The Filming Locations of The Naked City – Part 1: The Lower East Side & Williamsburg Bridge

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…

0001 - DUMBO - 061 - jumping off

0002 - DUMBO - 061a - jumping off copya

A time when horse-drawn carriages still passed through the Lower East Side…

0003 - LES - Norfolk Rivington 106

0004 - LES - Norfolk Rivington 106a

And a time when an elevated train still wound its way through downtown Manhattan:

0006 - Downtown - Coenties Slip - 018 - elevated train

0005 - Downtown - Coenties Slip - 018a - elevated train

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.

0006a - Downtown - Coenties Slip - 018 - elevated train

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!):

0007 - LES - Norfolk Rivington 106

0008 - LES - Norfolk Rivington 106a

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:

0009 - LES - Norfolk Rivington 107

0010 - LES - Norfolk Rivington 107a

The officer waits to talk to the clerk:

0011 - LES - Norfolk Rivington 108

0012 - LES - Norfolk Rivington 108a

Then the officer makes a call, and we get a look at the eatery across Rivington. Today, it’s the Le Chic Nail Salon:

0013 - LES - Norfolk Rivington 109

0014 - LES - Norfolk Rivington 109a

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:

0015 - LES - Orchard & Stanton 128

0016 - LES - Orchard & Stanton 128a

A shot looking south on Orchard Street. Note all the pushcart vendors below:

0017 - LES - 170 Orchard on the left at Stanton125

0018 - LES - 170 Orchard on the left at Stanton125a

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.

0019 - LES - 118 Orchard ST - 127

0020 - LES - 118 Orchard ST - 127a

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.

0021LES - Rivington & Essex - 102

0022LES - Rivington & Essex - 102a

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.

0029 LES - Essex & Rivington 121

0030 - LES - Essex & Rivington 121a

A cop chases a suspect across Rivington…

0023 LES - Essex & Rivington122

0024 LES - Essex & Rivington122a

Heading toward the northern entrance of the Essex Street Market – today, the Essex Restaurant.

0025 - LES - Essex & Rivington123

0026 -LES - Essex & Rivington123a

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.

0027 - LES - Essex & Rivington124

0028 -+ LES - Essex & Rivington124a

 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.

0031 - LES - Ave A & Houston - 112

0032 - LES - Ave A & Houston - 112a

Later, an officer questions children at what is today the ABC Playground:

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The officer crosses the street, and we get a great shot of a Jewish gravestone vendor:

0035 - LES - Ave A & Houston - 113

0036 - LES - Ave A & Houston - 113a

A chase ensues among the graves…

0037 - LES - Ave A & Houston - 114

0038 - LES - Ave A & Houston - 114a

…and the characters run through a vacant lot over to East 2nd Street. Note the clotheslines passing between buildings:

0039 - LES - Ave A & Houston - One block over 120

0040 - LES - Ave A & Houston - One block over 120a

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.

0041 - LES - Delancey - 131

0042 - LES - Delancey - 131a

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.

0043 - LES - Delancey - 129

0044 - LES - Delancey - 129a

Below, a reverse shot looking west on Delancey from the Williamsburg Bridge.

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0046 - LES - Delancey - 134a

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…

0047 - Bridge - WB - 136

0048 - BRIDGE - WB - 136a

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.

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The murderer runs up the esplanade, which originally ran along the southern side of the bridge:

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0052 - Bridge - WB - 137a

Today, the walkway runs directly above the subway tracks in the center:

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0055 Bridge - WB - 139a

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:

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0055bBridge - WB - 143a

Cops run to catch the crook from the Brooklyn side, passing one of the bridge’s towers. Love the optimism of that sign.

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0056a - Bridgea - WB - 142

The perp runs up the stairs of the bridge…

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0058 Bridge - WB - 145a

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.

0059 -Bridge - WB - 146

The tour continues through Times Square, Chelsea, Soho and Midtown. Click here for Part 2!

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23 comments

  1. Great job. Don’t forget 52 W 83rd, where the murdered girl Jean Dexter was found in the bathtub. You can see Weegee for a second snap a photograph as Barry Fitzgerald exits the car and enters the building.

  2. > Can someone explain to me why all of this was torn down and replaced by enormous vacant lots?

    Search the Web for “history of SPURA”

    • And let’s not forget the criminal State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s role in that. He and his cronies and benefactors manipulated property and let empty lots languish in order to keep newer neighborhood arrivals (i.e., non-Jewish, Hispanics and Asians) from having housing.

  3. Line-cutting prohibited. Love it!

  4. One of my all-time favorite films; thank you SO MUCH for this! It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for such a long time, and you have given me a greater incentive.
    I’ve driven up Houston Street thousands of times and never realized that building had been literally in the middle of the street!

  5. Love it! And don’t forget the TV show Naked City, which is fantastic, and has some of the most gorgeous shots of NYC ever in it. I’d love to see you do iconic places from the show!

  6. Just watched this on tv a few weeks ago. the esplanade that you showed above had kids roller skating with old time skates. I can’t believe some of this still exists. I need to skate up there once if I can. I’m 67 and and I remember parts of the lower east side looking this way.Thank you

  7. Here is a link to a NYT article that covers that vacant lot on Delancey, sent to me by a friend:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/nyregion/they-kept-a-lower-east-side-lot-vacant-for-decades.html?_r=0

  8. that narrow building on Houston….seems to have had these addresses:

    2 Avenue A
    4 Avenue A
    5 Avenue A

  9. I was born in 1946 and grew up on north side of E. Houston between Ridge and Attorney Streets. The narrow building “in the middle of Houston Street” in the photo was really on the north side of Houston Street, where 1st Street merged into it diagonally and came to an end (beginning of the 1812 NYC street grid plan), so this was a triangle-shaped building, like a mini-flatiron. This building, like the tenement I grew up in, and the rest of the north side of Houston was demolished in 1955 to widen Houston into a two-way street. Before then, it was always choked with traffic because it was one of the few streets downtown that ran almost all the way across town west to east, while the numbered streets north ran into it diagonally, creating choke points.

