building entrance, and how it looks today:
Travis decides to check in on Iris, the young prostitute he met outside the Variety. He parks his car on 13th Street between 2nd & 3rd Aves to wait for her. It took me a good ten minutes of searching for that red door before I realized it doesn’t exist anymore:
If you haven’t noticed, one of the key aspects that makes Taxi Driver a quintessential New York movie is that the city geography makes sense. When Travis takes Betsy to a coffee shop, for example, they head a few blocks south from the campaign headquarters at 62nd Street to a grease joint at 58th. When Travis brings Betsy to the porno theater, we see them walk a logical path down Times Square to 42nd Street. And here, when Travis reunites with Iris, he goes right around the corner from the Variety Theater, where he first met her.
The door marked ROOMS is at 202 East 13th Street (oddly, everyone remembers this entrance, even though nothing ever happens here):
Travis follows Iris along, passing this great wall ad for Endicott Johnson, a New York-based shoe manufacturer. The electronics store on the right is now Cafe Deville.
Travis then speeds off, passing Gothic Cabinet Craft. Hooray! Something that still exists! The sign’s different, but it’s still the same business over 30 years later.
I take pride in correctly guessing the location of this next shot immediately, in which Travis is picked up by the gun dealer. The only clue in the photo is that tuft of green up the street, but it’s enough to give it away as Madison Square Park, placing Travis somewhere along 5th Ave (actually at 19th street):
As the cab comes around the corner, we get a quick look at a diner advertising “coffee shop – fountain service.” This is now a Sephora.
Yes! Another business still around! Same hardware store on 19th street as Travis heads off in the cab.
Travis then attends a political rally, and I can’t place this one. I was thinking it might even be in Brooklyn, with the view of the Manhattan Bridge and those warehouse-like buildings in the background. Any guesses?
I have absolutely no idea where the R&M Super Market is (where Travis first uses his new gun).
Travis then attends a second political rally. This was easy to locate, as the first shot features street signs (38th & Seventh Ave). Note the new fancy glass on the left…
In this next shot, the only change is the DONT WALK and street signs. Look carefully and you’ll see what 33 years does to a wall advertisement.
One last view of Seventh Ave:
Travis is quickly asked to leave by a cop, and while most of these places are gone, the Spanish Taverna restaurant still exists:
Based on the reviews, I definitely need to try this place one night (though don’t be fooled by the exterior – dishes range from $20-$40!).
Yet another corner diner is gone – this time, The Center has been replaced by Health King. Note that everyone is looking and smiling at the camera (Travis is driving too fast to notice during the film):
One final look at how Seventh Ave has changed:
Back to 13th Street again, and Travis meets up with Iris. The place on the corner has been serious renovated and is now Hea, a Japanese restaurant:
Across the street, another view of Gothic Cabinet Craft:
Travis gets out and chats with Iris:
Again, we see the infamous ROOMS entrance…but no one ever goes in!
Travis has a chat with Iris’ pimp, played by Harvey Keitel. The scene takes place outside of 204 East 13th Street.:
In this reverse shot, we get a look across the street (the buildings have all since been torn down):
After a deal is reached, Iris and Travis continue down the street…
…to 226 E 13th Street. Things are looking cheerier these days:
A tilt up shows the rest of the building:
Travis later takes Iris to a diner. Any ideas on where this might be?
The street vendor on the right makes me wonder if this is on St. Mark’s (man, does that brick look familiar). Good to know that Gino’s Italian Ices have been around so long.
Travis goes to the Palantine rally at Columbus Circle in what proves to be a failed attempt to assassinate the candidate:
The angel statue featured is still around:
As Travis flees the scene, we get a glimpse of the old Gulf + Western building on the corner, later to be stripped down and completely renovated into the Trump International Hotel (along with steel globe).
After the bloody shootout on E 13th Street, the film concludes at the St. Regis Hotel at 55th Street & Fifth Ave. I like the new black awning:
Travis chats with his cab buddies…
…then meets Betsy in a cab to end the film.
As evidenced in these past three installments, quite a lot has changed in New York since 1976. Personally, I don’t look back nostalgically on the grittier New York of the late 1970′s. As I never experienced it first hand, I believe it’s dangerous and naive to romanticize something the city has worked so desperately to rise up from. In 1976, a large portion of New York’s population people simply didn’t care, and the city suffered for it. If you pine for this level of apathy, there are plenty of other American cities going through some pretty bad rough patches you could move to, and I promise the rent will be much cheaper.
In 2009, people care. A byproduct of people caring is a city that is safer, more g-rated, more expensive, more museum-like. I agree that such an environment leaves very little room for growth, artistic or otherwise – frankly, you CAN’T have a Belmore diner at the corner of 28th & Park anymore (if you owned the place, would you not sell the property for countless millions?). While I dislike the fact that so many of the FAR more interesting locations in Taxi Driver have been replaced by Duane Reades, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Sephora’s, I can only look at it as part of the unfortunate social evolution of New York. Ultimately, if New York City didn’t want them, they wouldn’t exist for long.
Regardless, as I stated at the beginning of this series, New York is as much a character in Taxi Driver as Travis Bickle, and Scorsese can’t be praised enough for giving it so much screen time.
I’m taking a little break from these labor-intensive then-and-now’s, but definitely let me know what movie you’d like to see covered next. And one last time, if you’ve made it this far, think about subscribing to our RSS feed or Twitter account (if you haven’t already) for future updates!