Adapted from Peter Maas’s book, Sidney Lumet’s drama portrays the real-life struggle of an honest city cop against a corrupt system. Starring Al Pacino as the titular character, and filmed on location in every borough of New York (except Staten Island), “Serpico” effectively captures the life of a lone cop in New York City during the 1960’s and 70’s.
Always a fan of Sidney Lumet’s movies, “Serpico” has been one of my favorites, partly because it contains such a huge variety of filming locations from all across New York City. A total of 104 different locations were reportedly used. And even though Pacino’s acting can get a bit over-the-top for my tastes, the story of a single man going against a formidably corrupt system makes “Serpico” a compelling cop movie.
When I first watched this scene, I thought it’d be nearly impossible to figure out its location, since all you see is a generic educational-looking edifice in the background without any distinguishing signs or landmarks. Knowing Sidney Lumet shot the film in four of the five New York City boroughs, I figured this short scene could have been shot almost anywhere. But luck would have it, as I learned more about the production schedule, I did eventually figure it out. See the “Serpico Apprehends the Other Two Rapists” scene below to read about how I found this filming location.
Serpico at His First Precinct
Although this location appears fairly early in the film, it was one of the last to be identified, not because it was a terribly puzzling location but because it wasn’t on my original list of places I wanted to find. It was about a year later that I rewatched the film and decided to assemble a new list of locations, trying to make it as exhaustive as possible.
I found this spot within a couple hours, although it did take a little bit of legwork. In the first shot of Frank Serpico entering the building, you can see a a street sign that reads “Grand” and lettering above the police station entrance that reads “83rd Precinct.” Turns out that the real-life Serpico did begin his carreer at the 83rd in Brooklyn, but by the 1960s, the precinct had been eliminated. Since “Serpico” was made in the summer of 1973, I figured that this scene took place somewhere other than the actual 83rd station house, and that the precinct sign was most likely set-dressing.
With all this in mind, I still decided to begin my location-pursuit by doing some research on the 83rd precinct. After spending an hour or so on the internet, I found very little information on the station house, but I was pretty sure that the building that appeared in the film was not the old 83rd. I did think the building looked like an actual NYPD station, so I searched online to see if I could find a matching photo or an address of any police station that was on a “Grand.” (I still didn’t know if the building was on Grand Avenue or Grand Street, or even what borough it was in.)
Eventually, I stumbled upon a website that had a treasure trove of vintage photos of NYPD station houses, along with some brief descriptions. It was a great resource, but the only problem was they didn’t always list the addresses.
After going through the site, I couldn’t find anything listed on a “Grand,” but I did find a picture of the old 83rd, which didn’t match the building in the film and confirmed they used a different building. Then, when I looked through the “Brooklyn North” section, I found a picture of the 80th precinct building that looked similar to the one in the film. The photo on the website was a little grainy and shot from a different angle, but it looked like a possible match.
The website didn’t list the address, but after doing a little additional research, I found out that the 80th precinct station house was at 653 Grand Avenue. A quick visit to Google Street View, and I was certain I got the right spot. From there, it was easy to figure out that they shot the coffee-drinking scene at the shop across the street.
Chasing Three Rapists
I figured out this location by first figuring out the location of a park used in a later scene (See “Serpico Apprehends the Other Two Rapists” below). Once I identified the park, I soon recognized the nearby Manhattan Center For Science and Mathematics building. But before all this happened, I had already spent a good amount of time trying to figure out the location of this scene… to no avail.
In general, when trying to identify a filming location, if there aren’t any obvious landmarks or street signs in the scene, I check to see if there’s any reference to the location in the dialogue. Sometimes if they give an address, it ends up being the real address. This is especially handy if the scene takes place at night (like this one), where it can be difficult to make out any location details.
According to the dialogue in this scene, Serpico and his partner are supposed to be in Brooklyn. The dispatch says the rape-in-progress is at Grand and the BQE, but this proved to be a false address. In the film, the highway in the background is at street level and appears to be near a river, but in reality, the BQE is elevated and nowhere near a river when it intersects Grand Street. So, I knew it wasn’t actually shot in the immediate vicinity of Grand and the BQE, but I thought it was possibly shot somewhere else along the BQE, particularly where it runs along the East River.
I then spent some time looking along the BQE in Google Street View, but couldn’t find any buildings that matched the large, distinctive one the rapists are caught behind. Frustrated, I temporarily suspended my search on this scene and focused on other Serpico locations. This turned out to be rather fortuitous, since my investigation into the “Serpico Apprehends the Other Two Rapists” scene eventually lead me back to identifying the location of this scene.
Serpico Apprehends the Other Two Rapists
Even though it’s implied this scene took place in Brooklyn, I eventually figured out that it actually took place in East Harlem in Manhattan. The main clue was the river and highway seen in the background, and since there were no obviously tall building across the river, I guessed that we were in Manhattan, looking towards Brooklyn or Queens, instead of the other way around.
In a tighter shot of the suspects playing basketball, I could see a pedestrian walkway on the far end of the park going over the highway. There also seemed to be a larger bridge further in the distance.
Having biked a lot on the East River promenade, I was pretty familiar with the overpasses that go over the FDR highway, in particular the one that connected to Thomas Jefferson Park, which seemed to match the one in the film. And if that was correct, then that would make the larger bridge in the distance the Ward’s Island Bridge.
