The House on 92nd Street (1945)

Part of the “semi-documentary” style of film-making, The House on 92nd Street is a procedural spy thriller made during the end of World War II. Even though this type of movie can be a bit stilted and monotonous, one signature feature that is incredibly enjoyable is its use of real-life filming locations. While it wasn’t uncommon then for some films to include a few second-unit establishing shots of real locations, House on 92nd was pretty much the first mainstream sound film to be shot predominantly on-location in NYC, including many interior scenes.

The cast is made up of relatively unknown B-movie actors, but most of them give solid performances — the stand-outs being Hitchcock-regular, Leo G. Carroll, character-actor Harry Bellaver, and Swedish actress, Signe Hasso, who plays the cold and calculating German spy to perfection. (There’s also a brief appearance by future 12 Angry Men star, E. G. Marshall as a morgue technician.) Unfortunately, the plot is a bit pell-mell and uninspiring, but director Henry Hathaway (probably best known for helming the noir classic, Kiss of Death, and the John Wayne western, True Grit) manages to intersperse the story with flashes of exciting melodrama.

But again, the best attribute of this film is all of its on-location work done in New York City, along with some additional footage shot in Washington, D.C. (which included actual FBI surveillance footage taken of a German Embassy).

 

 

The Car Accident

After a lengthy prologue, the main melodrama begins in Lower Manhattan, looking south from Morris Street towards the Customs Building at 1 Bowling Green.
A German spy emerges from the Bowling Green IRT Station, across from 5 Broadway. (The subway entrance has since been removed.)
After giving a knowing glance to a German colleague, the spy crosses the street towards 11 Broadway.
He stops in the middle of the street and looks back.
Suddenly, a south-bound car crashes into the spy, violently knocking him to the ground.
The German spy mutters the name “Christopher” as he slowly dies in the middle of Broadway.

 


This filming location has been identified on several movie websites as taking place in Bowling Green. It was just a matter of studying the scene and matching up the buildings on Broadway to figure out the exact spots the action took place.

As you can see in the images above, not a lot has changed over the years. The most noticeable difference is the now-inclusion of the large Charging Bull sculpture on a stone traffic median at the north end of the park.

Charging BullThe Bull was installed there on December 21, 1989 after initially being placed on Wall Street a few days earlier by Italian artist Arturo Di Modica. The Charging Bull was created by Di Modica in response to the 1987 Black Monday stock market crash, at a personal cost of $360,000. He then illegally dropped the 7,100-pound bronze sculpture outside of the New York Stock Exchange Building on December 14th as a Christmas gift for New York. Unfortunately, the gesture wasn’t appreciated by the financial workers who demanded the large statue be removed.

After public outcry demanded the return of the curious art piece, the NYPD brought the Charging Ball back to the neighborhood and had it installed where it stands today. Interestingly, the sculpture is not an official city installation since it’s technically still owned by Di Modica and it only has a temporary permit to stand on city property. However, the “temporary permission” has lasted for over three decades, and the sculpture is as popular a tourist attraction as ever, so the likelihood of the Charging Bull going away anytime soon seems slim.

 

Arriving From Europe

After traveling from Portugal, American spy Bill Dietrich arrives in New York City, passing the Whitehall Terminal and and the Battery Maritime Building at South Ferry.
Dietrich then goes through customs at the former White Star Terminal at Pier 54 (near 13th Street), where he is able to swap out his watch with FBI Agent Briggs.

 


The establishing shot from the New York Harbor was pretty easy to identify. The skyscrapers and the terminal buildings clearly indicated that we were looking at the South Ferry section of Lower Manhattan.

It might be noted that the Whitehall Staten Island Terminal that appears in this film would be torn down and replaced a decade later, which in turn would be replaced in the early 2000s with what is there now.

The original Whitehall Street Ferry Terminal, which was featured in this film, was completed in 1909 and designed to compliment the neighboring Battery Maritime Building (not shown). 

Also, all three of the tall, slender skyscrapers that appear in this initial shot are still standing today, but they are mostly obscured by the larger buildings that are situated along the shoreline.

