If locations were billed alongside actors, Robert DeNiro would share co-starring credits on Taxi Driver with New York City.
The character of Travis Bickle is utterly co-dependent with the New York of 1976, a spawn of all that New York had become at the time. Without the tough, dangerous, smut-filled, immoral, seedy, dank, sweaty, filthy, gritty streets of that world, Bickle could not exist.
That world has vanished. Travis Bickle is dead.
Finding the locations used in Taxi Driver turned out to be incredibly difficult, largely because the film documents a side of the city that has since been demolished, rebuilt, renovated, spit-shined, and stamped with a seal of approval. Literally, entire blocks that appear in the movie have been leveled since 1976, and only the brief appearance of a building number or street sign gives any clue to the actual location.
The movie begins with a blurry, surreal trip through Times Square and the surrounding blocks. Though the footage is too distorted to be sure of any locations, I’d love to know where that Modell’s is (6th Ave?).
The film opens with Travis Bickle heading to a cabstand on 57th Street to get a job.
In the background of the first shot, the now defunct West Side Elevated Highway is visible. The elevated highway was shutdown in 1973 due to neglect and deterioration (a dump truck collapsing through a portion near 14th Street sealed its fate). The highway was later dismantled and replaced by the mostly ground-level West Side Highway (though some of the old elevated portions remain north of 57th St). The building on the river is gone – anyone know what it is (maybe an old marine terminal)? Note the view of New Jersey in the background; many of those same houses and buildings still exist.
The building on the left in this next still has been torn down; a glass-and-steel highrise is currently going up in its place.
Sadly, the cab stand and surrounding buildings have all been demolished – I’m guessing another glass-and-steel apartment building will also be going up on this spot soon.
Before we continue, a quick look around 57th Street to see what still remains from the Taxi Driver days:
This building on the corner is one of the few remaining structures that was around in 1976. Founded in 1897, Artkraft Strauss was a sign manufacturer famous for creating Times Square’s most iconic neon displays, including the smoking camel, the Bond sign, and the Morgan Stanley ticker. Artkraft Strauss was also responsible for creating and maintaining the National Debt Clock on 34th Street.
In 2006, Artkraft Strauss closed its manufacturing arm to focus on consulting.
I’m willing to bet this garage sign has been around since ’76.
Finally, I’m not 100% sure about Jamie’s Foreign Car Service, but that font seems pretty dated…and when was the last time you saw a sign in Manhattan advertising repair work on “Japanese Cars”?
Back to the film. Now equipped with a cab, Travis begins making the rounds (he seems to prefer the Times Square beat). For a brief moment, you get a glimpse out the rear window of the cab:
Bond Clothing, on the right in the Taxi Driver still, was once one of the most memorable buildings in Times Square. Famous for advertising “two-trouser suits,” the original building featured two 50-foot statues of a man and a woman…
…and a 50,000 gallon “waterfall” sign behind the main logo, spanning 120 feet at over 27 feet high. Note the sign declaring that “every hour, 3,490 people buy at Bond” (very exact!). Sadly, the Bond store went through many renovations, and closed their Times Square location in 1977 (a year after the filming of Taxi Driver). A new restaurant using the Bond name has opened on 45th Street.
As Travis is driving along, you get a few very quick glimpses at some long gone Times Square establishments. This eatery (location unknown), offers 2 eggs and extras for the bargain price of 90 cents.
A small market (location also unknown) offers cigarettes for 45-50 cents.
Next, we get the iconic shot of Travis walking down 8th Ave south of 47th Street to go to a porno movie.
Yup, a Duane Reader on the corner, a Hilton across the street, and the porn theater is now a Gray Line bus company ticket center (I have to admit, there is something satisfying about the thought of tourists buying NY sightseeing tickets there, totally clueless to the building’s questionable past). Marquee comparisons:
Travis goes the Show & Tell theater at 737 8th Ave between 46th & 47th (DeNiro met his first wife, actress Dihanne Abbot, during the interior filming – she played the porno theater’s concession stand girl). There are two possibilities for the current 737 8th Ave, and neither are very rewarding:
A vacant lot midway up the block…
…or a strip of shuttered former porn video stores on the south corner. Either way, the Show & Tell is gone (though wouldn’t this be the perfect place for another glass-and-steel apartment building??).
After, we get a couple of totally random shots of New York, including this one on 7th Ave at 33rd Street, with the Empire State building in the background.
Coney Island Pizza on the left is now a Sbarro’s. The restaurant on the right is long gone. The building midway down the block is now the Old Navy flagship store. I miss NY’s old yellow street signs. But at least we have a new JC Penney’s!
The movie then takes us uptown to the Charles Palantine campaign headquarters at the corner of 63rd St & Broadway, where Travis meets love interest Betsy. The building is completely gone, replaced by an ugly apartment highrise:
Oddly, the “Locations Then-And-Now” featurette on the Taxi Driver Special Edition DVD incorrectly identifies this building at 62nd & Broadway as the campaign office, which I originally posted about:
Luckily, alert SNY reader David pointed out the mistake. Last time I’ll trust a DVD featurette…
Today, the doors that once brought you into Palantine’s campaign office now take you into a Bank of America.
The stoop Travis sits on is gone (oops – according to alert reader Alex, that’s actually Scorsese and not DeNiro):
Betsy exiting the building:
After Travis gets Betsy to agree to a coffee date, he’s back on his beat in Times Square. Here, we get a POV shot as Travis pulls over on the west side of 7th Ave btw. 42nd & 43rd streets. Things have changed a bit:
The theater playing Anita Nymphet is the old Rialto Theater, sadly torn down in 1998 to make way for the glass-and-steel Reuters building – check out an interesting comparison between buildings here. Playland is gone, of course.
And, on the corner, you get a look at former New York City-based fast food chain Nedicks, once famous for its orange drinks. The big arrow points to a Kentucky Fried Chicken, now gone (you can see part of the white sign).
Depressed? Don’t be – it only gets worse! Check out Part 2!
If you enjoyed reading this post, would you consider making a donation to help me make my first movie? The goal is $50,000, and to date, 1,728 Scouting NY readers have donated $36,348! Just $5 or $10 can make a difference - AND you get this snazzy Scouting NY sticker/magnet as a Thank-You gift! Click here to donate today!