Elf (2003)

Ho, ho, ho! Here is PART 2 of my investigation into the filming locations of Elf, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart, Peter Dinklage, Ed Asner (as a spot-on Santa), and Faizon Love. Even though the North Pole scenes and most of the interiors were shot in Vancouver, Canada, the production began its shooting schedule in December of 2002 on the streets of NYC.

And if you haven’t read it yet, make sure to check out PART 1 of this two-part entry.

   

Buddy Takes a Nap

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The next morning, Walter walks east on W 34th Street, towards 5th Avenue.
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He walks by Buddy who is napping in a store window display at 16 W 34th Street.
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Walter backtracks to look into the window.
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Buddy wakes up to discover his father outside. 
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Buddy slams the glass and exclaims “Dad!” much to the dismay of Walter and some passersby.

 


I was surprised that no one on the web seemed interested in finding the location to this scene. Maybe because it was supposed to take place at one of Gimbels’ store windows, people assumed it was shot at the Textile Building at 5th and 30th, which was used for that initial wide shot of the department store (see the entry on the previous page).  But it was actually shot at the ground floor of the Empire State Building on 34th Street.

I figured out the general vicinity of this scene when I spotted the corner of the Macy’s building which appears in the background at the beginning of the scene (see the first “before/after” image above). It was then just a matter of finding the buildings that matched the ones that appeared behind James Caan when he’s looking into the window display.

The Hobbs’ Apartment Building

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Buddy is taken into the home of Walter Hobbs and his new family at 55 Central Park West.
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Walter exits his building on his way to work.

 

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He receives a phone call from Buddy who is frightened by the sounds made by the radiator.

 


This location was previously identified on several websites as taking place at 55 Central Park West, and as many Ghostbusters fans may know, this address is also where Sigourney Weaver’s character, Dana Barrett, lived and was ominously dubbed, “Spook Central.”

One interesting thing about any scene that takes place in or near Central Park is seeing how the trees have changed over the years. In the last “before/after’ picture above, you can see how the three trees behind Caan’s right shoulder got reduced to two by the year 2019 when I took the photo.

Prep School

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We cut to a shot of Michael’s prep school at 40 West 68th Street.

 

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Buddy waits for his half-brother across the street at 41 W 68th Street.

 

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As Michael exits the school, he sees Buddy across the street…

 

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Who enthusiastically yells and waves to get his attention.

 

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Embarrassed, Michael tries to get away, heading east on 68th.

 

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But an eager Buddy is right on his tail. 

 


I found this location already listed on a couple movie websites, including movie-locationsthemoviedistrict and onthesetofnewyork. I don’t know who did the original research, but I assumed they just looked for any prep schools in Manhattan that had a street address of 40 (which can be seen next to the school entrance in the film) and eventually came across York Prep School on West 68th Street.

Snowball Fight

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Michael and Buddy walk through Central Park on the Bridle Path near W 61st Street.
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Several kids suddenly appear and start throwing snowballs.
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One snowball hits Buddy right in the face.
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Michael realizes they’re being ambushed.
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The two of them run east on the bridle path towards the Pine Arch bridge.
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Buddy and Michael hide behind a large rock on the east side of Pine Arch. (Note that the large rock on the far right side of the frame was fake and added by the production.)
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The kids continue to toss snowballs from the cast-iron bridge.
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After Buddy manages to annihilate all the kids with his speedy snowball-throwing prowess, he tosses one last snowball towards a kid trying to get away. 
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The snowball flies east, hitting the retreating kid from behind.

 


I figured out this location many years ago — long before I began this “NYC in Film” project. Shortly after this film was released, whenever my younger cousins would come visit New York, the one thing they always wanted to know was where this snowball fight scene took place. I eventually found it by going to the Central Park Conservancy website and searching through their list of arches and bridges until I eventually landed at the Pine Arch bridge near the southern end of the bridle path. After studying the ironwork, I was fairly certain I found a match.