Both a 1945 and 2020 view of Lower Manhattan, featuring (from left to right) 40 Wall Street, Twenty Exchange, and the American International Building. 

While the movie seems to imply the interior scene was also shot in South Ferry, the terminals in that area were for commuter ferries, so they wouldn’t have had a customs department. That meant the interior scene was most likely shot in one of the luxury liner buildings that ran along the Hudson River. However, figuring out which one seemed like a daunting task.

That’s when my research partner, Jeff Blakeslee, jumped in to help after he spotted a clue in the scene — a few reversed block letters that appeared through the large upper windows. It looked like the letters were S-T-A, and from that, we guessed they were part of the name of the ocean liner company, White Star.

White Star
Looking at Pier 56 (top) and Pier 54 (bottom) from the Hudson River, 1951. (From the NYPL Digital Collections.)

Knowing that White Star used to operate out of numerous piers in New York City (providing both passenger and cargo service), I was skeptical we’d be able to figure out which one was used in this film.

However, Blakeslee was able to reduce the number of possibilities when he discovered that White Star’s passenger liners primarily docked at Piers 54 and 56 in the Meat Packing District. Then, after finding a pair of 1951 photographs of each of the terminals, he noticed that Pier 54 was the only one to have large WHITE STAR lettering affixed to its exterior. Assuming that the buildings looked more or less the same in 1945, we concluded that this scene was probably shot at Pier 54.

A composite shot of the interior scene from the 1945 film (left), compared to a reversed close-up of the exterior of Pier 54 taken from a 1951 photograph (right) with matching windows and block lettering.

Of course, almost everything from the terminal building is now gone (except for the arched metal entranceway), but there’s one distinct structure that appears in this scene that remains today. If you look through the window in the second “before/after” image above, you can see the extant Lackawanna Tower across the river at the Hoboken Train Station in New Jersey, giving further proof that we found the right location.

 

The House on 92nd Street

An establishing shot looks up at the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and E 92nd Street. (Note the removal of the fire escape in modern view.)
Although implied that the titular house was on 92nd, the actual location used was 53 E. 93rd Street. (The building has since been demolished).
Dietrich walks east on 93rd, passing the corner building at 1321 Madison Avenue.
Posing as a Nazi sympathizer, he arrives at 53 E 93rd Street to meet his German contacts.

 


Naturally, if there was going to be one location conclusively identified by multiple sources, it was going to be the titular house on “92nd” Street. (Although, surprisingly, a few websites mislabel the location as 55 E 93rd instead of 53.) While it’s hard to know who did the original research to figure out the address of this building, the first reference to this location I could find was in the book, Celluloid Skyline by James Sanders, which was published in 2001.

A 1940 photo of the buildings at no. 53 (center) and no. 55 (right) East 93rd Street on the Upper East Side.

As many film scholars like to point out, while the movie’s title and story indicate that the spies’ house was on 92nd Street, it was in fact, on 93rd Street. I haven’t found a definitive answer as to why the filmmakers decided to make the change, but because this movie was made at a very tense period, perhaps they presented an inaccurate address to protect the property owners from becoming a target of outraged Americans who thought the building was a real Nazi headquarters.

Curiously, this building featured in this movie seems to be the only one on the block that has since been torn down. The lot is now empty and used as a back entrance to a large apartment building at 1327 Madison Avenue, which was constructed in 1984.

 

FBI Offices

FBI agents set up shop on the 29th floor of the Federal Courthouse at 40 Foley Square, with views of the Brooklyn Bridge and East River.

 


Obviously, the Brooklyn Bridge was the main clue in figuring out where this scene took place. Using the size and perspective of the span, I was able to get a rough estimate of where the camera was positioned. However, since pretty much everything else that appeared in this wide shot has since been torn down, I had a little trouble getting a fix on the exact building from which we were looking out.

Again, judging by the perspective of the Brooklyn Bridge, I determined the most likely candidate was the tower of the Federal Courthouse at Foley Square (known today as the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse). However, the masonry on the tower’s upper floors didn’t seem to match what was in the film. And to add to my frustrations, I couldn’t find any vintage photos of the most prominent building in the wide shot (the center building near the bottom of the frame), making me think I got my orientation wrong.

Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in Lower Manhattan (est. 1936), where this scene was most likely filmed. The scene begins with a panning shot looking out of one of the upper windows on the south (left) side of the building.

Finally, Blakeslee was able to track down a ca 1940 tax photo of 409-415 Pearl Street, which seemed to match that elusive building in that wide shot.

After a little digging around, I found out it was the former Scott & Bowne Building, which was completed in 1892, and considered a kind of minor gem of the neighborhood. Sadly, the 12-story office high-rise was torn down only a couple years after this film was made to make way for the Alfred E Smith housing development.

A little later, Blakeslee found a couple written pieces (including a New York Times article) that indicated that the FBI had offices on the 29th floor in the Federal Courthouse at Foley Square. The fact the FBI had actual offices in the courthouse tower helped give credence to the theory that they shot this scene there. That’s because I knew the head of the Bureau, J. Edgar Hoover (who makes a brief cameo in this movie), gave the filmmakers unprecedented access to its facilities, and that likely included their New York office.

However, the one thing that was still a little inconsistent was the masonry that appeared out the window in this scene. When I looked at modern photos of the tower, it didn’t look like a perfect match.

A shot from the 1945 film, showing part of the building’s stonework (left), compared to a 2019 interior photo of the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse with similar style stonework (right).

But I did eventually find one photo taken from the inside looking out that showed a close-up of the building’s stonework, and it looked similar enough to the film to make me feel more satisfied.

A still from a later scene in the FBI offices (left), compared to a 2019 photo of a window in the Federal Courthouse’s stairwell (right). Also note the Woolworth Building outside the window in the scene; a view that would be consistent with the Federal Courthouse.

I then found another picture from inside the courthouse that showed a set of window panes similar to the ones that appeared in these FBI office scenes, making a stronger case that we got the right place. (Although, I’m still only calling it a 92% certainty.)

 

Columbus Circle Office

Meanwhile, Dietrich has set up a front office at Columbus Circle to serve as an open communication with the German spies.
The ring leader, Col. Hammersohn, goes to meet Dietrich at his office at 11 Columbus Circle on the northwest corner of 59th Street.

 


It was obvious this scene took place at Columbus Circle, but it took me a little time to figure out the exact orientation. I could tell the initial wide shot was looking northwest at the Circle from around 58th Street, so at first I thought the building Leo G. Carroll went into was down there, too. But after I realized that that wasn’t the case, I briefly thought they used the American Circle Building at 1 Central Park West (mainly because a movie website listed this filming location there), but I soon rejected that idea.

Finally, I decided to look up Liggett’s Drug Store —whose sign was above the door Carroll went into— in the Manhattan 1946 phone directory in hopes of nailing this location down. Unfortunately, the book didn’t give an exact address, it only listed the drugstore as being at 59th and Columbus Circle. But it was enough to get me in the right direction.

After digging around the NYPL Digital Collection, I found a couple vintage photographs of Columbus Circle that showed 59th Street and what looked like the corner building from this scene. And once I found a 1940 tax photo of the same building in the NYC Municipal Archives, I knew I found the right place, concluding that the scene took place at the northwest corner of 59th and Columbus Circle (which overlapped with Broadway).

Looking at the northwest corner of W 59th, circa 1905, showing the four-story building at 11 Columbus Circle, which was featured in this film.
A circa 1940 tax photo of 11 Columbus Circle. The door Leo G. Carroll went into is hidden behind the taxi cab.

What was confusing at first was the fact that the building was on a corner that no longer exists. Before the New York Coliseum was erected on the west side of Columbus Circle in 1956, W 59th Street went all the way through, continuing towards Amsterdam Avenue. But when the Coliseum went up, it took over two street blocks and eliminated that section of 59th. (The Time Warner Building currently sits where the Coliseum used to be.)

Looking southwest from Central Park at the New York Coliseum during the Soviet Cultural Exhibit in 1959. West 59th Street used to be approximately where the U.S. & Russia Flags are hanging.

