Love & Sex on the Upper West Side: The Filming Locations of The Apartment

Billy Wilder’s The Apartment is my all-time favorite romantic comedy set in New York City (sorry, Harry and Sally!).

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If you haven’t seen The Apartment, please don’t let me spoil it for you, as it’s one of the greats. The film stars Jack Lemmon as C. C. Baxter, an insurance salesman who lends his apartment to the higher-ups at his company to use for their extramarital dalliances. Just as he falls for elevator girl Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the situation starts to spiral out of control.

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Though it might seem tame by today’s standards, this premise was wildly controversial in 1960, dealing openly with sex, infidelity, and suicide. And yet it was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, ultimately winning both Best Picture and Best Director. I first saw the film in a class taught by the legendary film critic Andrew Sarris, and he described it as one of the few times the Oscars got it right.

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Though much of the film was shot in California, a few chilly weeks were spent on location during the winter of 1959. What remains of the New York seen in The Apartment?

After a few aerial shots of New York, we’re introduced to C. C. Baxter’s office building, the fictional Consolidated Life of New York:

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The building is actually 2 Broadway, located at the southern tip of Manhattan. The dead giveaway is the Customs Building on the right (which would later appear as the Manhattan Museum of Art in Ghostbusters II). Oh, for the days when you could actually drive all the way around Bowling Green!

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The camera tilts up to reveal the rest of the building…and obviously, something doesn’t exactly match up:

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At the time of filming, 2 Broadway had just been completed, one of the first modernist skyscrapers in downtown Manhattan. Sadly, the facade was given a very generic blue-tinted make-over a few years ago. Today, it houses the MTA.

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We then head inside the building to “Desk #861, Section W, Ordinary Policy Department, Premium Accounting Division on the 19th floor,” where we find Baxter working diligently:

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Art Director Alexandre Trauner created this wonderfully iconic set using forced perspective – the desks get smaller and smaller as you go back, and in fact many were manned by children and dwarves. Sidenote: Directors – please stop asking me to find the real version of this location! I know it’s great, but it doesn’t actually exist! I swear!

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While the office set was filmed in Hollywood, we get several shots of the building’s lobby.

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Were these at least shot on location?

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Er, probably not:

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While it’s conceivable that the lobby has since been renovated, this shot reveals a congestion of buildings just outside…

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…while in reality, there’s actually just a lot of open space:

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Baxter finally reveals why he can’t go home yet – his boss is borrowing his apartment for a quick fling with a secretary. So where was the actual brownstone?

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Finding the apartment was so difficult, I almost gave up on writing this article. Scouring Google Maps turned up nothing matching the exterior pictured in the film. And the given address – 51 West 67th Street – was definitely wrong:

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The answer came from the website for Celluloid Skyline, a great book by James Sanders on New York’s role in movie history. While some of the exterior shots were done in New York, the freezing weather ultimately proved too much for Wilder, who ordered that the facade be rebuilt on a sound stage. This is one of the production pictures used for the building study…

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…revealing the actual location once and for all: C. C. Baxter’s apartment was at 55 West 69th Street:

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Of course, things have changed a bit on West 69th Street:

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Most of the grand staircases have been removed to make way for more apartment space. Also, the trees have certainly grown:

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If Baxter were to enter his apartment today…

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…he’d actually be going into someone’s second story window:

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Most of the brownstone shots were apparently done on the stage…

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Various differences give this away, such as the added horizontal accents and more elaborate staircases, and the lack of rounded bay windows in the neighboring building.

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Still, the authenticity is pretty spot on…

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…as revealed when Baxter looks up to the window of his apartment:

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Though the interiors were all done on a stage as well…

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….Wilder and his crew visited several bachelor pads in the area for inspiration…

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…and you could really be forgiven for thinking the whole thing was shot on location:

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Reluctantly lending out his apartment a second time in one night, Baxter retreats to Central Park…

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…finding a spot to wait on the benches running along the West Drive of Central Park:

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What I love is that the geography makes sense – walking from West 67th Street, this is exactly where you’d plunk down if you were wandering in misery while your boss shacks up with a floozie in your apartment:

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It’s not hard to find the exact location – just look for the lamppost with the tree behind it, which perfectly matches up with the frame. Freezing and wet, Jack Lemmon actually got sick while filming this, which was incorporated into the script.

