With the long-awaited release of the new Ghostbusters movie, I thought it’d be appropriate to look back at the original 1984 classic that was essentially the first big-budget, special-effects-heavy comedy ever made. Starring comedy legends Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis, Ghostbusters filled out its cast with Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts and Ernie Hudson (playing a role that was purportedly first offered to Eddie Murphy who turned it down to star in Beverly Hills Cop).
Like the other posts on this site, I will mostly focus on the New York locations used in this movie. However, Ghostbusters is one of the few titles in which I did zero original research in finding its locations. Generally speaking, even with the most popular, iconic movies that have been extensively studied and researched, there tends to be at least one or two locations that haven’t been identified by anyone (usually because the scene is very brief or the location is extremely difficult to pinpoint). But that hasn’t been the case with the Ghostbusters movies, thanks to the exhaustive Spook Central website, which has painstakingly identified every nook and cranny from the first two films, no matter how brief or insignificant.
When I began compiling Ghostbusters filming locations, the first thing on my list was the New York Public Library’s Rose Main Reading Room, located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. It’s a location I’m very familiar with — one that I’ve been to at least a hundred times over the years. While I was pretty sure all the scenes in the reading room took place in the south hall, I did double-check the orientation of the windows, shelves and such just to make sure.
When it came to all the scenes that took place in the basement stacks, I knew they weren’t filmed at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in New York, but I always assumed they were filmed on a studio set. And yet, according to several sources, they were actually filmed in one of the active sub-basements of the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles.
I still don’t know why they would actually go to a real location to film in a fairly nondescript basement area with just rows of shelves and old books. Not sure what the benefit would be, considering a good portion of the set-dressing was probably put there by production — assuming the library wouldn’t let them toss around and “slime” their actual books and shelves.
In his research for his “Spook Central” website, Paul Rudoff emailed a staff member of the Los Angeles Public Library to confirm whether the Central Branch was used for these scenes. The staffer said in her email that while they had no official written records, several long-time library employees affirmed that the movie was indeed filmed there. The email also indicated that the old “shelflist” cards (which were being converted into an electronic system at the time) doubled for the catalog cards that went flying all over the place, since they, along with their shelves and trays, looked essentially the same.
A couple years after these scenes were filmed, a fire broke out at the Central Library, which resulted in much of the building being renovated. This included the bindery and catalogue department, which is the area that stood-in for the New York Public Library’s basement stacks, and is used today for storage and shipping.
Certainly one of the more obvious locations from this film, Columbia University has served as a scholarly setting for numerous movies over the years, including the Ghostbusters sequel, the 1976 Dustin Hoffman thriller, Marathon Man, the 1982 slasher film, The New York Ripper, the Sam Raimi Spider-man franchise, and Steven Spielberg’s 2017 drama, The Post, where the university’s Low Library doubled as the US Supreme Court building.
The campus also makes a brief appearance in the opening sequence to the original West Side Story. Right before its famous opening musical number, there is a series of exquisite aerial shots of Manhattan, including one of Columbia University.
Back at the Library
The film crew was undoubtedly unhappy to see that the stone steps outside of New York Public Library Main Branch were cluttered with unsightly scaffolding when they came to film these scenes.
At the time, the building was in the middle of an ambitious $45 million restoration project, which began in April of 1983. In the decades leading up to that, the extraordinary Beaux-Arts building had devolved into something of a ramshackle — where the structure had become faded and dirty, and the interior had fallen into an unorganized state of squalor. Many of the windows had been blocked off, the grand marble galleries were inundated with filing cabinets, the vaulted ceilings were obliterated with fluorescent lighting, and the filing system was less than perfect.
In fact, one project that overlapped with this 1980s renovation overhaul had to do with updating its card catalogue system, where the nearly 10 million tattered paper cards (some of which were handwritten back in the 19th century) were replaced with bounded photocopies. In addition, the entire catalogue was entered into a computer database which had begun in the early 1970s. This time-consuming process cost millions of dollars and took 6 years to complete. When the project finally concluded in early 1985, the old oak drawers were removed and all the old 3-by-5 cards were transported to a library annex at 521 W 43rd Street (which, according to The Post-Star, used to be a film warehouse for MGM).