    I remember most of the scenes in these photos from my youth. My father had a candy store on Avenue B and 3rd Street and later on Clinton near Stanton Street, and my grandfather had a candy store on Delancey and Pitt near the live chicken market under the bridge. When I was little, my grandmother would take me on walks across the bridge, and we would take the bus back from Williamsburg. It was a grand pedestrian walk, with benches for a good part of its length. On Jewish holidays it was thronged with people. I had my Bar Mitzvah party at Gluckstern’s Kosher restaurant on the south side of Delancey (demolished in the photo). I went with my father to buy wine at Shapiro’s for Passover. Once two winemakers fell into a big vat and drowned. The horsedrawn wagons, by the late 40’s, were mostly limited to ice and seltzer delivery. My grandfather sold and delivered seltzer in the Twenties, and I have a bottle with his name and business address on Ridge St. etched on it that I found in the 90s. Naked City is needless to say a very nostalgic movie for me, especially the scenes shot on the bridge pedestrian walk.

    • Ira, thanks so much for that. I live on and write about the LES, and love hearing about the way it was.

    • Oh my gosh. Stories like this are amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. I lived at Rivington & Ridge for a few years (now i live in Williamsburg) and I am utterly amazing by the history of the neighborhood (and the city in general to be honest). These photos make me nostalgic for an LES that I was never a part of (or alive for!). Would absolutely love to pick your brain regarding your memories. What a gift for those of us who will never know that same NYC.

  10. I hope you show photos of the movie’s chase through the monuments, because Silver’s monument store still exists, next to the Essex Street Market. The monuments were in the lot next to it. I had a great aunt and uncle who lived in the building and I was terrified of visiting because I thought the building was haunted.

  11. 52 W 83 St is actually 46 W 83 St. I assume they changed the address for the movie. It looks like they stuck the 52 W 83 St plaque on the awning just for the day in the film.

  12. OLYMPIASEPIRIOTE

    The entrance to the walkway on the Williamsburg Bridge still looked like that (although very decrepit) through the 1980’s. I used to live in W’burg, south side, from ’87-90, and would regularly bicycle over that bridge…for transport, not fun. Those asphalt tiles that paved it were frequently out of true or completely missing. Most of the bridge wasn’t well-lit. I worked for a while at CBGB’s and would bike home at 3 or 4 am. Heard lots of stories about people getting attacked there, but I rarely saw anyone at all. I suspected everyone was so leery of it that no one actually went there after dark, including the “bad guys”.

  13. Jancie D Stearns

    Awesome as usual….have to rent that movie again – so great. Lost New York for sure!

  14. Nick,

    I’m in Illinois and have been fortunate enough to experience NYC a few times, including the Lower East Side. Many thanks for your history preservation work and webpage — as Yogi would say, “It’s deja vu all over again” for myself.

    Re your comment about “a building in the middle of Houston Street!! Originally located between Norfolk & Essex, this tenement could not have been more than 10 feet wide.” I looked up the (AMAZING)
    1879 Taylor map of NYC in its highest resolution and zoomed in. From it, I’m thinking the ground-level crate-like structure originally had been a horse and/or equipment stable/barn/shed for early horse-drawn trolleys, with offices above it. Furthermore, the structure appears in a relatively open area completely surrounded by tracks, so it might also have been a major transportation terminus where ‘Ol Dobbin plodded and rested. I guess all this could be checked out at your transportation museums and great public library.

  15. Hmmm…looking again at the 1879 Taylor hi-res map there might be the letter “5” printed on the building. Going over to the map “Reference” box on the map’s right side, “Essex” market is listed. Maybe the building was part of an ‘open air’ market with with vendor stalls — an early precursor to the present Essex market at Delancey.

  16. Leenie from LES

    How wonderful it was coming across this link! Perfect timing, because I was just visiting the LES this past weekend. I currently live in the WDC area and it’s been a long time since I’ve been in my old neighborhood. My sister-in-law and I did most of our scouting by foot (braving the cold). I gree up on Madison Street in the Vladeck Projects. We walked all around the area starting from the beginning of Grand Street all the way up East Broadway into the Bowery, down Delancey and ending by the Willamsburg Bridge entrance (Clinton Street). I couldn’t believe all the changes! Lots of hipsters and great eateries. I missed some of the old ones, though (Ratners, for example). I could believe that I was having dinner and drinks at the Shapiro’s restaurant. I remember going into the old Shapiro’s and sampling wines with my dad. And how I used to go shopping with my mom and grandma in the Essex Street market. The smell inside hasn’t changed, though LOL. Thank you for making this remarkable film. I will cherish the photos I captured during my journey and reminisce with the ones shared in yours.

  17. A building in the same vain as the demolished one on Houston can be be found at Fairview Avenue:

    https://www.google.nl/maps/@40.857359,-73.929827,3a,75y,231.68h,78.04t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1s_10PawT-vje_hTVxAZtK5A!2e0!6m1!1e1

  18. if anyone gets this station , http://www.decades.com/ , they are currently airing naked city episodes..

  19. If you do an aerial search on 147 Norfolk Street you will see the lot with the cemetery monuments STILL THERE. Instead of a link fence it now has a cement wall with faux doors.

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