The Naked City, a 1948 film noir from producer Mark Hellinger, was filmed in New York City at a time when kids still swam off the docks in the East River…
A time when horse-drawn carriages still passed through the Lower East Side…
And a time when an elevated train still wound its way through downtown Manhattan:
The Naked City was filmed almost entirely on the streets of New York City documentary-style in an era when the vast majority of movies would simply cheat it with obviously fake backlot sets. While the noir story itself is OK, the film shines as a photographic record of Manhattan in the late 1940s, with location scouting by none other than famed photographer Weegee.
So how does the New York City of 1948 compare to today? There were a lot of locations to track down, and rather than publish one long list of then-and-now images in chronological order as I usually do, I’ve instead grouped them by neighborhood, which I think is more revealing. I’ll be publishing this article in installments throughout the week, so be sure to check back. Today’s post:
The Lower East Side & Williamsburg Bridge
Location: Norfolk St. & Rivington St.
No neighborhood shines more in The Naked City than the Lower East Side, its Jewish heritage on display in nearly every shot. We’ll start at the corner of Norfolk and Rivington. Note the corner soda fountain, offering Borden’s ice cream. Today, it’s Tiny’s Giant Sandwich (quite good!):
A police officer enters the soda fountain (actually shot on location in the soda fountain!), and we get a shot of the opposite corner, home to Greiff Wines – note the Hebrew writing on the windows (also note the Clark bars for sale, my dad’s favorite candy bar). Everything has since been razed, today a school playground:
The officer waits to talk to the clerk:
Then the officer makes a call, and we get a look at the eatery across Rivington. Today, it’s the Le Chic Nail Salon:
Location: Orchard St. & Stanton St.
Orchard Street also gets quite a lot of play in the film. Below, the southeast corner of Orchard and Stanton. At some point, these tenements were razed, replaced by the one-story storefronts that exist today:
A shot looking south on Orchard Street. Note all the pushcart vendors below:
Finally, a shot taken further down on Orchard Street. Check out the establishment on the left: Sol Moscot in its original digs at 120 Orchard! For those who aren’t familiar with it, Sol Moscot is still in business after all these years, though at a different location.
Location: Rivington St. & Essex St.
We now move to Rivington & Essex, with a great shot featuring a shaved ice vendor. Note Schapiro’s Winery prominently visible in the background. Schapiro’s, “the wine you can almost cut with a knife,” is sadly gone today, though the wall advertisement (you can see a portion of it below with an arrow) lives on.
We also get a shot of the property to the left of Schapiro’s, at the time, a scrap iron dealer. Today, the lot has become a one-story restaurant named after the defunct Schapiro’s.
A cop chases a suspect across Rivington…
Heading toward the northern entrance of the Essex Street Market – today, the Essex Restaurant.
We next get a fantastic look at the market’s interior. The Essex Street Retail Market was created in 1940 by Fiorello LaGuardia as way to get pushcart and street vendors off the streets, where overcrowding was a problem.
Location: Houston St. & Norfolk St.
This one really amazed me – there’s a building in the middle of Houston Street!! Originally located between Norfolk & Essex, this tenement couldn’t have been more than 10 feet wide or so, and I’d love to know more about it. You can see the Provident Loan Society building in the back left, today home to the club Element.
Later, an officer questions children at what is today the ABC Playground:
The officer crosses the street, and we get a great shot of a Jewish gravestone vendor:
A chase ensues among the graves…
…and the characters run through a vacant lot over to East 2nd Street. Note the clotheslines passing between buildings:
Location: Delancey Street
Below, a shot of the south side of Delancy looking toward the Williamsburg Bridge and featuring a Lower East Side that tragically is no more.
These five blocks were razed in the 1960s as part of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, a federal program to replace tenements with low-income housing. Due to political corruption and mismanagement, the land would remain vacant right up to the present, although plans are in place to begin development of the area by this spring.
Below, a reverse shot looking west on Delancey from the Williamsburg Bridge.
Location: The Williamsburg Bridge
The final chase of the movie takes place on the Williamsburg Bridge, which today looks decidedly different. Originally built in 1903, the bridge has gone through some major reconfiguring over the years, with nearly all of the original entrance now gone. Note the stairs on the right…
Originally, you’d enter the pedestrian walkway of the bridge via those stairs, to the right of today’s entrance. Note the sign prohibiting bicycle use – today, the Williamsburg Bridge is the most heavily biked span in North America.
The murderer runs up the esplanade, which originally ran along the southern side of the bridge:
Today, the walkway runs directly above the subway tracks in the center:
However, as the central ramp splits to the northern side of the bridge, it appears that this is largely unchanged. In fact, you can even match the rivets:
Cops run to catch the crook from the Brooklyn side, passing one of the bridge’s towers. Love the optimism of that sign.
The perp runs up the stairs of the bridge…
Wish I could get up the stairs to match this incredible shot. Honestly, you really, really have to hand it to a movie that was willing to film a chase scene on location up the stairs of the Williamsburg Bridge in the 1940s.
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