In May of 1984, just as Ghostbusters was being readied for its theatrical release, one piece of the library’s restoration project was unveiled when mayor Ed Koch ceremoniously opened the large brass doors to the new Gottesman Hall. Prior to that, the large marble room had been closed to the public ever since it was subdivided and turned into office space in 1942.
After its 1984 reopening, Gottesman Hall has remained a popular stop for those visiting the library, and just this past summer, a new permanent exhibition opened there that showcases some of the library’s most precious historical treasures. While the exhibition itself is permanent, the library will continuously rotate different items from its massive collection, which includes things like Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence; the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal bought by author A. A. Milner; a first edition of Martin Luther’s translation of the Old Testament; and Charles Dickens’s desk and chair.
And like almost everything else at the New York Public Library, the exhibition is free to the public.
But when it came to the Rose Main Reading Room, director Ivan Reitman said that as soon as he was told they had permission to shoot there, he ceased considering any other locations. He explained in a 2016 interview that immediately after walking through the majestic, half-acre space with its huge arched windows, he knew it was incomparable to anything else. “Even though our library [in downtown Los Angeles] is quite beautiful inside, it’s nothing like that.”
Amazingly, all the New York Public Library scenes were shot in just one day, where all the interiors had to be done between the 5am crew call and the reading room’s opening at 10am. Not only did they have to block, rehearse and photograph multiple scenes, the crew had to load in the equipment, light the expansive reading room, and then clear out all the equipment before the library opened to the public.
As a safety net, the last scene in the reading room where Peter Venkman interviews the librarian was written in a way that it could be done later on a soundstage if they ran out of time. But apparently everyone moved so quickly, they were able to fit it in and film it in the staff area behind the circulation desk.
When I went to take the modern photos of the circulation desk in 2019, I showed a still from the movie to a librarian to see if he could tell where exactly the interview scene took place inside the staff area. He and his co-worker were very enthusiastic to try and find the precise spot, eventually zeroing in on a particular wall, basing it on the position of some old machinery in the scene. The paneling has since changed a bit and a new bookshelf has been added, which unfortunately now obstructs one of the camera angles.
Kicked off Campus
While it’s long been known that they shot these university scenes at Columbia, I do remember wandering around the campus in the early 2000s trying to find the exact path the actors took when they came back from the library. Fortunately, the campus is only six city blocks long, so there weren’t too many possibilities to be explored, and I found most the spots used in these scenes in a matter of minutes.
One nice thing about old institutions like Columbia University is that they have hardly changed over the years. The campus looks practically as it did when they filmed these exteriors in late 1983. The one big difference is the area outside of Kent Hall where Ray and Peter hang out after being terminated by the dean. The part of the wall where Bill Murray reclines on is pretty much inaccessible today due to some fencing that was subsequently put up, possibly to protect a set of solar panels installed there.
Naturally, Columbia doesn’t have a Paranormal Studies laboratory, but the university interior scenes were apparently shot on location, although I haven’t found any details of exactly where.
Apparently it was a used as a “cover set” in case of any last-minute schedule changes, usually caused by things like inclement weather. I imagine they needed at least one dedicated indoor backup in NYC since the majority of the film’s interior scenes were planned to be shot in Hollywood.
Taking out a Loan
This, like all the other locations from this movie, is listed on the Spook Central website, but I remember first learning about it from ScoutingNY, which indicated that this scene was filmed at 489 Fifth Avenue across from the Main Branch Public Library. (You can actually see the library in the background at the end on the scene, surrounded by blue construction walls.) In fact, this single-shot scene was filmed the same day as all the library stuff, and I’m certain this location was chosen for no other reason than a geographical convenience.
