Here is PART 2 of my investigation into the filming locations of 1986’s action flick, F/X. If you haven’t read it yet, make sure to check out PART 1 for lots of other New York locations.
Hot Dog Stand / Phone Booth
This is a case where two consecutive scenes were shot in two locations close to one another. But before I knew that, I was focusing my attention on the second scene at the phone booth, thinking it looked very familiar. For some reason, I was certain it was shot near NYU, thinking the building the background looked like the library on W 4th Street near Washington Square Park. But after looking around the entire Greenwich Village neighborhood, I realized my instinct was wrong.
After that, I focused my attention on the first scene at the hotdog stand. In the building window behind Bryan Brown, I could make out signage for the fast food chain, Church’s Chicken, which I hoped would help me nail the location. After looking up a list of Church’s Chicken locations in a 1985 Manhattan phone directory, I put my sights on a Second Avenue address which looked promising. After matching the buildings reflected in the restaurant’s window, I became confident that I found the correct location.
Then, guessing that maybe the two scenes were shot close to each other, Jeff Blakeslee looked around the nearby Tudor City, thinking that the building behind the phone booth looked like something from that tiny residential community. After a little poking around, he was able to find the location of the second scene, which was only a block away from Church’s Chicken.
I was clearly way off when I originally thought it was shot near NYU in the West Village, considering that that modern building in the far background was actually the UN headquarters on the East River.
This was one of the last locations I found for this film, mostly because I barely remembered it even existed. The scene is fairly brief and the location is only used once. But being the completist that I am, I was determined to find it. The first step was to try to figure out if the building they were standing outside of was a real police station or not.
After a little digging around, and not finding anything promising, I became suspicious that it was not a real station house. At that point, I started focusing on the skyline seen in the initial shot of Murdoch walking towards the police station. The buildings in the background looked like the kind you would see in downtown Manhattan, in particular, the building that had a columned tower. I was pretty sure that the tower belonged to the Dinkins Municipal Building at 1 Centre Street, and after checking out a few photos of the government structure, I became certain.
Once I had a landmark to work from, it just became a game of orientation. I kept moving around downtown Manhattan in Google Maps in 3D mode, trying to match up the skyline from the scene. I slowly started homing in on Tribeca, eventually landing on the Manhattan Community College campus, and matching the “police station” with the library.
While it was quite obvious the majority of the sequence took place at the Conservatory Water in Central Park, it did take a little bit of legwork to figure out exactly where the characters come and go.
Since there were limited views in Google Maps’ Street View, I ended up going to Central Park in person to work out the specific geography. Using extant trees as guideposts, I was able to determine the exact pathways the actors walked/ran on, as well as which arch they entered at the end of the sequence. But the most obvious landmark was the copper-roofed Kerbs Boathouse, located at one of Central Park’s most popular water attractions.
Conservatory Water, which is colloquially known as the “Model Boat Pond,” was built in the 19th century at a location that was originally supposed to be an enclosed conservatory, but never came to fruition. (Hence the somewhat abstruse name.) Originally built as a naturalistic water lily pond, Conservatory Water was later developed into a more artificial-looking pool with a distinct concrete edge.
Partly inspired by a pond in the Jardin du Luxembourg, in Paris, the oval water basin has been a popular spot for adults and children alike who have been sailing their model yachts during the warmer weather since the 1860s. During the winter season, conditions permitting, Conservatory Water is converted into a small ice-skating rink. (When I took pictures of this location, it was in between seasons, and you can see in the images above that the pond was drained of all its water.)
Along with F/X, countless other films and TV shows have been shot at and around this tranquil Central Park location. The list includes, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Mirror Has Two Faces, 13 Going on 30, The World of Henry Orient, Miracle in the Rain, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Stuart Little.
Dressed as Bums
This scene was figured out pretty early in my involvement with this “NYC in Film” project, so I was still getting a thrill from identifying even the most insignificant and unchallenging location puzzles. Naturally, with the median strip running down the street, it was fairly obvious this took place on Park Avenue. It just took a little looking around to find matching buildings along the avenue to figure out what street corner the bums emerge from.
It might be noted that this scene is the second one to feature a hotdog stand, which I’m sure was the same one used in that earlier scene outside of Church’s Chicken.
Likewise, all the phone booths that appear throughout the film were probably the same set piece that just got moved from one location to another. Even back in 1985, when this movie was made, those full-length, completely enclosed phone booths were not very common. However, if you do want to see one of these old fashion phone booths in New York City, there are still a few along West End Avenue at 66th, 90th, 100th and 101st Streets.
But be warned: they can get real hot in the summertime.
DOJ Office Building
Like Rollie’s apartment, the location of the DOJ office building was one of the few places already identified on several movie websites.
Being only a few blocks away from Grand Central terminal, the building was a pretty easy place to find. And even though I figured out that the lobby was shot at 90 Park, I felt that the view from Mason’s office windows didn’t quite lineup with that location. Eventually, I figured out that the office scenes were shot a few blocks north, on the third floor of 335 Madison Avenue near the corner of W 44th Street.