So on this hunch, I decided to check out the park and the neighboring streets in Google Street View to see if they matched the film. In the shot of Pacino at the payphone, you get a good view of a corner building that seemed to match the corner building at E 114th Street and Pleasant Ave. Even though it has changed a bit over the years, the red exterior of the attached restaurant was the main clue it was the same location. I then examined the rows of buildings looking north on Pleasant Avenue, and it became obvious that I had found the right place.
The park itself has gone through many renovations, so it was difficult to get the exact spot the action took place, but the basketball courts seemed to be in the same place as they were in the 1970s, so I was able to get the general location nailed down. After that, I noticed that the nearby Manhattan Center For Science and Mathematics building looked like the building in the “Chasing Three Rapists” scene. And in a matter of minutes, I was able to confirm two different scene locations. However, it wasn’t until several months later that I realized that the Science and Mathematics building was also where they shot the “Graduation” scene (see above).
Serpico Family Shoe Shop
This was one of the last locations I was able to find, with the help of my research partner, Jeff Blakeslee. Even though the sign on the store read, “Serpico Shoe Service,” I knew that it most likely was not filmed in the original shop. However, I was still interested in finding the original shop’s address because there was a good chance they filmed in the same neighborhood (see “Moving into Greenwich Village” below), plus I was just curious. Over the course of the next several months, I searched the internet for any information on the family store, but I had difficultly finding any non-oblique references, which surprised me. Considering Frank Serpico was a NYC icon, I thought there’d be more info his family business out there.
Putting the location of the original shop aside, I instead focused on trying to find any clues in the scene that would lead me to the filming location. The two biggest clues were the corner bar that appears next to the frolicking kids, and the number “688” that appears on the shoe shop door.
The name on the bar’s awning looked like “West Lounge,” so I went to the public library and searched several phone books from 1973 to see if I could get a hit. I looked in both the white and yellow pages from every borough in New York (except Staten Island), but I couldn’t find a listing for a “West Lounge.” After hitting a dead end with the bar, I tried doing a general internet search for “shoe shop” or “shoe repair” in conjunction with “Serpico” and “688,” hoping I’d get lucky. But I didn’t.
Generally speaking, when a movie location consistently stumps me, the best thing to do is leave it alone for a while — and I ended up doing that for nearly a year, until I finally brought Blakeslee on board. Being the whiz researcher that he is, Blakeslee was able to figure out the address of the original Serpico family shoe shop fairly quickly, which was 810 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. But after consulting Google Street View of the building and its surrounding area, it was clear that it was not the same place seen in the film.
A little bit later, Blakeslee discovered a nice source — an excerpt from the February 1974 issue of “Filmmakers Newsletter” that has an interview with Serpico’s cinematographer, Arthur Ornitz. In it, he mentions that the shoe shop they used in the film was a real shop.
So I figured that if it was a real shop, then most likely the number 688 was real as well. Knowing that the original family shop was in Crown Heights, I searched the neighborhood for a “688” address on any nonresidential street. My thinking was that perhaps director Sidney Lumet shot the scene in the same area in order to capture a similar look. Also, because all of Pacino’s “clean cut” scenes had to be shot at the same time (the movie was actually shot in reverse order so Pacino could start with a beard and long hair and gradually trim it away as they go back in time), I thought maybe they filmed in the same general area as the “First Precinct” scene.
But after checking several streets and avenues in the Crown Heights area, I couldn’t find a building with an address of 688 that fit the bill. I even expanded my search by trying to find any building in Brooklyn with the number 688 — in particular, anything that was across the street from a gas station, because in the scene, it looked like there might be a station across from the shop.
I was still having no luck, and ready to take a break again, when Blakeslee noticed something interesting in the close-up shot of Pacino watching the kids play. On the right edge of the screen, there appeared to be a tall high-rise building, and he and I agreed that it didn’t look like something you’d see in Brooklyn in the 1970s, so we thought there was a good chance they shot the scene in Manhattan.
And since most of the cross-street addresses don’t go into the high 600’s, we figured it was most likely an avenue address. So Blakeslee started looking at the 688s on all the avenues in Google Street View and hit pay dirt almost immediately — spotting several key matches in and around 688 10th Avenue.
The two clinchers were the bricked-in archway on the wall behind the frolicking kids, and the unique wood molding that went around the residential entrance to 688.
Then out of curiosity, I wanted to see if my instincts were right about the lot across the street and whether there used to be a gas station there. Currently, that entire block is just an empty lot, and it’s been that way for over decade (according to past Google Street Views).
Eventually, I was able to find a 1980s photo of the block (with the help of the website, 80’s.nyc, which organizes old NYC tax photos via an interactive map), where there was a fully-active Gulf gas station. So, even though Blakeslee and I were already positive we found the correct address of the shoe shop, it’s always nice to get further evidence.
Moving to Greenwich Village
Not much of a backstory to finding this location. It was already pretty well-documented that the apartment scenes in this film took place on Minetta Street. However, back in 2006, years before I began this movie location project, Blakeslee and I were involved in a small research project involving the real Frank Serpico’s apartment. I knew that the apartment from the film was on Minetta, but I was pretty sure Serpico’s actual apartment was at 116 Perry Street. The reason I had this information is because, at the time, I was living at 116 Perry Street and heard that he used to live in the ground apartment, directly below mine.