However, there does seem to be some confusion as to whether this location had an actual bank in it or not. While it’s clear the stenciled “Manhattan City Bank” on the front door was a fake name added for the movie, some have postulated that there was still a real bank at 489 Fifth Avenue — specifically, a branch for the Irving Trust Company, which was a New York-based bank from 1851 to 1988. Headquartered at One Wall Street, Irving Trust had around 15 NYC branches in 1983, but I haven’t found any evidence that any of them were at this 1973-established skyscraper on Fifth Avenue.
I think this confusion comes from an early draft of the screenplay which describes the bank by name and location in its stage directions.
On page 17, there’s a scene involving an interview with a loan officer at the bank, which is described as being “the Irving Trust Headquarters” on “Avenue of Americas,” aka, Sixth Avenue. This early draft’s mention of a specific name seems to be the source of the misapprehension that Irving Trust was actually at the real filming location. In addition, the screenplay’s mention of the bank being on Avenue of Americas explains why some sources, including the Ghostbusters DVD, erroneously lists its filming location on Sixth instead of Fifth Ave.
It’s true that 489 Fifth Avenue did have a bank in it in the 1980s, but it was called the First Inter-County Bank of New York and it wasn’t established until 1985 — a full year after Ghostbusters came out in theaters. Curiously, this Manhattan bank was there for less than three years, failing in 1988 after being connected to several Federal crimes, including money laundering, check fraud, and extortion.
The Federal investigation into Inter-County Bank initially stemmed from a local investigation into the murder of Irwin Schiff, a wealthy businessman who had close business ties with the bank (as well as the notorious Gambino family). Nicknamed “the Fat Man,” Schiff was gunned down in the summer of ’87 while dining at Bravo Sergio, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side.
Two years later, several members of the Genovese crime family were indicted for the murder and Bravo Sergio was replaced with a TCBY yogurt shop. However, before the restaurant closed, it was briefly a hotspot for morbidly curious New Yorkers who wanted to dine where “the Fat Man” got two bullets in the head.
New York’s Hook & Ladder 8 in Tribeca is, by far, the most popular filming location from Ghostbusters, and perhaps from any other movie shot in New York. Any time I’ve walked by the place, there would invariably be people there posing and taking pictures. And the resident firefighters seem to have embraced their association with the franchise. Inside the firehouse is movie memorabilia, including the original “peace” sign used in the second film, and outside on the sidewalk are hand-painted versions of the ladder company logo which have incorporated the iconic cartoon ghost from the films.
Of course, since Hook & Ladder 8 has been a working fire station since 1903, it was clear production couldn’t take it over for a long period of time. They did end up spending three or four days there, shooting all the exterior scenes, but it was still a little tricky working around an active firehouse. In fact, director Ivan Reitman recalls at least one occasion when an alarm went off and they had to quickly clear out of the way for the responding firetruck.
After establishing the New York firehouse on N Moore Street as the Ghostbusters headquarters, location scouts needed to find a suitable place in Los Angles to double for all the interiors, and came up with Fire Station No. 23 at 225 East 5th Street. Since the LA station was already decommissioned, it made filming there much easier, although they did have to clean it up a bit and add some details to help make it better match its NYC counterpart.
However, it seems as though they were lucky that they found something that was similar-looking to Hook & Ladder 8. According to the LAFD Historical Society, the single-bay design of Fire Station No. 23 is typical for New York, but not so much in Los Angeles, and is considered more of an anomaly.
Constructed around 1910, Fire Station No. 23 became the headquarters of the Los Angeles Fire Department until 1920 and housed every fire chief until 1928. When it first opened, the three-story building was criticized for its high construction costs and for what was considered unnecessarily ornate flourishes, leading it to be informally dubbed the “Taj Mahal” of firehouses.
In 1960, the LA fire department began modernizing their facilities and after 50 years of operation, Fire Station No. 23 was closed. Then, after sitting dormant for years, the city made plans to restore the building and turn it into a fire department museum. Those plans were ultimately scrapped and the old firehouse was leased to a local artist, who in turn, subleased the space to several movie productions. In addition to the Ghostbusters series, other films shot at Fire Station No. 23 include Police Academy 2 (1985), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Flatliners (1990) and The Mask (1994).