I’m not 100% sure why they filmed at two different locations, but my guess is that the Madison Avenue building was used because it had an empty office space available, and the Park Avenue building was used because it had a more appropriate exterior and/or a better-suited lobby for the phone call scene.
Originally thinking that it was from a deleted scene, upon closer inspection, I noticed Mason Adams was holding a manila envelope similar to the one used in the scene on the 42nd Street overpass. My guess is they ended up filming the envelope scene twice at two different locations. For what reason, who knows? But for that matter, who knows if I’m even correct? In fact, I’m now questioning whether the photo was actually taken outside of 90 Park Ave.
Kidnapping Agent Lipton
I got lucky when it came to finding the garage used by Agent Lipton. I guessed, or rather a hoped, that it would be somewhere close to the 90 Park Avenue office building, and fortunately, it turned out to be right around the corner.
When it came to the driving scene that immediately followed, I thought it looked like something on the east side, so I thought I would look at all the eastside avenues in Google Street View. I decided to first look only on or around 42nd Street, again hoping they didn’t travel too far to film these consecutive scenes. Eventually, I landed on 2nd Avenue and spotted some buildings just south of 42nd that appeared to match the ones seen outside Lipton’s windshield.
Although it looks very different today, I guessed that this scene took place underneath the Henry Hudson Parkway on the west side of Manhattan. Since the area has changed so much since 1985 —not just the park area under the highway, but most of the buildings on the neighboring streets— it took me a little while to confirm this filming location.
But with the help of Blakeslee, who identified a few extant buildings that appeared in the background in the scene, including some across the river in New Jersey, we were able to verify this location.
The Auto Impound
Using the buildings along West Street as a guide, I was able to calculate that this scene took place on Pier 56 along the Hudson River. By the time they filmed this scene in 1985, the head house was already removed from the pier and all that remained was a flat deck. By the late-1990s, the rest of the pier was a removed and all that remains today is a pile field.
During its heyday, Pier 56 was part of what was once known as “Luxury Liner Row,” which extended all the way up to midtown Manhattan by the early 20th century. The piers in this area were almost exclusively dedicated to luxury transatlantic vessels, with White Star and Cunard Lines operating out many of them. The most infamous passenger ship to depart from one of the Cunard piers in New York was the RMS Lusitania, which ended up being torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland in 1915.
When it came to this scene on Pier 56, I originally thought the film crew used a real auto impound lot that already existed there, but according to an article on AFI’s website, production ended up creating the impound themselves on the unused, barren deck. I suppose that makes sense, since the scene involved car crashes and explosions.
But that’s not to say car lots didn’t exist in that area. According to a 1977 Environmental Impact Statement, the neighboring Pier 54 was, in fact, used to store automobiles by the New York Police Department.
Even though most of the dilapidated piers along the Hudson have been taken down, I was surprised and pleased to discover that the structure at Pier 57, just north of the “auto impound lot,” is still standing today. But who knows what fate awaits it.
The Chase – The Hudson River
Even though the geography is jumbled a little bit, the opening section of this extended chase sequence took place mostly on West Street between Gansevoort and W 14th Street.
While Manhattan has been going through a lot of changes over the last 10-15 years, one of the last prominent strongholds of “old New York” was this group of industrial buildings and piers along the Hudson River. However, the last couple years have seen some dramatic “improvements” in this area and a lot of these buildings have been torn down.
Granted, most of those bulky structures were pretty ugly, but it was always nice having a little variety in the city. Going from ritzy to shitty within a few blocks was something that made New York such a unique, diverse place.
One of those bulky structures that helped me confirm these filming locations was the old incineration plant on Gansevoort Peninsula which, up until recently, was used as a garage for the sanitation department. Built in 1953, the facility known as the “Gansevoort Destructor Plant” operated as an incinerator through the 1980s, burning between 700 and 900 tons of garbage a day. The incinerated residue would then be shipped off to Staten Island to be deposited into landfills.
While the practice of burning refuse ended in all five boroughs by 1990, there was still a push by city officials in 2007 to reactivate the Gansevoort Peninsula as a marine waste transfer station. But that effort eventually fell through.
The building finally came down in late-2017 as the city prepared to turn the small parcel of land into a public park. You can read more about Gansevoort Peninsula and the elusive 13th Avenue that occupies part of it in my Side Street post.
The Chase – Meatpacking District
One fascinating thing about this portion of the chase sequence is seeing that the grand arched entrance to Pier 54 has remained in place even after the rest of the superstructure got razed in 1991. While not a perfect solution, it’s a nice way to modernize an area, but still pay tribute to its history.