Wanting to add this tidbit to the Serpico Wikipedia page, Blakeslee told me we needed to find an official citation to support this claim, and he took me on my first trip to the 42nd Street Library’s MicroFilm room. There we searched a 1970 Manhattan phone directory and to our delight, found a F. Serpico at 116 Perry Street. The next day, we added the reference to the Wikipedia page and went on with our lives.
About 12 years later (long after moving out of the West Village), while doing some research on the location of the family shoe shop, Blakeslee stumbled upon a documentary about Frank Serpico on YouTube. In the film, they featured an exterior shot of my old apartment building on Perry Street — an unexpected visual that floored us both! The film crew even went inside the building with Frank, as he gave a tour of his old apartment on the bottom floor.
Seeing the real Frank Serpico walk through a front door I had gone through thousands of times was quite a bizarre way to go down memory lane and finally confirm that he did, indeed, live in the apartment below me.
One other celebrity story about 116 Perry: One day during my residency in the West Village, I was at my neighborhood laundromat on the corner of Perry and Bleecker (See “Opening Montage – Village Shopping” from the 1977 film, The Sentinel), when I spotted an older, somewhat distinguished looking gentleman dropping off his laundry. The man looked strikingly like acclaimed actor, Ian McKellen, star of the Lord of Rings trilogy. When I told one of my friends of this celebrity sighting, he seemed a bit skeptical that an award-winning actor of his caliber was doing his wash in my little corner laundromat. But when I told him he was dropping off his clothes, not doing it himself, my friend became a little more convinced. Plus, I told him that when I took a peek at the drop-off slip on the counter, I could see in big block letters, “IAN.”
As my years in the Village added up, the occasional celebrity sighting on the street became rather commonplace (Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mathew Broderick and Sara Jessica Parker were all neighborhood regulars), but one day I was surprised to see Mr. McKellen actually at the bottom of the stairs inside my building. Turns out his boyfriend at the time lived in an apartment above me. Seeing a celebrity on the street was one thing, but seeing an Academy-award nominee inside my building was rather shocking, especially considering it was a tiny 8-unit residence. In fact, the place was so small that there wasn’t even enough room for two people to pass each other on the staircase, so when I saw him at the base of the stairs, I gave him a nod and waved him on… which of course, is the international gesture for, “You shall pass!”
New York University
Finding this location wasn’t too difficult. IMDB already listed “New York University” as a filming location, so it was just a matter of finding the right building.
I started with the end of the sequence, where Serpico and Leslie are riding on a motorcycle along Washington Square Park, passing the Arch on the right. So I just backtracked from there until I ended up at the NYU building at 100 Washington Square East which matched the building in the film.
Going to the Ballet
Not much to say about this location. It was pretty obvious they were at Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. And, like the NYU scene above, it was just a matter of finding the right building — which ended up taking only a few minutes.
Back at the Apartment
Chasing a Burglar
I sort of took a backwards way to find this location. It was one of these situations where I missed a very obvious clue visible in the scene that indicated where it was filmed — specifically, the subway platform sign that clearly said “DITMARS BLVD.”
I think I didn’t immediately notice the sign because it was partially obscured by some glare. So instead, I found this location by searching online for any of the businesses seen in background when the two men are running on the street, right before going into the alley. The first place I looked up was Vedeta Restaurant, which had the most clear and obvious sign. Thinking this scene looked like it took place in Queens, I used that as a keyword when I did a Google search.
Fortunately, I got a couple hits. I found a 1983 food guide that listed the restaurant’s address as 22-55 31St Street, and after consulting Google Street View, it looked like I got a match. After a little more poking around, I found enough elements to confirm I got the right spot.
Stoned on the 57th Street Platform
Whenever I try to locate a scene that takes place on a subway platform, more often than not, I figure it was either filmed at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station in Brooklyn, or on the 42nd Street Shuttle line in Manhattan. The reason these two places are often used in movies is because they both can provide platforms that aren’t being used for commuter traffic, allowing production to take complete control of a subway, and without disrupting normal service. And of course, the art department would simply put up fake signage to make it look like another station.
However, after looking at this scene, the location didn’t look like either one of those stations. The single center platform with a dead-end on one end didn’t match either of the 42nd Street shuttle stations, nor did it match the expansive Hoyt-Schermerhorn station. So, I gathered the signs that read “57th Street” were real. And even though there’s two 57th Street Stations in Manhattan (one on Sixth Ave and one on Seventh), after looking at pictures of both platforms, it was clear that the film took place on the one for the IND Sixth Avenue line.
Unfortunately, when I went to take pictures of the platform in July of 2018, I discovered the station had been closed down just the month before for renovations under the MTA’s Enhanced Station Initiative. (In the “before/after” image above, I had to use a picture from 2016 I found online that had a similar angle from the film.) Hopefully when the MTA is done with their work, I can get in there and take some pictures, and hopefully the changes aren’t so extensive that there won’t be a few remnants of the old station seen in the film.
Meeting at Lewisohn Stadium
When I first saw this scene, I couldn’t figure out where the heck this was shot. The large, but clearly deteriorated stadium looked like something out of Greece. I knew that if this stadium was in NYC, it was definitely long-gone, otherwise, I would have certainly already known about it.
After doing a little research into old stadiums in New York, I found pictures of the Adolph Lewisohn Stadium in Hamilton Heights, and concluded it was location used in this scene.