Once I was confident I found the right place, I went looking for a better image of the building since the tax photo had a large automobile blocking the door used in this scene. But after searching through several different archives, I couldn’t find anything much better.

Then I remembered that the 1954 romantic comedy, It Should Happen to You had several scenes that took place at Columbus Circle. After checking out a scene where Judy Holliday and Perter Lawford drive around the Circle, I spotted one shot that gave a great straight-on view of the door used in House on 92nd.

A frame from House on 92nd Street featuring a side entrance to 11 Columbus Circle (left) and a frame from the 1954 film, It Should Happen to You, showing the same building (right), with a red arrow indicating the matching door.

One interesting thing about that corner building is that the NYC Municipal Archives lists the address as 1112 Broadway. This is clearly wrong, since the 1100s on Broadway are all the way down near 25th Street. Then, I realized what happened.

A 1930 map of the west side of Columbus Circle with a red X indicating where the actor, Leo G. Carroll, entered the building in this scene.

When you look at Bromley’s 1930 land book of the area, the corner building has what looks like the number 1112 next to it. But it’s really an 11 and a 12, indicating that these are two addresses for the Columbus Circle thoroughfare. (You can also see a 13 and 14 next to the buildings to the north.) Whoever was in charge of interpreting the map at the Municipal Archives simply squashed two of the numbers together.

All that being said, I believe it’s possible that the side entrance used in the film was technically 301 E 59th Street, even though there’s not a number on the map.

 

German Spies Roam the Streets

After the War breaks out, many German spies are rounded up, except the ones involved with Bill Dietrich. One of these spies, Conrad Arnulf, heads north through Columbus Circle towards 1 Central Park West.
Col. Hammersohn walks along the East River, near E 36th Street.
Johanna Schmidt walks along Coenties Slip towards South Street.
She approaches Pier 6 on the East River.

 


In this short montage, I could tell that each of the spies were at a different location in New York. Of course, I quickly determined the first spy was at Columbus Circle after spotting the American Circle Building in the far background, as well as one of the stone pillars in Central Park. You can see by the image above that this film was shot before the 59th Street subway station at Columbus Circle was expanded to the size that it is today.

Looking north at Columbus Circle in 1952, featuring the triangular American Circle Building at 1 Central Park West, which is now the location of Trump International Hotel & Tower. The spy in the scene would’ve been walking towards that building, to the left of the Columbus Monument.

I determined that the second spy was somewhere along the East River, based on the large industrial complex that appeared in the background — the kind of place that used to permeate that area. By the looks of the structure, I was pretty sure it was the old Edison Waterside Power Station at E 38th Street, but I wanted to find some photos to confirm it.

A ca 1935 view of Manhattan’s East River shoreline, roughly between 34th and 42nd Streets. Note the recently-built Chrysler Building behind the power plant.

The tricky thing was that there were many similar-looking power plants and factories situated along the river, and I’d sometimes find a picture that looked promising, but ended up being of a completely different place. So I had to make sure I was specifically looking at the “Waterside” station on the plot of land between 38th and 40th Streets.

A still from the 1945 film (left), compared to a 1926 aerial view of the Edison Waterside power station (right) with matching windows and smoke stacks.

I first investigated the Edison Waterside power station when researching a scene from the 1963 film, Love with the Proper Stranger, which took place at a playground just to the north of it.

Conceived in the late 1890s, the massive, Beaux-Arts style power facility that occupied over 9 acres along the East River began operations in 1901, producing both electricity and steam. Originally powered by coal, the Waterside’s stacks emitted tons of smoke and ash on a daily basis, coating the area with soot and causing health issues for its neighboring residents. Even after the company began transitioning to cleaner fuels, the power station would produce an average of 27,000 pounds of fly ash and 42,000 pounds of sulphur dioxide every day.

As environmentalists put pressure on power companies in the 1960s and 70s to produce cleaner energy, the plants eventually became more efficient, eliminating the need for so many facilities. By 1999, the Consolidated Edison Company decided to make plans to retire and dismantle the Waterside plant, and started taking bids from developers to buy the valuable Manhattan real estate.