Another fascinating thing about the sequence, which takes place in the meat packing district, is seeing how much the area has changed over the years. Granted, most of the buildings along Washington Street and all its cross streets are still intact, but the industrial meat processing business that used to dominate the area has almost completely vanished and been replaced with a high-end tourist trade. It was almost impossible for me to get a clean picture of these locations without a mob of gawking pedestrians clogging the shot.
As to the geography in this portion of the chase sequence, it’s fairly accurate for the most part. The most egregious inconsistency occurrs when the action jumps from Washington Street in the Meat Packing District to Seventh Avenue in the West Village.
The Chase – West Village
Again, like all the rest of the locations during this extended chase sequence, the geography is a bit jumbled in this final portion, but it more or less takes place in the same general area.
Knowing that the last part of this sequence took place in the West Village, I used certain landmarks to be able to nail down most of the shots used. One key landmark was the former RKO Art Greenwich twin movie theater at 97 Greenwich Avenue, which appears twice in this sequence when the filmmakers repeat the same shot. (You can see the theater’s marquee in the third “before/after” image above).
The very last scene from the sequence took place on W 11th Street (even though the previous shot has them turning onto Jane Street), which I immediately identified by spotting Saint John’s In the Village in the background. When I used to live on Perry Street in the Village, I would often take 11th to the 14th Street subway station, passing the parish on a nearly daily basis.
Like the earlier police station scene, I used the skyline to figure out the location of this scene. When the truck takes off and Andy screams back at Rollie, you can see a wide shot of the Manhattan skyline, and by its building orientation, I placed the action in southern Queens. Guessed that the highway that appeared next to them was the Long Island Expressway, I just looked along its route until I found an exit that matched the one from the film.
Once I confirmed the location, I realized that the action took place next to the Calvary Cemetery in Long Island City (although the camera is pointing away from it). However, that meant that the reverse shot of the truck driving away, where no cemetery is present, was shot at a different location. That also meant a little more work on my part.
The one clue to work on was a warehouse on the left that had a sign on top that read, “Diplomat Envelope Corporation.” Fortunately, there was a little bit of information about the business online, and I learned that it was located at 23-23 Borden Avenue, about a mile east of the other location.
In business since the 1950s, the owners of the envelope manufacturing plant stopped its operations right around the time this scene was being filmed in 1985. However, the owners held onto the building, and rented out the space to other manufacturers and organizations until they finally sold the property in 2007. Up to that point, the faded Diplomat envelope sign could be seen above the entrance, but it seems to have disappeared since then.
While still a pretty rough and industrial area, I’m sure Borden Avenue will soon be revamped to cater to luxury rentals and high-end businesses that are quickly permeating Long Island City.
Colonel Mason’s Mansion
I found this location with a little help from IMDb. On their production page, they listed one of the filming locations to be in Rye, New York. Although there was no other information on the page, I thought there was a good chance that Rye was where they filmed this mansion. After searching online for “F/X,” “mansion” and “Rye, NY,” I came upon a short article that described a place called the Wainright House, which was said to had been used for the film.
When it comes to suburban mansions or large estates, I have sometimes found misinformation floating around the web concerning their associations with certain movies. But this article turned out to be spot on. After looking at a few photos of the Wainwright House, I could tell that it was the same one from this scene.
Built by Colonel J. Mayhew Wainwright between 1929 and 1931 on his family’s property in Rye, the Wainwright House was based on a 17th century French chateau he was stationed in during World War I.
In 1951, shortly after Colonel and Mrs. Wainwright passed away, their one and only daughter, Fonrose, wanted to find a charitable purpose for the Wainwright House as a memorial to her parents. In the end, she decided to donate the house to the Laymen’s Movement — a group of professional men who integrated spirituality and ethics into the business world. Some of the organization’s most prominent members were Dwight D. Eisenhower, J.C. Penny, and Conrad Hilton.
Today the house still functions primarily as a charitable institution, offering classes and seminars throughout the year. Also, like many picturesque estates in the tri-state area, the house can be rented for lavish weddings.
St. Mary’s Hospital
This location was figured out in a similar way used with the previous scene in Rye, New York. I went to IMDB and found that it listed a generic filming location in Orange, New Jersey. Even though it didn’t have any more specific information, I guessed that it was where they filmed this hospital scene, which clearly took place outside of New York City.
Then, I just did an online search for “Orange New Jersey hospitals” and found Saint Mary’s on South Center Street. One quick trip to Google Street View, and I could tell that it was the same place, especially since the building has hardly changed since it appeared in this 1986 film.
Even though I know a lot of movies I grew up on don’t hold up as well today, I think F/X is an exception. It seems as though even young viewers who weren’t alive in the 1980s still enjoy this film. While a little bit dated, the story is both outrageous and undeniably ingenious, and the action moves along at a pretty good pace. If you haven’t ever seen the film, or it’s been a while since you have, it might be a worthwhile viewing.
But whatever you do, avoid the awful 1991 sequel, F/X2: The Deadly Art of Illusion, which primarily used Toronto to double for New York.