Designed by Arnold W. Brunner, the Doric-columned amphitheater with its a sprawling athletic field, was the brain-child of City College President, John H. Finley. And thanks to a $300,000 donation from philanthropist Adolph Lewisohn, the stadium became a reality and opened April 29, 1915. Besides hosting athletic events for the college, Lewisohn Stadium became the site of elaborate theatrical events and open-air concerts, offering New Yorkers a relatively inexpensive way to spend their summer nights.
The concerts, which had seen a steady decline in attendance over the years, were finally ended in 1966. Seven years later, in the fall of 1973, the stadium was demolished to make room for a $125 million North Academic Center that stands on the site today.
The demolition came only a few months after this scene from “Serpico” was shot, which probably accounts for the shabby appearance of the Greco-Roman structure. My guess is, knowing that it was on the brink of becoming rubble, Lumet chose to shoot a scene at Lewisohn Stadium to help immortalize its legacy on film.
Meeting Inspector Kellogg at a Restaurant
I usually skip a lot of the interior scenes when looking for locations for a film. The main reason is because the scenes usually aren’t shot at an actual location but rather on a studio set. Another reason is because a lot of interiors are at private locations not open to the public, making it nearly impossible to get current photographs of the space. And one final reason I often skip interior scenes is because there are seldom any clues I can work off of to help me actually figure out the location. When a scene takes place on the streets of New York, there are numerous clues that can help me pinpoint the location, such as street signs, store signs, nearby buildings, or even the basic look of the neighborhood and its terrane, but when it takes place inside, there are often very few clues to work from.
Needless to say, I wasn’t very confident I’d be able to figure out this location. However, the one thing going for it was the fact that it looked like it took place in a fairly large restaurant, which I thought might still in business, or at least famous enough that there might be a photo of the place. With the dark mahogany walls and stained-glass dividers, it looked like a place that would be in downtown Manhattan —either near City Hall or Wall Street— but as much as I searched online, I couldn’t find a photo that matched the restaurant in the film.
After hitting a wall, I reached out to Blakeslee to see if he could offer a little help. Amazingly, a couple hours later, he found a curious little ad in the Restaurant Section of a 1974 issue of New York Magazine which offered a great clue. It was a simple half-inch print ad for Suerken’s bar and restaurant, that gave out its address, along with an odd selling point — mentioning that they were featured in the film, “Serpico.”
Even though there was no mention as to what scene they were featured in, with an address near City Hall, I was fairly certain it had to be the “Meeting Inspector Kellogg at a Restaurant” scene.
Armed with a name and address, Blakeslee was able to find a nice-quality photo of the exterior of Suerken’s from the 1970’s. Unfortunately, it didn’t really help confirm the location since the entire scene took place inside the restaurant.
Eventually, I was able to wrangle up a small B&W picture of the bar area inside Suerken’s which I found in another issue of New York Magazine. It wasn’t a very good quality image, but it was obviously the same bar that appears over Pacino’s shoulder in the scene and helped confirm that Suerken’s was the correct location.
Now defunct, Suerken’s Restaurant opened for business sometime in the 1880’s (according to the last owner), and remained a downtown institution until its closure in 1986. In a September 24th issue of The New York Times, a small article describes the end of a City Hall Adjunct:
For more than three decades, Jimmy Meehan presided over a 19th-century corner of lower Manhattan. Behind a 35-foot serpentine mahogany bar at Suerken’s Restaurant at Park Place and Church Street. Jimmy got to know the restlessly changing cast of City Hall regulars, from the highest-ranking officials to the hardest-working bureaucrats.
This crew-cut giant in his ill-fitting red jacket belonged to the vanishing-breed variety of bartender – the kind who remembers names and nicknames, favored brands and detested bosses.
When Jimmy was closing up the place last Friday night, he was told not to come back Monday. After 109 years, Suerken’s has closed.
”We lost our lease,” said David Salonsky, who with his parents were the proprietors of Suerken’s. ”We were doing fabulously – better business than ever. You don’t necessarily have to fail to close.”
After Suerken’s closed its doors without much fanfare, the block-long commercial space was quickly gutted and broken up into a bunch of smaller stores by the landlord (most likely as a way to drum up more revenue). What used to be the main entrance to Suerken’s at 27 Park Place eventually became a tiny hair and nail salon. However, when I went to the location to take pictures in the summer of 2018, I was surprised to discover that the salon was closed, and the entire block-long space was gutted once again.
At first, when I saw the state of the building, I was afraid the whole thing was getting prepped to be razed. But according to a sign in the window of one of the former tenants, the space was simply being renovated and will be open for business again in the near future. Who knows if that’s true. Only time will tell.
Nevertheless, the true sad story involving this location is the fact that a century-old bar/restaurant, which by all accounts was a successful business, got swept away from the city of New York in the blink of an eye.
Serpico Asks the Captain About the Bronx
I found this location by going back to the website, policeny.com, which had previously aided me in finding the location of the “Serpico at His First Precinct” scene. Once again, I guessed that Lumet used a real location from the NYPD, and by the looks of the building, I thought that it was probably a specialty department or some sort of headquarters. (In the film, it was implied that the building was the location of the fingerprinting department, which was part of the Bureau of Criminal Investigations.) So when I searched the policeny website, I first went to the “HQ and Other Units” section.
Almost immediately, I saw an old photograph on the website of a building that looked a lot like the building from the film. In the caption, it mentioned that the building served as the “Police Training College,” and that it was across the street from the old Police Headquarters on Centre Street. When I rechecked the scene, I realized that the municipal-looking building next to the parking lot was in fact the old Police Headquarters, and thus confirming I found the right spot.