On April  29, 2005, after 104 years of service, the Edison Waterside Power Station was decommissioned and the property was sold to real estate tycoon, Sheldon Solow, for $680 million. Even though the facilities were completely demolished in 2007, as of the time of this writing, the lot remains vacant.

The empty lot along the East River between 38th and 41st Streets where the Edison Waterside power generator used to sit, taken in the summer of 2020.

For a while, the big issue was that most of the land was zoned for manufacturing, making the city reluctant to allow any developers to cover the site with residential or office buildings. Eventually, a City Council committee rezoned the land for mixed-use, and approved the Solow Building Company’s plans to build several condo and office towers there.

An early rendering of Solow’s development plan to be built on the former site of the Edison power station.

Assuming these plans go through, it will dramatically change New York’s skyline along the East River, and likely ruin the view for the many of residents in the neighboring Tudor City enclave.


Looking north at the distinctive S-curve of the El at Coenties Slip.

As to figuring out the location of the third spy, I immediately recognized the Third Avenue El spur line that connected City Hall to South Ferry. That distinctive S-curve was the telltale sign, letting me know that we were looking north at Coenties Slip from around Jeanette Park.

Fortunately, there are a few key buildings near Water Street that are still standing today, helping me get a good fix on where the action took place. After studying what the area looked like in 1945, I concluded the spy was walking south along the east side of the park, in between Front and South Streets. This was when the park was half the size it is today, bounded by Front Street at the north end.

A 1930 map of Jeanette Park and the surrounding area. The red arrow marks the approximate walking path of the actress in this scene.
A still from the end of this scene (left) and a ca 1940 tax photo of 31 Coenties Slip (right) with a red arrow showing the actress’ walking path near a corner fire hydrant.
Looking east on South Street in 1925, with Pier 6 on the far right and the Seamen’s Church Institute on the left, both of which were briefly featured in this scene. 

An interesting building that appeared in this quick scene was the Seamen’s Church Institute at 25 South Street. Founded by a small group of Episcopal men in 1834, the Seamen’s Church Institute began as a floating House of Worship on the East River, anchored in Lower Manhattan. It was created to serve all of the sailors arriving at the port, with the purpose of keeping them healthy, both physically and spiritually.

By 1913, the Seamen’s Church Institute moved out of the water and into the newly-built twelve-story building at 25 South Street, which was briefly featured in this scene.

The Sir Galahad Memorial Figurehead at 25 South Street. Photo from Seamen’s Church Institute Archives.

The building was designed with a distinct nautical theme, with flag masts mounted on the roof, a Sir Galahad figurehead above the front entrance, and a bell salvaged from a wrecked passenger steamer. In 1917, a memorial to the Titanic was placed on the roof of the building, which included a corner lighthouse and a large time ball.

In addition to offices, a medical clinic, food services and a chapel, a good portion of the Seamen’s Church Institute was set up as a hotel and dormitory, which had the capacity to room 580 daily seamen. It became a neighborhood mainstay for visiting seafarers for many decades until the SCI decided to move their facilities to State Street in 1968, allowing the building at 25 South Street to be demolished.

One of the shared dormitories for sailors. From the Seamen’s Church Institute Archives.

The present NYC Headquarters for the Seamen’s Church Institute is 50 Broadway. The only thing that remains from 25 South Street is the Titanic Memorial which was relocated to the comer of Water and Fulton Streets at the South Street Seaport.

 

Waterfront Tavern

Col. Hammersohn takes Dietrich to Catherine Slip in the waterfront area.
Dietrich goes into a shabby tavern at 27 Catherine Slip where he can meet several German operatives.
Hammersohn watches him enter the tavern before leaving.

 


Figuring that this scene was shot somewhere along the East River, I used the skyscrapers and bridge in the background of the opening shot to get my general bearings. Once I determined the bridge was the Brooklyn Bridge, I just looked at possible cross streets in that surrounding area until a found a match, figuring it was most likely a slip since it was fairly wide.

Eventually, I homed in on Catherine Slip which seemed like the correct distance from the bridge to match what appeared in the scene.