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Ultimately, Baxter’s brownstone earns him a promotion – and tickets to see The Music Man on Broadway. He invites elevator girl Fran Kublik, and the two walk along outside of 2 Broadway.

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Fran promises to meet him after having a drink with an unnamed former fling…

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…an agreement made at the corner of Broadway and Beaver Street:

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And again, the geography stays true as Kublik turns right onto Beaver Street…

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…then turns left onto New Street…

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…which might just be the first and last time anyone has ever filmed on tiny New Street:

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Back in the 1950s, New Street was apparently bustling, with several bright restaurants (though the Rickshaw Chinese Restaurant, her destination, was probably fictional):

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Today, all of this is gone, with barricades preventing unauthorized cars from getting into the Financial District.

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As it turns out, Kublik’s former fling is Baxter’s evil boss Sheldrake, who professes his love and swears to divorce his wife to be with her. The two go back to Baxter’s apartment, while Baxter waits outside the theater:

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The Majestic theater today, at 245 West 44th Street:

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Opened in 1927, the landmarked theater has seen the premieres of such classics as The Music Man, Carousel, Camelot, and Phantom of the Opera, the longest running Broadway show in history.

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Weeks later at the company Christmas party, Baxter learns that Kublik stood him up for Sheldrake and goes to drink his sorrows away in a bar (unaware that she is in his apartment at this very moment attempting to kill herself, having discovered that Sheldrake lied to seduce her):

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While it’s looking a little smaller, this was shot on location…

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…at The Emerald Inn, an Irish pub located at 205 Columbus Ave:

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Opened in 1943, the Emerald Inn has been a continual Upper West Side fixture through three generations of ownership. Sadly, as many of you have pointed out, it looks like the bar will finally close later this year over a rent increase.

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It appears that at some point after 1959, the bar was halved in size – note the position of the door above and below:

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Still, if you want to drink forlornly like Jack Lemmon…

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…you can’t beat the real thing:

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And once again, the geography makes sense: the Emerald Inn is located at Columbus and 69th, just around the corner from Baxter’s apartment. Here’s a map for those who would like to do The Apartment walking tour (er, good luck with that jaunt down to the Battery!):


View Filming Locations of The Apartment in a larger map

The Apartment ends just after midnight on New Year’s Day. As Baxter finally tries to declare his love for Ms. Kublik before a game of gin rummy, she interrupts him with her famous closing line: “Shut up and deal.”

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While some might have been hoping for a big, movie-ending smooch, I don’t know if there’s a more honest summation of love to be found in a romantic comedy. Love isn’t about gushy words or passionate kisses, as Ms. Kublik knows full well.

Love is in the moments when you’re playing cards over a bottle of champagne in a small apartment in New York.

-SCOUT

PS – Want to feel some real magic? Sit on Jack Lemmon’s bench in the park. Trust me, you’ll feel it.

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31 comments

  1. Awesome awesome awesome post…as always!

  2. Just amazing, I love this site. I worked downtown for years and had no clue.

  3. If you want to do the tour, better do it quick, because it appears that the Emerald Inn is not long for this world….

    http://www.westsiderag.com/2013/02/12/after-70-years-emerald-inn-likely-to-close

  4. Sadly, the Emerald Inn will be closing soon. The family can’t afford the rent. It makes me sick! Love that place.

  5. Great story! Thanks.

  6. As usual you have outdone yourself.

    Thanks.

    Michael Scully

  7. Janice Delaney Stearns

    That’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise!