Surprisingly, the parking lot from the film is still there today, and hasn’t been gobbled up by greedy real estate developers who need to exploit unused air space.
One funny thing about this scene is that when I took pictures of the location in the summer of 2018, I didn’t realize that the building at 400 Broome Street was the same one from the film. The exterior was so dramatically different from what it looked like in 1973, I just assumed it was a new, modern building. It wasn’t until I went to the NYC Government Map to look up when the building got erected that I discovered that 400 Broome dates back to 1917.
Shaking Down a Mob Guy
I probably never would have found this location without the help of Blakeslee. Like the restaurant scene above, I was less than confident that I’d be able to figure out where this scene took place. My only clue was a window next to the front door that had stenciled lettering across it, which was presumably the name of the establishment.
To help me figure out what the lettering said, I took a still from the film, zoomed in on the window, reversed the image and sharpened it. It looked like possibly two words, and I thought the second word looked like, “REST,” which I figured was an abbreviation of “RESTAURANT.” I couldn’t quite make out the first word, so I sent the image to Blakeselee, to see what he thought.
After studying the picture, he thought the first word was “CROW” or “CROW’S,” mainly because he also noticed a stuffed bird in the front window. From there, Blakeslee and I searched online for any bar or restaurant with the the name, “Crow’s Rest.”
Unable to find anything useful, I suggested to Blakeslee that we refine our search to the East Village in Manhattan. Even though the scene was supposed to be taking place in the Bronx, I already knew the filmmakers substituted the Village for the Bronx in a couple other scenes, and hoped that it was also the case with this scene.
With this more narrow search, Blakeslee (being the skilled researcher that he is) found a comment on Twitter that mentioned a former club by the name, “Crow’s Rest,” The Twitter account was groaning about the closure of the East Village nightclub called, Hi-Fi, and mentioned that the place used to be Brownies. Then a commenter wrote that Brownies used to be Crows Rest, which was an after-hours bar and gambling club. After Blakeslee sent me a link to this Twitter exchange, I looked up the address of the former Hi-Fi, which was at 169 Avenue A, and checked to see if I could find any matching elements from the film.
I couldn’t find anything useful in any photos of the inside of Brownies or Hi-Fi, mostly because the images were dark and shadowy. However, at the end of this scene, there’s a brief shot looking out at the buildings across the street. Going to Google Street View, I looked to see if the buildings matched.
Meanwhile, Blakeslee was able to dig up a tax photo from the 1980’s that showed the outside of the bar/club. Even though we never saw the exterior in the film, it was still interesting to see what the building looked like.
By this point, I was fairly certain we had found the correct place because when I checked the current buildings across the street on Avenue A against the buildings that appear across the street in the film, they looked like they matched. There was one exception, there seemed to be a window missing in the current building.
But after I went to the location in person, I could see that the building with the missing window actually had the space filled in. (It wasn’t immediately obvious, but you could see where the patchwork took place.) Once I figured that out, I knew the buildings were the same ones seen on the film, and was certain that the Crow’s Rest on Avenue A was the correct filming location.
Shaking Down a Street Thug
I found this location with a little bit of guesswork and going through a lot of clicks on Google Street View.
The first clue that got me started was a steet sign that appears in the background as the fleeing thug slips on the ground. The image was too blurry to read completely, but I could make out that it was three digits, starting with the number one. So, knowing we were somewhere in the 100’s, I took a guess that we weren’t too far away from another scene I had recently verified as being filmed at 145th and Amsterdam (see “Bookie Stakeout” below).
Seeing there was a noticeable hill in the scene, I guessed that the chase sequence started east of Amsterdam, where I knew there was a similar incline. From there, I starting looking at all the streets in the 140’s and 150’s east of Amsterdam. I eventually identified a couple matching buildings on Convent Street and figured out the scene began on 150th, ending on Amsterdam. Luckily, almost all the buildings in the scene are still around, including the one they run into with the columned entrance.
While taking pictures of this location, I got stopped by a local woman in her early 60’s who asked me what I was photographing. When I told her I was taking pictures of a movie location, she said, “Oh, you mean that Al Pacino movie? I remember when they filmed that.”
I always wondered what the attitude of the locals was like 40-50 years ago when a film crew would come to their neighborhood. Back in the 1970’s, this area was pretty impoverished and I’m sure the arrival of a major film crew was a big event. My initial thought was that there might be a little pushback from the locals, but from the description I got from the woman I talked to, it sounded like most of the people welcomed the hoopla from Hollywood.
She then asked me if I could give her a couple dollars to help pay for her prescription she needed to pick up.
Meeting by South Ferry
This location was found without much trouble. With the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, I could almost immediately deduce that we were south of the bridge along the East River. somewhere near South Ferry.
After narrowing down the general area, it was just a matter of finding the large building they parked in front of. Using the handy Google Street View, I found the building on South Street fairly quickly but took a little time finding the specific spot where they parked. I finally figured that out by counting the black grates along the side of building.
Serpico Meets a New Bagman
It didn’t take long to figure out they filmed this scene in the famous “Horseshoe Bar” on the corner of E 7th and Avenue B (although the entire time I lived in the East Village, I always referred to that bar as “7B”). The inside of this oft-filmed drinking establishment looks pretty much the same today as it did when they filmed this scene in 1973, including their lovely Tudor windows with red and green tinted glass.