A few years later, after purchasing the Elf DVD, I saw it had a short behind-the-scenes video that contained some footage of this snowball scene being made. The video offered a few more views of the arch and its surrounding area in Central Park, and also showed the “fake Central Park” that was created in Vancouver, when the film production did some pick-up shots months later

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Diretor Jon Favreau (on the right) and Will Ferrell (behind some crew members on the left) plan to shoot a snowball fight on-location at Pine Arch in Central Park.
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Favreau and Ferrell in Riverview Hospital’s parking lot outside of Vancouver, Canada, which is doubling for Central Park as they prepare to shoot some additional footage for the “snowball fight” scene.

When I first discovered this filming location from Elf, a lot of these movie location websites weren’t readily available, so not a lot of average people knew about where the snowball scene took place. But today, as I mentioned earlier in this post, this Elf location is probably one of the top movie locations sought out by visiting tourists.

Usually when I go to a location to take pictures, passersby would look puzzled as to why I was photographing some nondescript building or street corner, but when I went to Pine Arch, all the people there knew exactly why I was there.

 

Picking up Jovie

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Buddy picks Jovie up at her apartment, which like the coffee shop, is all the way in Canada at 261 East Pender Street, Vancouver.
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A stunned Buddy is enraptured with her beauty.
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She, too, is amazed at how handsome Buddy looks in non-elf clothing.
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Buddy tells Jovie that he has some surprises planned for their date, and eagerly walks off. (Note the matching Chinese lettering at the top edge of the frame.) 

Before I figured out that the “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” scene was shot in Vancouver, I just assumed that this “Picking up Jovie” scene was shot in NYC. And since most of the signs had Cantonese lettering on them, I also assumed it was shot in Manhattan’s Chinatown.  But after looking up and down a bunch of streets in the neighborhood in Google Street View, I came up with nothing.

Months later, after figuring out that the “Coffee Shop” was in Vancouver, I took a wild  guess that Jovie’s apartment was there, too. The first thing I did was check to see if Vancouver had their version of Chinatown. Once I discovered that they did, I looked for any buildings in that neighborhood with an address of 261 (assuming that the number wasn’t set-dressing). Fortunately, their Chinatown is much smaller than the one in New York, and I almost immediately came across 261 East Pender Street, which matched Jovie’s apartment.

 

Skipping Around NYC

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Buddy and Jovie go skipping by some large wooden soldiers outside of 110 Central Park South.

 


A couple websites identified this quick scene of Buddy and Jovie skipping past some large wooden soldiers as taking place at 110 Central Park South, and after a cursory investigation in Google Street View, I determined that the websites were correct. However, when I went to the location to take an “after” picture, I couldn’t get it to align with with “before” picture. The entrance flanked by the wooden soldiers looked like it was the same, but all the other stuff didn’t seem to line up. Finally, I figured out what was askew — the image was reversed in the film!

Once I reversed my “after” pictures in Adobe Photoshop, everything lined up quite nicely.

 

Looking at Trees

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Buddy proudly shows Jovie a large Christmas tree that he recently discovered at 1221 Sixth Avenue.

 

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As they stare at the tree in the W 49th Street lobby, Jovie tells Buddy that she knows of a bigger tree she’d like to show him. 

 

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They run across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue at 611 5th Avenue, trying to not get hit by “the yellow ones.”

 

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Jovie shows him the giant Xmas tree in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
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The camera pans down to reveal an ice skating rink.
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Buddy and Jovie skate around the rink a few times, then stop in front of the Prometheus statue, where Buddy receives his first romantic kiss.  

It was quite apparent that the bulk of this sequence was shot at the ice skating rink at the historic Rockefeller Center, but the one thing I couldn’t quite figure out was the location of the medium-sized Christmas tree Buddy and Jovie look at at the top of the sequence. I assumed the tree was in the lobby of one of the buildings at Rockefeller Center, but I couldn’t find any lobbies that matched the one in film, nor could I find a building that matched the one that appears behind Ferrell and Deschanel.