Even though I knew the opening shot was at a real NYC location, I admittedly first thought that the tavern exterior was possibly a set built on a studio backlot. It looked a little too perfect for a real NYC waterfront tavern. However, after looking through the NYPL digital collection and Municipal tax archives, I found a few vintage photos showing the corner building at 27 Catherine Slip and they looked like a match.

Looking northeast from South Street at the tavern at 27 Catherine Slip, circa 1927.
A still from the 1945 film (left) compared to a ca 1939 tax photo of 27 Catherine Slip (right). Click to enlarge and you can see several matching elements.

I also found another photo of a small, free-standing diner across the street, which looked like what appeared behind the two men when they first arrived on the waterfront. You can see they both say, “Mayfair Diner” on the front.

Of course, I’m pretty sure the interiors of the tavern were shot on a set, but it’s nice to know the exteriors were done on-location. Sadly, nothing from that era remains today except for the bridge and skyscrapers in the far distance.

A promotional photo from inside the tavern. The character on the far left is about to meet a gruesome fate when he’s knocked out and laid on an active railroad track. (Photo from the Kobal Collection.)

It might be noted that Harry Bellaver, who plays a criminal cab driver in this scene, would play a criminal cab driver again in the 1950 noir picture, Side Street.

Character-actor, Harry Bellaver, playing a criminal cabbie in 1945’s The House on 92nd Street (left) and 1950’s Side Street (right), both of which were shot extensively on the streets of NYC.

Bellaver continued working as a blue collar character-actor into the 1980s, mostly working on NYC productions. His last role was in the 1985 satirical science fiction horror film, The Stuff.

 

Back at the House

After Dietrich gets new instructions from Elsa Gebhardt, he gets into his car, conveniently parked in front of (the extant) 55 E 93rd Street.
Dietrich drives west on 93rd and catches the attention of two spies who are walking by 1321 Madison Avenue.

 


Getting exterior shots like this without attracting the attention of too many onlookers was accomplished by using hidden cameras. This was the same technique used by other filmmakers of the time, like Billy Wilder for The Lost Weekend (also released in 1945). However, the one difference is the filmmakers on House on 92nd were getting assistance from the FBI, who offered to loan them the same government vehicles they used to secretly film criminals.

 

Government Laboratory

The target of the German spies is a secret project taking place at a government lab at 1111 Marcus Avenue at New Hyde Park. Long Island.

 


This New Hyde Park location was listed on themoviedistrict.com, and was apparently a contribution from a reader. However, the AFI website provides some varying information about this location. According to the site, studio records indicated that the laboratory scenes were shot at the Nassau Plant in Great Neck, which is about 10-15 miles north of New Hyde Park. It’s possible the website misrepresented the studio records, but it’s also possible that back in 1945, people considered New Hyde Park to be part of the general “Great Neck area.”

The fact that the building looks like a match (albeit with a few updates) seems to indicate that 1111 Marcus Avenue is the correct address. However, it’s possible there was another lab in Great Neck proper that looked the same. Since these were government buildings (film crew and cast members had to be cleared by military authorities to gain access), it’s plausible that they constucted multiple labs in different towns, but from the same design.

While I think this is most likely the correct address, I’m still a little hesitant to call this location definitively  confirmed.

 

Beauty Salon

The scene opens with a shot of Grant’s Tomb, taken from Broadway.
The camera pans over to reveal tracks running along Broadway and a couple of ladies standing on the northeast corner of W 123rd Street.
The FBI traces a particular brand of lipstick used by spy Elsa Gebhardt to a beauty salon at 3168 Broadway.
An FBI agent goes into the salon to interrogate the proprietor, suspicious that she’s aiding the spy ring.

 


Even though it looked like they used two different locations for this scene, I was pretty sure they were fairly close to each other. The one clue that connected the two locations was the elevated train tracks and station, but it didn’t look like the Third Avenue El (which was still in service in 1945).

Judging by the hill, I guessed that they shot this scene near the West Side IRT subway which is above ground at that point. That’s when I realized the initial shot was looking right at Grant’s Tomb, located at 123rd Street in Riverside Park. (The view from Broadway is now obscured by apartment buildings.)