I knew this bar was a favorite of director Sidney Lumet, as I already identified it as a filming location for his 1982 film, The Verdict… even though it was supposed to be taking place in Boston. Lumet clearly loved filming in NYC whenever possible.
Making Pick-Ups with the New Bagman
Once again Lumet used the East Village as a substitute for the Bronx. I figured out the second pick-up location first by searching online for any references to the stores featured in the scene. I looked up “Just Right Barber,” “Tryus Cleaners,” and “Cinderella Super Market,” and surprisingly found a reference to the Cinderella market on some random person’s Facebook page. The page, which was a fan page dedicated to the East Village, had several vintage photos of the neighborhood, including one from the 1970’s that featured the corner of Avenue D and E 3rd Street, and clearly showed a Cinderella Super Market that matched the one in the film.
I found the location of the first pick-up a couple months later after noticing an address on one the buildings that was either 303 or 503. Figuring they shot both pick-ups close to each other, I just checked every 202 and 503 in the neighborhood and eventually found a match on E 4th Street.
It might be noted that after the second pick-up, the action jumps a bit. The two cops drive away from the barber shop at East 3rd and Avenue D, and suddenly end up on Great Jones between Bowery and Lafayette Street. At one point you can get a glimpse out the window of the parking lot on the corner of Lafayette (which as of 2019 is still a parking lot) and of the Schermerhorn Building across the street.
Built in 1889 on the site of the Schermerhorn mansion, this Romanesque Revival loft building was designed by architect Henry Hardenbergh, who is best know for design of the Plaza Hotel and the Dakota up on W 72nd Street.
The street level of the building used to be home to the Time Cafe, which was featured in Woody Allen’s 1993 film, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and downstairs was the former Moroccan-themed Fez bar which hosted early shows by Fiona Apple, Norah Jones, Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley. Both establishments happened to be frequented often by me and my friends during the 1990’s.
The exterior of the building was also used as Denzel Washington’s apartment in the somewhat dull 1999 film, The Bone Collector.
Cops Gather in a Park
The general neighborhood for this scene was largely apparent, with the iconic Yankee Stadium established in the background. However, at the time I was researching this scene, I wasn’t exactly sure where the original ballpark was in relation to the new one so I had a little difficulty figuring out the orientation. Plus, there was another structure in the frame that was throwing me off. To the right of Yankee Stadium was something that looked like another minor stadium of some sort. It wasn’t until later that discovered that it was much smaller than it appeared in the film. This size discrepancy was probably due to the steep hill in the park, which cut off part of the horizon and threw off the perspective.
Turns out the building in question was designed to look like a stadium and is now “Stadium Gourmet Deli.” I was then able to deduce that the scene took place at the nearby Joyce Kilmer Park. Finding matching buildings along Grand Concourse helped me pinpoint the approximate location in the park.
Undercover in the Meatpacking District
It was already well-documented that they shot these scenes around the “Triangle Building” which is just south of W 14th Street in the Meatpacking District. It was just a matter of figuring out the proper orientation of the scene so I could get the correct angles which creating the before/after images.
This scene by the Triangle Building was shot right around the time the Meatpacking District was evolving — changing from a blue-collar industrial area to a late night destination for deviant sexual adventures. And if the Gansevoort Market Historic District wasn’t designated back in 2003, the Triangle Building, as well as many other notable structures in this West Side neighborhood would probably be gone today. As swanky nightclubs, high-end boutiques and overpriced hotels began slipping into the Meatpacking District in the early 2000’s —essentially converting it from a bastion of sleaze to an epicenter of upscale tourism— the Gansevoort Market Historic District was able to protect about two-thirds of the neighborhood through landmark designations.
Even though the neighborhood has gone through an incredible amount of change during the past two decades, the change might have much more dramatic had it not been for landmark protection. Most of the Belgian Block streets where the transgender prostitutes would solicit customers would haven been paved over, and most of former slaughterhouses and packing plants that were converted into sex clubs like “The Vault” would have been torn down.
The atmosphere of the Meatpacking District is nothing like the days of factory workers in the early 20th century or the days of seedy sex seekers in the late 20th century, but at least there’s still is an array of buildings reflecting more than 150 years of the evolution of commerce in New York City — whether it’s packing meat or exploring the flesh.
Meeting at Hell’s Gate
This is a location I recognized almost immediately… or rather, I thought I recognized.
Being familiar with Randall’s Island, I readily identified the large archways as being supports for the railroad viaduct that cuts across the island. From there, it was just a matter of trying to match the exact archways.
Since Google Street View didn’t have much coverage of Randall’s Island, I had to go there in person to survey the area, but I couldn’t pinpoint the exact spot where they shot the scene. It wasn’t until I noticed the way the bridge was curing in the background that I realized they weren’t on Randall’s Island at all, but rather in Queens on the other side of the river. After that, it was pretty simple to find the specific spot in Astoria Park where they filmed the scene, which is right near Hell’s Gate Bridge.
One cool thing about this location: Since undertaking this film project, one of the things that thrilled me is finding trees that are still around today and seeing how they’ve developed over the years. This is usually demonstrated by a thickening of the trunk or an expantion of a branch, but seldom do I get the chance to see a dramatic change in height. However, in this scene, there’s one shot at the very end which was extremely wide and offered a rare opportunity to see how tall a tree grew over the course of 40 years.