As of 2021, the building remains unrenovated and apparently unoccupied.
Like the firehouse in Tribeca, the address of Dana’s apartment has been readily available pretty much since the movie was released. I found a direct reference to it in a 1987 article in New York Magazine, but I would assume it was already published somewhere amongst the countless magazine articles and publicity material that came out in 1984. Personally, I figure I probably first learned about it back in the early 1990s, because by the time this building was reused for the 2003 film, Elf, I was already long aware of its film history.
While the exteriors were shot on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, the interiors were shot back in Burbank, California. In fact, Dana’s apartment, the hallway, and Louis’ apartment were all one continuous set built on two adjacent soundstages at Warner Bros Studios (known at the time as Burbank Studios, which was jointly used by WB and Columbia Pictures).
Also built at the studio was the building’s rooftop and temple, which at the time, was touted as one of the biggest sets in movie history. It was over three stories tall and included a huge, 360-degree backdrop of the entire cityscape so they could theoretically shoot in any direction. Because it was so massive, whenever they needed to light the background, they purportedly had to shut down the rest of the studio in order dedicate all the power to that one stage.
As to the New York building at 55 Central Park West, it’s been said that it wasn’t the creative team’s first choice for Dana’s apartment.
The original choice for “Spook Central” was down by Washington Square Park at 1 Fifth Avenue. According to associate producer Michael Gross, it was chosen for its close proximity to the iconic Washington Square Arch, as well as to other tall buildings that could provide interesting vantage points from which to film. However, the building’s condo association couldn’t come to an agreement with the film production, and the location was moved uptown.
Having become so used to seeing the Central Park West apartment in Ghostbusters, I might be a little biased, but I think the building was better-suited than the one downtown. There’s something eerily uncanny about its facade, even for an Art Deco structure, with a unique earth-toned coloration that really makes it stand out from most of its neighbors. It transitions from darker hues at the bottom to brighter colors at the top, giving the illusion that the sun is always setting on it. When the building first opened in 1930, Real Estate Magazine bombastically described the experience as such:
“On a bright sunny day the effect will not be unlike that of the Jung Frau, that most beloved snowcapped Alpine peak.”
Today, the property units are considered by brokers to be “second tier” or “run-of-the-mill luxury,” although the 12-room duplex penthouse on the 19th and 20th floors has continued to be a coveted piece of real estate. But strangely enough, for twenty-five years, the enormous, 4,500-square-foot apartment, with two working fireplaces and two large terraces, was inexplicably vacant for the better part of that period.
Starting in the 1980s, the Central Park penthouse changed hands numerous times, sometimes switching back to previous owners. In 1989, movie producer Keith Barish put down a $360,000 deposit to buy the apartment from fashion designer Calvin Klein, then pulled out of the deal, only to buy it one year later after the new owner, David Geffen, put it back on the market. But Barish never moved in, and one year later, he resold it to Klein. Next, record executive Steve Gottlieb bought it from Klein in 1998, but the space pretty much stayed empty for the 16 years he owned it, as he perpetually made renovation plans but never followed through.
When he finally sold the place in 2014, it went for $33 million, which is a bit of a jump from the $160,000 Broadway composer Jerry Herman paid for it in the 1970s.
The Sedgewick Hotel
Back before the internet was as vast as it is today, there was little bit of a mystery as to where they shot these hotel scenes. While it was fairly obvious the Sedgewick name was phony, I was definitely fooled into thinking it was filmed at a real New York City location, probably because the place was very similar to what traditional luxury hotels in Manhattan looked like. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I finally learned that these scenes were filmed at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles (although I recently discovered that the location was disclosed as early as 1985 in the book, Making Ghostbusters, which published the entire shooting script along with annotations from the cast and crew).
One reason the building might remind you of the Big Apple is because the original architects, Schultze & Weaver, were also responsible for several New York hotel landmarks, such as the Sherry-Netherland, the Waldorf-Astoria and the ballroom in the Plaza. But by using a fictional name for the hotel, I think it helped sell it as a New York location. If they shot an exterior of a more famous NYC hotel, like the Plaza, then used non-matching LA interiors, it would have broken the illusion.