Feeling confident that the stairs near the beauty salon were for the 125th Street elevated station, I searched the 1940’s tax archives to see if I could find a photo of either the salon or the neighboring Esso gas station.

I eventually found a few decent images of the gas station, and one of them also showed the neighboring building that had signage indicating that there was a salon inside. Even though the signage was a little different, it was pretty solid evidence of where this scene took place. And the Esso gas station was a perfect match.

 

George Washington Bridge

Dietrich blows though a toll booth without paying and continues east on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge.
Transit police stop Dietrich near the eastern arch of the bridge and take him down to the station to “check him out.” But this is all a ruse so he can have a secret meeting in the holding cell with Agent Briggs from the FBI.

 


Not much to say about this location. The scene clearly took place on the George Washington Bridge, and it only took me a few seconds to figure out which way they were traveling. Of course, the days of toll booths is practically gone today, where E-ZPass sensors have replaced the booths at almost every NYC bridge and tunnel.

 

Vaudeville Agent

Frank Jackson, a talent agent for vaudeville and night clubs, is interviewed by an FBI agent at his office on the northwest corner of W 49th Street and Broadway.

 


This is one of those scenes that has a pair of street signs in a shot, making the location patently obvious. The one potential hiccup would be if they used fake signs, but after checking out the corner of 49th and Broadway, I could see that they were authentic.

It appears the interiors were shot on location as well, with great views of Times Square from the office window (unless they were using really good rear projection). One of the signs visible from the window was for the Strand Theatre, which was an early movie palace at 1579 Broadway, near 47th Street.

Surprisingly, both buildings on 49th Street that were featured in this scene are still around today (which is particularly unusual for the Times Square area). Although, the corner building was covered in scaffolding when I took the modern picture, so it’s possible it’s being prepped for demolition.

 

The Bookstore

FBI agents set up a surveillance operation on 59th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues.
The team watches “Lange’s Book Shop” at 123 E 59th Street which is a front for the spy ring and is where they suspect the top ringleader, “Mr. Christopher” will visit to pick up a secret message.

 


I think this was the first location I found for this film, and it was found fairly quickly.

The voiceover in the film said we were on 59th Street and the awning next to the bookstore had a 125 address on it. So, assuming that the voiceover was accurate, the store was either 123 E 59th or 127 W 59th.

Thinking that it looked more like the east side, I checked that out first and even though a lot of buildings have since been razed and replaced, the Municipal Archives had just released their 1940s tax photos online and I was able to find an image of the building at.123 E 59th Street which matched the film.

Even though I suspected “Lange’s Book Shop” was a fake name, when I found the tax photo, I could see there was a book store there, it just had a different name. According to film noir historian Eddie Muller, in order to use a real NYC retail shop, production was required to post flyers in the neighborhood, clearly stating that any depiction of unpatriotic activities were fictionalized and the bookstore was in no way connected to Nazi spies.

 


While by no means a classic, The House on 92nd Street is an entertaining film with a slew of great NYC locations, even if it was partly a propaganda piece for the FBI. Producer De Rochemont (who created the in-your-face March of Time news series) helped get the production out of the Hollywood backlots and onto the actual streets of New York and Long Island. Unfortunately, he was also responsible for including the long-winded and a somewhat prosaic voiceover segments in the film, which definitely slows down the pace. But their inclusion was probably how De Rochemont was able to secure the cooperation of J. Edgar Hoover and be allowed to shoot extensively at FBI facilities.

I’m sure the studio heads would’ve preferred production stayed back in Hollywood, but the use of actual locations substantially added to the sense of realism, offering audiences something exciting and new. And this was reflected in the box office. Even though House on 92nd cost around $965,000 to make —which was a little steep for a B-picture— it ended up earning $2.5 million in rentals, making it one of Fox’s biggest money-makers of the year.

The film’s success definitely helped pave the way for more productions to use on-location shooting, such as 1948’s The Naked City and 1950’s Side Street. And since a lot of the footage was taken with hidden cameras, allowing real-life New Yorkers to mix into the action, these films provide us with a great time capsule of what NYC was like 75 years ago.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close