Big (1988) [UPDATE]

Every once in a while I write a post that includes what I think is a complete list of filming locations and then someone adds a comment that makes me realize my research had a few holes in it. This happened with Tom Hanks’ breakout film, Big.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I seldom pursue interior locations, especially since very often they end up being sets that were built on a soundstage. And when it came to the office party scene in this film, I didn’t pay much attention to it, mostly because I assumed it was a set, and if it wasn’t, I thought it would be rather impossible to find.

But after someone asked me if I knew the location of that scene, I took a a closer look at it and realized there was a exterior shot as well, and it clearly showed the inside of the restaurant which matched the rest of the scene.

So, I then knew it wasn’t a set, and I knew I had to find it! 

It also inspired me to follow up on a couple other interior scenes from the film.

 

Office Party

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Josh arrives at an office party at Cafe Society at 915 Broadway, where his boss is amused by his overly elaborate tuxedo. (Note the set of stairs in the background are still more or less in the same place today.)

 

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Later, he and Susan leave the party, exiting onto E 21st Street.

 

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Josh is completely enthralled by the limousine.

 


I thought finding this location was going to be difficult since the only exterior shot didn’t show much more than a few windows from the side of the building. I tried searching the web for any images of 1980’s restaurants or clubs, using keywords like “neon,” “Art Deco,” or “murals,” but nothing came up.

Finally, Blakeslee, my research partner, noticed that the awnings outside seemed to have lettering on it, and him being deft at deciphering blurry words, thought it said “Cafe Society.” From there, we were able to dig up a Broadway address from a 1991 issue of New York Magazine which had it listed in its “Night Life” directory.

big-party new yiork mag 1991

After checking out the building at 915 Broadway in Google Street View and comparing it to the film, I was pretty certain we found the right place. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any vintage pictures inside of “Cafe Society,” but was able to find some pictures of the space after it was taken over by Metronome Hospitality Group in 1993. Most of the interior design had changed by that point, but the basic layout of the space was somewhat the same, most notably, the balcony and platform areas.

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A circa 2011 photo of the interior of 915 Broadway, when it was under the name, “Crimson.” 

 

Later on, after researching the history of Metronome, I noticed that on their website, they mentioned Big was filmed in their space, which helped confirm we found the correct location. I then looked through their “credits” page, and I saw that the 1992 Eddie Murphy film, Boomerang, was also filmed there. Fortunately, when they filmed Boomerang, the interior design at 915 Broadway was more or less the same from 1988, and with its additional camera angles of the space, I was better able to figure out where the specific action took place in the scene from Big.

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A still from the 1992 film, Boomerang, with Robin Givens and Eddie Murphy, looking from the Broadway side of Cafe Society. (The camera direction is similar to the first “before/after” image above.)

 

I had no idea clubs and restaurants were retaining that 80’s neon pink look all the way into the early 90’s. I always thought the NYC nightlife scene had the pulse of the zeitgeist, but I guess it takes a couple years for a new decade to find its cultural footing.

 

Toy Store

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While standing outside of FAO Schwarz at 767 Fifth Avenue, Josh watches a father take his son’s hand who is also named Josh.

 

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He then goes inside the massive toy store to explore.

 


Naturally, it was quite obvious that they filmed this sequence in the massive FAO Schwarz toy store in the General Motors Building at 767 Fifth Avenue near E 58th Street. What I didn’t realize is that the famous flagship store had only moved to that location a year prior to the filming. In 1986, FAO Schwarz was sold to investors and the retail space was moved across the street from its 745 Fifth Avenue location, where it had operated for 55 years. However this wasn’t the first move the store made, having spent some time on Broadway, 14th Street, as well as 23rd (pretty much across the street from where the fictional MacMillan Toys office building was filmed).

After Big became such a huge hit in theaters, FAO Schwarz —which was struggling as a business— found a resurgence in popularity. Of course, one of the biggest draws to the NYC toy store was the oversized “Walking Piano” featured in the film, which co-screenwriter Anne Spielberg (sister of director Steven Spielberg) spotted a few years earlier and recommended that it be included in the story.

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Robert Loggia and Tom Hanks play “Chopsticks” on the 16-foot electric light-up piano on the ground floor of FAO Schwarz on Fifth Avenue.

 

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A replica of the piano used in Big, located on the second floor of FAO Schwarz in 2007.

 

Even though FAO Schwarz has had a “Walking Piano” in its New York store since 1983, the one featured in the film was purchased by art collectors Joseph and Janet Shein shortly after the film’s release. They bought it, not so much because they were fans of the film, but because, as Joseph put it, “We felt it was a new direction for electronic sculpture.” After housing the 16-foot keyboard in their music room for years (where they allowed neighborhood trick-or-treaters to dance on it at Halloween), the couple decided in 2009 to donate the musical instrument to the Please Touch Me Museum in Philadelphia.

Despite the fact the piano in the NYC store was not the actual one from the film, people still flocked to FAO Schwarz after Big hit theaters in 1988. However, the road for the toy company soon became a rocky one, being bought and sold several times over. By December 2003, FAO Schwarz filed for bankruptcy and closed its all of its stores, including the one in NYC, but with the intention of reopening it later that year. After a few delays, the New York store on Fifth Avenue opened again on Thanksgiving Day, 2004, and remained open for a little over 10 years. But by July of 2015, rising rent costs forced FAO Schwarz to permanently close its Fifth Avenue store. Fortunately, I was able to spend a few nights in the iconic store before it vacated the GM Building while working on the 2011 Smurfs movie.

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One of the iconic toy soldiers poses in front of the Fifth Avenue entrance to FAO Schwarz in 2015,  shortly before the store would permanently close its doors.

 

In 2018, a new flagship toy store opened in Rockefeller Center, replete with its wooden toy soldiers and a large “Walking Piano.” I was sad to see it leave the GM Building, but happy to see it has still managed to survive in NYC.

How long it’ll last there is anyone’s guess.

 

 

Cashing a Paycheck

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After receiving his very first paycheck, Josh goes to a bank at 3 W 57th Street to cash it. 

 

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Josh and Billy run out of the bank with money in hand.

 


I didn’t figure out this filming location until after I watched the Extended Version of the film. In this longer cut, we get to see the exterior of the bank, which featured an awning with the bank’s name on it, as well as another awning for the neighboring department store, Bergdorf Goodman.

big-bank Crossland5thFrom that I was able to pinpoint the bank’s location on W 57th Street. And after consulting a phone directory from 1987, I confirmed that there was a Crossland Savings Bank next door to Bergdorf Goodman at 3 W 57th.

As far as I can tell, Crossland Savings Bank was a short-lived institution that lasted about ten years starting in 1984 when it took over Greenwich SB. Crossland was later acquired by Republic National Bank of New York, which in turn was taken over by HSBC Bank USA in 1999.

I’ve always found this rapid cannibalism in the banking industry which occurred in the late 20th Century to be both fascinating and disheartening phenomenon, and something of which I have no understanding of how or why it happened.

The space at 3 w 57th Street is now home to a high-end art gallery, which was thankfully empty when I stepped inside to take the “after” picture. (I remember it happened to be a stiflingly hot day and the air conditioned gallery offered a brief moment of respite.)

It also might be noted that this location is right around the corner from where FAO Schwarz was at the time.

 


If you are familiar with the film, you might have noticed I listed these three locations in reverse chronological order. I will also add these locations to the main article on Big, and place them in the proper order.

I also know I have at least one more location to add to the page — the municipal building  on Worth Street where Josh and Billy request a list of carnivals and fairs. Hopefully I will get a modern photo of the building soon. And with that, I think the BIG list will be near complete.

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