Aside from the firehouse on East Fifth Street, the Biltmore Hotel was probably used more extensively than any other LA location. And as far as I can tell, it was the only one that had both its interior and exterior used in the film.
While the upper floor hallway scenes were done on a soundstage (using leftover sets from the 1981 drama, Rich and Famous), all the scenes in the downstairs lobby and banquet room were filmed on location. Even the stuff involving fire and special effects were done at the Biltmore, which involved the crew installing breakaway chandeliers to the ceiling, and attaching fake walls with built-in pyrotechnics to the real ones.
Associate producer Joe Medjuck said they actually briefly contemplated using New York’s Waldorf-Astoria for these scenes but soon nixed the idea. Time was the main reason they decided to use an LA hotel, as they were in NYC for only about five weeks (which is pretty amazing considering how much of a New York feel the movie has).
Unlike today, it was very expensive to shoot in New York in the 1980s, so it made sense for the Ghostbusters team to be primarily based in Los Angeles. Plus, there was hardly any established studio spaces in NYC back then, which also meant there were fewer rental shops and experienced technicians available.
The weather also played a part in limiting the time they spent on the East Coast. Filming began in New York in late October of 1983, which didn’t leave them much time before the weather got bitterly cold and inhospitable. Director Ivan Reitman recalled, “We got out of there literally just before Christmas. I remember the last couple of days the weather had really turned bad, and I was saying, ‘Thank God, we’re going to California.'”
In the introduction to this post, I mentioned that all the Ghostbusters locations were published on the Spook Central website, and I didn’t have to do any original research. But that isn’t entirely true, as I did end up doing a little detective work concerning one of the shots in this “Ghostbusting” montage.
The news reporter scene from this montage was located by Matthew Jordan, an animator and Ghostbusters fan who contributed his findings to the Spook Central website. He found the general locale by matching up the buildings in the background along Broadway, but was initially uncertain about what cross street the scene took place on. However, things were eventually cleared up after he found a 1976 photo in the NPS Digital Gallery of the building on the corner of Chambers and Broadway, which matched what appeared directly behind the reporter, including its sign for “MEN’S WEAR.”
One exciting thing about the above modern picture of the reporter is that the building behind him is clear of any scaffolding. This wasn’t the case when I first starting taking pictures for this movie in 2017. In fact, the building was covered with scaffolding for over ten years before finally being cleared in 2021 — just in time for this article.
The scene of the Ectomobile driving through W 116th and Broadway was an impressive find since the image was actually flipped in the final film for some reason. This location was identified by Jordan as well, who thought the hill and park in the background indicated that they were up near Riverside Park. And I can only assume the fact that W 116th and Broadway happens to be next to the already-established Columbia University is what helped get him there.
The location of the Chinatown scene with the ducks was figured out by the website’s administrator, Paul Rudoff, by zooming in on a sign behind Aykroyd’s head and brightening it up a bit. After typing into Google what he thought the sign said, it turned out to be close enough to get a result back for a “Tai Hong Lau” restaurant at 70 Mott Street. The location was then easy to confirm since, thankfully, the unique metal railings behind the actors are still there today.
The locations of the Little Italy scene near Umberto’s Clam House and the Rockefeller Center scene were both easily identified thanks to the presence of clear and obvious landmarks. (And in keeping with my restaurant-murder theme, it might be noted that in 1972, mobster “Crazy Joe” Gallo was assassinated in Umberto’s as he celebrated his 43rd birthday.)
The scene of Ray emerging from a lower brownstone apartment was not so easily identified. With such a tight shot of Aykroyd, there weren’t any obvious clues to go on, but fortunately, it turned out it was filmed just one block away from an already-identified taxi cab scene (see the “Ghosts Take Over NYC” section below), which took place on Madison Avenue near E 62nd Street. I can only assume Matthew Jordan got there by searching for residential brownstones near any confirmed filming location, knowing production shot a lot of stuff close to each other to save time. Using that method, I’m sure he would’ve eventually stumbled upon 16 E 63rd, which is just off of Madison.