  8. Janice Delaney Stearns

    Loved that movie and have seen it multiple times – great casting and great NY vibe. They really nailed it! Leave it to Billy Wilder.

  9. Superb and fascinating, as always. I don’t remember this detail from the movie, but it appears from the stills that the Jack Lemmon character is not an insurance salesman, but is an accountant who works for an insurance company in the “Premium Accounting Division.”

  10. My all-time favorite ‘romantic’ movie. I’ve often wondered what was on location and what was done using movie sets. Thanks so much for this tour through a great, great moview. Now I have to leave work early to go home and watch this movie one more time.

  11. You might check the lobby of the New York Life building.

  12. Love that the park benches look to be the same ones. I assume that over all these years, the wood has been replaced, but could the cement support be original? Rare in NYC to see something that has not changed at all!

  13. OF all the wonderful features that you provide this is my favorite.

  14. I’m in the minority. I never liked this film as I did not like any of the characters and their motivations. That said, it is a fine film and I love that the locations were set in my neighborhood. I’ll have to stop in at the Emerald before it closes and raise a glass.

  15. Exceptional job by you Scout for what was an exceptional movie. Props to you!

  16. I always look forward to reading your posts about locations for movies filmed in New York. How about doing the original Out of Towner’s with Jack Lemmon?

  17. I love this movie, thanks for solving the mystery of the locations. Was a bit confused on the info regarding the office lobby, I know you said it was probably a set but you showed some photos and wasn’t sure where they were from. Thanks.

  18. Weird to see that enormous room full of ‘accountants’ (a comptometer!) that has been replaced by one person and a computer.
    Great post!

  19. For more on Emerald Inn’s plight, here’s a link a New York Times piece. (The printed article appears in the Feb. 26 issue.)

    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/25/sad-eyes-await-the-last-guinness-at-a-columbus-ave-pub/?ref=nyregion

  20. Superb. Love this site!

  21. really a scouting deep work

  22. Sad to hear about the Emerald Inn. I was looking at the photos, and I think it’s actually the same size as it was in the film – what’s changed is the facade, which now has one, bigger window and an offset door. If you look at the relation of the door to the bar in both photos, you’ll see what I mean.

  23. Nick, I love this flick. Thank you for bringing us all this detail in true Scouting fashion. My next time in the city I will have to raise a jar to the inimitable Mr. Lemmon.

  24. I’m working on a painting of a photo from West 40th and 6th Avenue of the Tip-Top Luncheon. I would be interested to see what it is like now. I’ve had a look on your archive list, but can not see any posts about it. The photo is on this link on my blog – http://pamsbubble.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/new-york-drawing.html

    Love your piece on The Apartment – planning to watch it tomorrow night

    Thanks

    Pam

  25. As a Canadian who loves New York City, I am loving how thorough your post as with the comparisons from the past to now. I also now, want to rent this movie because it looks cute!

  26. Agree with Robert S. – the pub is the same size, but the door was moved to the side so a second door could be added. Under the window there’s a double + a single table. We would go there about once a month when we lived around the corner. And sit on that exact table under the window. Always nice and thoughtful service. Hope they find a new, more affordable location.

  27. I too spent a while trying to find the apartment here in NYC. I almost gave up. I was walking around the Paramount Pictures lot a couple of weeks ago, turned around, and had to pick my jaw up because this is what I saw:

    http://totallymorgan.tumblr.com/post/47674834976/i-miss-la-this-is-the-apartment-from-the

  28. Check out my short film Crazy Love around the 3.30 Mark. The apartment I filmed outside was what I believed to be the apartment from The Apartment! But I don’t totally remember the address; but it was on the Upper East Side! Was I completely wrong? It looks like THE APARTMENT!

  29. Is the front of Baxter’s apartment the same as the front of the apartment that Marie and Jess moved into in the movie, “When Harry Met Sally”?

  30. A lot of great and exhausting detail from my favorite film, but 90% of the photos did not come through. Frustrating!

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