If this part of the sequence didn’t take place in Rockefeller Plaza, I was pretty sure it took place somewhere nearby since the architecture shown in the movie definitely looked like what’s in that part of Midtown Manhattan.

However, after searching all the nearby blocks in Google Street View, I couldn’t find anything that matched, so I asked Blakeslee if he could take a look … and before I knew it, he found a winner with the nearby building at 1221 Sixth Avenue. I think the reason I didn’t consider that building when I searched the area before is because the street-level facade and lobby had been remodeled a few years back and no longer resembled what appeared in the film.

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A 2011 view of the 49th St entrance to 1221 Sixth Avenue before it was remodeled (above) and how it appears today (below) 

A Sad Buddy

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After screwing up his father’s meeting, a despondent Buddy roams the streets, absently bumping into a pedestrian near the northwest corner of W 33rd and 5th Avenue.

 

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He ends up on the pedestrian path on the Queensboro Bridge.

 

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He stares north into the East River, and suddenly spots Santa’s sleigh going down into Manhattan.

 

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Meanwhile, Water and Michael search for Buddy, passing 110 Central Park South.

They filmed this extended sequence of Buddy sadly roaming NYC in three completely different locations.

The first bit where Buddy bumps into a passerby was shot across the street from the revolving door location on 33rd Street, although I must confess it took me a little longer than it should’ve for me to figure it out.

The bridge Buddy stares from was already identified as the Queensboro at 59th Street, although it was combined with a considerable amount of CGI. Obviously, Santa and his flying reindeer were digitally added, but I’m pretty sure the snowflakes and most of the Manhattan skyline were digitally added as well.

The last bit where Walter and Michael search for Buddy was filmed at the same location used when Buddy and Jovie skip past the large wooden soldiers on their date. However, this time, they removed the soldiers and didn’t reverse the image, making it look like a completely different street corner.

Central Park

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Buddy helps Santa repair his sleigh in Central Park and the two of them take off, nearly crashing into Bethesda Fountain near Terrace Drive  
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The sleigh bobbles up and down, barely making it over Bethesda Arcade.
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The roaring sleigh wakes “Radio Man,” who was sleeping on a bench along Terrace Drive.

Even through they shot a few bits of Santa’s flying sleigh near Bethesda Terrace in New York’s Central Park (although it looks like it was CGI-enhanced), the majority of this sequence was shot in the Vancouver area, including a grassy field that was on the grounds of that Riverview Hospital.

By the time Elf was made in 2003, most of the mental hospital was closed down and used as a movie lot, but Jon Favreau believed one of the buildings was still open and had patients in it. He pondered in an interview for Rolling Stone, “How weird it must have been for them to look out their window and see Santa Claus and a guy in an elf suit running around with reindeer. It may have been counterproductive to their treatment.”

The Spirit of Christmas

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As Santa and his sleigh try to make it out of Central Park, a timid Jovie stands above a crowd at the park entrance at W 59th Street and 6th Avenue.
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She begins singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” inspiring the crowd to heartedly join in.
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This sudden surge in holiday spirit boosts Santa’s sleigh into the air, and he and Buddy soar down 6th Avenue… Christmas saved!

It was pretty obvious that this climatic scene took place near one of the southern entrances to Central Park (although in the DVD commentary, Favreau said some of it was filmed in Vancouver). It was just a matter of studying the buildings across from the park to figure out which entrance was used. But again, like Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace and the Queensboro Bridge, I think this location was CGI-enhanced as well.

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elf-coffee-signLike I mentioned in the intro to this post, Elf is hardly a quintessential New York movie, but it does offer a few images of what the city was like at the tail-end of its transition from the edgy 1990’s to the sanitized 2000’s. And hopefully a few Elf fans who stumble onto this website will appreciate this nearly-complete (and hopefully error-free) list of  filming locations, even if the “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” happens to be over two thousand miles away from Midtown Manhattan.

2 thoughts on “Elf (2003)

  1. Wow. Just wow. I too have been mildly curious where that coffee shop was, but not enough to do as much research as you. That is amazing! Thanks for finding this!

    Liked by 1 person

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