Then, to make sure Jordan found the right place, Rudoff dug up a publicity still of the scene, which was a wider shot, and showed more of the brownstone. (It also showed Murray and Ramis at the top of the steps, indicating the scene originally ran a little longer.) With that photo, he was able to decisively match up some of building’s unique elements, and confirm this location.
For the next scene of Egon exiting a building with a smoking trap, the website identified it as taking place outside of 122 Mulberry Street. While the site didn’t detail how it arrived at that address, I assumed it started with Luna Restaurant, an Italian staple at 112 Mulberry Street for most of the 20th century and whose sign appeared in the background of this scene.
From there, I figured they just estimated the location by counting back the buildings from Luna, landing on 122 Mulberry. But since the store fronts have changed dramatically over the years, there isn’t much left to match up, so no. 122 was likely just a guess. That’s when my research partner, Blakeslee, and I decided to take a closer look, hoping to find some more definitive proof.
Of course, when the landscape has gone through big changes, the first thing I do is look for any old tax photos on the NYC Municipal Archives. Unfortunately, most of the tax photos from the 1980s were low-res, so it was hard to see any details, and consequently, nothing stood out for me.
As I was studying the tax pics, Blakeslee was analyzing the distance between Harold Ramis and the empty lot that was situated about halfway between him and Luna restaurant. (The lot got built over in 2017, after decades of being empty.) After that, he concluded the scene couldn’t have taken place at no. 122, and most likely took place a little further down at no. 126. Then, after studying a 1940 tax photo of 124 Mulberry, he was able to line up the doors and windows with the brick building next to Ramis, further supporting his 126 estimation.
Meanwhile, I looked up a circa-1985 tax photo of 122 Mulberry Street and noticed that it had a green exterior very similar to what appeared two buildings over from Egon in the scene, making 126 even more plausible.
But the most convincing clue came from a 1940 tax photo of 126 Mulberry, where the building’s window and wooden doorframe matched perfectly with what was on the building Egon came out of. When I showed that to Blakeslee, it inspired him to check out no. 126 in Google Street View and was excited to see under all the scaffolding that’s been shrouding it for years, there still existed that matching doorframe. (Although, who knows how much longer it’ll last.)
And with that, we called this location fully confirmed.
The last scene from this montage of the guys running along the sidewalk was another location found by Matthew Jordan, who was able to match up a bunch of tiny elements here and there that appeared on the edge of the frame. Because the shot is fairly tight without any obvious landmarks, I can only assume he found it because it took place on the same block as the duck scene. In fact, in order to get the shot, all the crew had to do is basically swing the camera around 180 degrees and they’d be all set.
Like everything else filmed in New York, this “Ghostbusting” montage was clearly done very fast and economically. In fact, most of it was shot in just one day, as described by associate producer Joe Medjuck for the book, Making Ghostbusters:
“We had been working late the night before with the full crew, then got up early in the morning and went all over town with a small crew, shooting stuff. We went to Chinatown. Rockefeller Center. 42nd Street, Saks Fifth Avenue and the United Nations — all in one day. We didn’t really have permits to shoot in any of these places —we just made quick stops here and there. That’s pretty much the way Ivan made movies in the old days — a small crew, moving fast. We had two small trucks with equipment and Danny was actually driving the Ectomobile, having a great time.“
The location of this scene was patently obvious to anyone vaguely familiar with New York City, as Lincoln Center is probably one of the most famous performing arts facilities in the United States. While the plaza along Columbus Avenue looks relatively the same as it did in 1983, there were a few changes.
The most noticeable difference is the modern fountain, which replaced the old one in 2009, much to the dismay of preservationists. Some of their concerns came when they discovered the new fountain was going to have “choreographed water effects,” making them nervous the new installation would be too gimmicky. But the plans went through, and the old fountain was taken out and replaced with a new one that reportedly has over 350 computerized water nozzles and nearly 300 individual lights that illuminate the prancing fluids.