Laurie Breaks-Up with Frank
This location was already identified on another movie location website, but I had difficulty figuring out the orientation of the scene.
Whenever a third party identifies a movie location, I always research and verify it myself to make sure it’s one hundred percent accurate. I have discovered that locations listed on movie blogs and IMDB have occasionally been wrong, so I never take it at face value.
In this scene, it was obvious it ended outside on Barrow Street, but where they were situated inside the restaurant had me a bit puzzled. Supposedly they were in a restaurant called “Felix’s” on the triangular lot where Barrow Street meets 7th Avenue South. Looking at old photos, I discovered it used to be home to a Shell gas station which was built in 1920. Eventually, a 2-story commercial building went up in its place.
Actually, the 2-story building didn’t exactly go up in its place — at first, a 1-story building went up on a small parcel of land at the very south corner of the lot (the fenced-in area in the photo above). A courtyard was then put in place which connected the new triangular building on the south end of the lot to the original 1920 building at north end of the lot.
So in the scene, Pacino walks south on Seventh Avenue, turns east, and enters the restaurant in the original 1920 building via the courtyard. Through the window we can see the Greenwich House Theater at 27 Barrow across the courtyard. Later in the scene, when Frank chases Laurie out of the restaurant, they go through the courtyard, back onto Seventh Avenue, go south, and practically make a 180-degree turn around the 1-story triangular building.
At some point, the courtyard and the 1-story triangular building got filled-in to create one continuous structure that took up the entire space at 18-20 Barrow Street. From 2000 to 2017, the building was home to the clubby sushi-bar, Sushisamba, best known for its multiple appearances on Sex and the City, where the characters would be seen sipping trendy Cosmopolitans.
After its lease was up, Sushisamba had to close up and move out, and as of 2019, the space remains vacant.
Serpico Picks Up a Firearm
This is a location that proves you shouldn’t always trust IMDB. When researching this location, the obvious starting point was to look into “John Jovino Gun Shop,” which was clearly the name of the establishment in the scene. It didn’t take long to discover that the gun shop was indeed a real place and was still in business today. It’s address was listed as 183 Grand Street, and on the IMDB production page, they listed the filming location at the same Grand Street address. A quick look on Google Street View, and it appeared that it was the same address as the one in the film.
Of course, the presence of that oversized prop gun above the entrance is what gave me the impression I was looking at the same location — but that was not the case. After taking a picture of the gun shop, I went home to create the “before/after” images and soon realized nothing matched up. The buildings were approximately the same size and age, but all the details were inconsistent.
That’s when I decided to dig a little deeper and see if John Jovino Gun Shop had ever moved. Sure enough, I found out it originally was on Centre Market Place, which was basically a back alley for the Police Headquarters on Centre Street. Nicknamed “Gun Row,” Centre Market Place was lined with several gun shops and police-related businesses.
In fact, famed crime photographer Weegee lived above one of the gun shops on Centre Market Place, giving him a prime spot to snap pictures of criminals being paraded into the police headquarters’ back entrance.
After the Police Headquarters moved downtown in the 1970’s, most of the gun shops closed down, but John Jovino managed to survive. Around 2003, after they moved around the corner to 183 Grand Street, the original building and several of its neighbors got bought by real estate developers Bob and Cortney Novogratz and given major rehabilitations (which included filling in bullet holes in no. 5’s basement which once served as a firing range). Today, the glossy street once known as “Gun Row” is virtually unrecognizable from from half a century ago when it was a drab, narrow block crowded with paddy wagons, arrestees, and crime reporters.
A New Precinct in Manhattan
This was a location I immediately identified without having to do any research. It just so happened to be the police station that was only two blocks away when I lived on Perry Street from 1999-2008.
I figured out this location by looking up “Johnny’s Super Market” which appears behind one of the bookie’s lookouts. As an added bonus, the supermarket’s awning also had a street number of 1709, which helped narrow the search results online. Eventually, I was able to find a listing by the City Health Department in the New York Times that included the supermarket along with 20 other food outlets with health violations.
Bad news for Johnny’s, but good news for me, as the Times gave the full address of 1709 Amsterdam Avenue.
Calling Bob Blair From a Phone Booth
I originally didn’t think I’d be able to find this location since you don’t see very much outside the phone booth. But after identifying the location of the “Serpico Asks the Captain About the Bronx” scene, I was more familiar with the area and soon recognized the soaring Beaux Art building in the background to be the former Police Headquarters at 240 Centre Street.
Reading the New York Times
Coney Island Food Stand
Blakeslee helped me find this location. For the longest time, I was convinced this scene took place in Brooklyn, since the food stand in it is named, “Coney Island.” I looked at all the intersection in Southern Brooklyn underneath an elevated train, but couldst find anything remotely similar. I then searched online for any information of a “White Rose Hotel” which appeared to be an establishment in the background, but I came up empty on that front as well.
Eventually Blakeslee figured out that the scene was shot underneath the elevated MetroNorth commuter line that runs along Park Avenue in Manhattan. I felt really stupid that I didn’t figure it out myself, as I already identified the location of a scene from Lumet’s 1990 film, Q & A, that also took place under the MetroNorth, just a few blocks away… and I already knew Lumet wasn’t afraid to reuse filming locations.
When I went to the location to take some pictures, I chatted with a couple ladies who worked at the food eatery that is currently located there, and one of them was especially excited to hear that I had images of the Coney Island food stand that used to be there.
