On March 29, 1971, The Godfather, considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made, began principal photography in New York City.
Because the film is a period piece, The Godfather actually presents a fascinating record of what 1940s-era New York City locations still existed in the early-1970s. Sadly, many of them are now gone. What still remains? Let’s take a closer look.
The Godfather opens at the wedding of Don Corleone’s only daughter Connie.
This is the Corleone residence today, located at 110 Longfellow Avenue in Staten Island.
The house today is pretty much the same as it appears in the film, except for one detail…
What happened to all the stone walls and the entrance gate?
These were all fake, set up at the end of Longfellow Avenue to give the Corleone residence the feeling of a walled compound. This is what the same angle looks like today:
Another shot from later in the film offers a better look at the layout:
Still later, when Kay arrives at the house, we see a different angle including the guard booth.
In reality, there are actually several houses at the end of the block that were cut off by the fake wall:
As the wedding progresses, detectives show up to take license plate numbers. Our point of view here is toward toward the house…
The wedding sequence was staged on the house’s palatial lawn, which I imagine was a major factor for why it was chosen:
After a quick jaunt to California involving a movie producer and a horse (to be covered someday by sister site Scouting LA), we return to New York and get our first look at Corleone’s business front, Genco Olive Oil, just as Sollozzo arrives for a sit-down.
This was filmed in what was once the heart of Little Italy at 128 Mott Street, known as The Mietz Building.
Built in 1892, the sprawling Mietz & Weiss Oil Engine Building has a wonderful ever-so-slight curve that follows the path of Mott Street:
While the Renaissance Revival building is overall in good shape, some changes have been made over the years, including the removal of fire escapes…
…and most egregiously, the complete gutting of the ground floor facade. I have no idea how this was allowed to happen, but it’s pretty awful.
The interior of Genco Oil was reportedly built on the fourth floor of a warehouse nearby to 128 Mott Street (but not actually in the Mietz building).
We then join Michael Corleone and his girlfriend Kay Adams as they Christmas shop at the Best & Co. Department Store on Fifth Avenue at 51st Street.
After the Best & Co. chain went out of business in the mid-1970s, the building was torn down to make way for the 51-story Olympic Tower currently at the site. Note St. Patrick’s and Saks a block further in both pictures.
Uneasy with the possible introduction of drugs into his business world, Don Corleone sends Luca Brasi to meet with Sollozzo and pledge his loyalty in order to spy on him. Brasi heads down a hotel hallway…
…shot in the rear entrance to the Hotel Edison on West 46th Street btw. 7th & 8th.
Brasi is then murdered by Sollozzo in an upscale restaurant…but where was this shot? There has been a lot of debate over this. Many argue that it was simply done in the Edison’s bar, and logistically it would make sense – except that nothing at the Edison ever looked like this.
In fact, this pivotal scene was actually filmed in the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn.
The tip comes from a 72-year-old Brooklyn Heights barber named Rocco Scali, who recalls cutting actor Lenny Montana’s hair just before the scene was filmed in the hotel’s lobby bar, according to this NY Times article.
What is unbelievable is that I cannot find a single damn picture of the establishment. In fact, about the only pictures you can find of the Hotel St. George, once the largest hotel in New York City, are postcard images taken in the 1930s and 40s. The St. George used to be teeming with theme venues (The Stardust Room, The Bermuda Terrace), but who knows what was still around in 1971 when The Godfather was shot? If anyone has any leads, or has any memories of the space, please let me know!
Carrying on, Tom Hagen is then abducted by Sollozzo as he exits Polk’s Hobby Shop at 314 Fifth Avenue.
Fondly remembered as one of New York’s best hobby shops, Polk’s went out of business over 20 years ago, and is today Empire Pizza.
Back in Little Italy, Don Corleone steps out of the Genco offices and crosses the street toward 135-137 Mott Street.
He stops to buy fruit from the vendor at 137 Mott Street (note the Jake “Raging Bull” La Motta poster in the window):
Today, a Chinese pharmacy:
Just then, two assassins spring out and begin shooting, gunning down Corleone in front of the entrance to Genco at 128 Mott:
Later that night, we find Michael and Kay coming out of a show at Radio City Music Hall:
They exit the side entrance on West 50th Street…
Then, Kay notices a headline on the newsstand announcing the Corleone shooting:
The two run across the street…
…to a telephone booth, where Michael calls home.
Meanwhile, Tom has been taken to an abandoned diner.
I really wish I knew where this was, but it seems that any record of it is long gone. Anyone have any ideas? Not sure if the interior was actually abandoned, or if this was built on a stage:
In retaliation, Sonny orders Clemenza to kill Paulie Gatto, who helped set up the attempt on his father’s life. We see Clemenza leaving his house…
…and here it is today, located at 1999 East 5th Street on the edge of the Gravesend section in Brooklyn.
Other than a few hints about the neighborhood, I couldn’t find any information anywhere on the address, and I almost gave up looking. Finally, I just knocked on a neighbor’s door – and she pointed me right up the block!
We later get another shot of the house as Clemenza leaves to assist in the round of assassinations at the end of the film.
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