When I showed her a still from the film on my iPhone, she practically jumped for joy. She exclaimed, “I’ve had a bunch of old timers from the neighborhood who told me that there used to be a food stand here in the 70s, and I’ve been dying to see what it looked like!”
I then airdropped the picture of the food stand to her iPhone and her day was made. I’m always amazed and pleased when I encounter Millennials still interested in NYC history.
Serpico Gets Shot
Like the location used for Serpico’s apartment, this location was pretty well documented on the web, probably because it’s a pretty pivotal scene from the film. And like the apartment, Lumet chose not to use the actual building from Frank Serpico’s life. The reasons for him choosing Minetta opposed to Perry Street for the apartment scenes were a little more obvious. It was most likely done for aesthetic purposes, as Minetta is a charmingly narrow street with a distinctive crook at one end that practically screams, “West Village.”
However, the reasons for Lumet choosing a different filming location from where Frank Serpico was actually shot in real life is a bit unclear. It could have been for legal reasons, or perhaps it made more logistical sense for production, but there’s nothing particularly different between the two locations — both looked about the same on the inside, and both were in the same general area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Interestingly, the building that was used in the film got torn down in the late 80’s, but the actual building at at 778 Driggs Avenue where the 1971 shooting took place, is still standing today.
Serpico is Released from the Hospital
According to a NYT article, they filmed at the Greenpoint Hospital in Brooklyn for all the scenes of Serpico being admitted to the ER at night, but I could tell that these day exteriors of him leaving were filmed somewhere else. The main clue was a street sign that appeared in the background in one wide shot. The sign was a little burry and partially obscured by the foreground building, but I was pretty sure the first four letters were “CONV.” Having recently figured out another location from “Serpico” to had taken place on 150th and Convent Street, I took a wild guess that this scene took place on Convent as well.
I then just cruised down Convent Street on Google Street View until I found the brick building seen in the background on the corner of 131st Street, which has hardly changed since 1973. The building they exit has had a few renovations done to it — most noticeably the staircase added to the entrance — but it was fairly easy to match up with the film.
The building used in this scene was actually a real hospital at the time called the Knickerbocker (which was the inspiration of Steven Soderbergh’s period TV series, The Knick). A few years later, I figured out that the Times article was actually wrong, and that the night exteriors were also shot at the Knickerbocker Hospital,. The only thing is they used the emergency entrance on 130th Street, which was also used in ending of the 1974 film, Death Wish.
Serpico Gives a Speech
Finding this location just took a little bit of research online. The room (with its distinctive walls of portraits) was already familiar to me from the movie, “Trading Places,” where Dan Ackroyd’s character gets accused of theft at his private club. Figuring that “Trading Places” was a bit of a more popular movie than “Serpico,” I went to its IMDB page to see if anyone had already identified that location. And sure enough, someone listed “the interior for the Great Hall of the Heritage Club” as the Chamber of Commerce Building at 65 Liberty Street in lower Manhattan. I then did a Google Image search and found several photos that matched the room from both movies.
Unfortunately, the Great Hall hasn’t been so great for the last few decades, ever since all the magnificent portraits were removed sometime in the mid-80s. And since the public doesn’t have access to the inside of the building, I had to use an image from a 1983 New York Magazine article to serve as the “after” picture above. It’s a shame because I’d really love to see what the old headquarters for the Chamber of Commerce looks like today.
Established in 1768, the New York Chamber of Commerce was chartered by King George III in 1770, but never occupied permanent quarters, moving around from place to place. Finally, in 1901 the chamber acquired a site at 65 Liberty Street between Broadway and Nassau Street. Designed by a member of the institution, the four-story Beaux-Arts building was completed in November of 1902, and whose dedication was attended by such luminaries as J. P. Morgan, former President Grover Cleveland and President Theodore Roosevelt.
Once a prominent and powerful organization, the chamber lost its foothold in New York after World War II, and the Great Hall did not see much use. In 1979, the chamber decided to sell its building and moved to a conventional office space at 200 Madison Avenue. Eventually, the portraits were removed from the Great Hall and the marble building lay empty for several years after two projected sales fell through.
By 1989, the chamber was able to sell the property to the International Commercial Bank of China, who did an extensive renovation to the landmarked building before finally moving in in 1991.
Serpico Leaves NYC
I found this location by searching vintage photographs of the piers along the Hudson River. Eventually I found an image of pier 86 that matched the building in the film. This was the last scene in the film. Closing credits actually crawled over the screen as Pacino walked to the boat bound for Europe.
Tackling 1973’s Serpico was definitely a daunting project since I knew Lumet shot at a ton of different locations all over the city. (Some accounts say it was 104 locations, but that sounds a little high and I haven’t found a trustworthy source to confirm that number.)
At this point, my research into this movie is more or less complete. Blakeslee and I were able to figure out nearly every filming location from Serpico, with only one glaring exception — the delicatessen/cafeteria where Frank and his partner get a free lunch.
Since I know they filmed all the scenes of Pacino clean-shaven at the same time, I figured this eatery was located near one of the other places Lumet filmed at during this time-period in Serpico’s story. My top guess was that it was shot near the “Shoe Shop” location in Hell’s Kitchen, but neither Blakeslee nor I have figured it out yet.
But as with most of these films, you’re usually left with a hole or two, but hopefully I’ll find it some day.