One other change at Lincoln Center has to do with the building Sigourney Weaver exists at the top of the scene. The change is not anything you’d be able to see on the screen, but the 2,738-seat auditorium got renamed in 2015 from Avery Fisher Hall to David Geffen Hall after he made a $100 million donation to the Center. (And yes, that’s the same Geffen who briefly owned the penthouse apartment in the “Spook Central” building on Central Park West.)
While this scene at Lincoln Center occurs about halfway through the movie’s running time, it was actually the first scene shot between Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver. All of the earlier scenes at her apartment and inside the firehouse were shot later in the schedule after the company moved to Los Angeles. To help get a better sense of the relationship between the two characters, Murray and Weaver worked on the scene with Ivan Reitman the night before, and in the process, refined the dialogue a bit.
And speaking of dialogue, that iconic fountain made recording some of the actors’ lines difficult since the splashing water made a lot of noise. So when you watch the scene, you’ll notice that whenever the fountain is onscreen, the dialogue is being dubbed, but in any shots where the fountain is out of frame, the crew was able to shut off the tumultuous water and record the dialogue clean.
Tavern on the Green
Tavern on the Green, the historic American cuisine restaurant located inside a 19th Century sheepfold in Central Park, was not the original scripted location for this Terror Dog scene. At first, the idea was for Louis to be trapped by the horned-creature in some random corner of the park. But as Ivan Reitman was scouting for filming locations, tracing Louis’ logical steps from the apartment building, he just naturally ended up at Tavern on the Green and decided that it was the perfect place to stage the climax to this chase sequence.
After deciding to use the restaurant, Reitman was quick to adjust the scene accordingly, incorporating some jokes involving NYC’s notoriously apathetic attitude. He recounted this a couple years later:
“Once l had the location, it was very easy for me to visualize how the scene should go. New Yorkers are famous for ignoring pleas for help from people who are being shot and maimed right in front of them. So l think it would probably really happen like that — all of these nicely-dressed people, enjoying a lovely meal, and then outside, this desperate, crazy person pounding on the windows trying to get in. It was a delicious combination of terror, comedy and ironic social satire.”
After it opened in October of 1934, Tavern on the Green quickly became a prominent destination for celebrities and many of the world’s well-to-do. Popular for its bucolic, somewhat isolated location in Central Park, a good portion of its dining area was on a large outdoor patio where the patrons ate al fresco without being distracted by the city’s frantic activities.
But as the years waned on, Tavern on the Green became more rustic and less popular, dwindling into a mundane, money-losing business by the 1970s.
Then, in 1974, the lease was taken over by restaurant impresario Warner LeRoy —son of Hollywood producer-director, Mervyn LeRoy— who had big plans to turn things around. After nearly three years of renovations that amounted to around $10 million, LeRoy reopened Tavern on the Green as a dazzling social center, with a design as grandiose as something out of his father’s production of The Wizard of Oz. The most spectacular part of the new renovations was the addition of a glittering, glass-enclosed atrium, called the Crystal Room, which overlooked the restaurant’s garden and was later featured in Ghostbusters during this Terror Dog scene.
While the Crystal Room was a suitable setting for this scene, in order to add a little extra gothic ambience, production designer John DeCuir placed a pair of creepy statues on the stone entryway that connected the restaurant’s patio to the park.
Of course, if you go to the location today, you won’t find those statues, but you also won’t find that glass enclosure. After the restaurant went bankrupt and closed in 2010, the building was converted into a Central Park visitors’ center and the Crystal Room was torn down to make room for vendors and food trucks.
A few years later, Tavern on the Green reopened as a restaurant, and most the area that used to be occupied by the Crystal Room is still unenclosed. So when it came to matching up shots from the film, it was hard to get it exactly right, and the results were somewhat unsatisfying.
However, shortly before the glass structure got razed in 2010, ScoutingNY went to the location and snapped several photos of the place, lining up most of the shots fairly accurately. It’s probably one of the last visual records of this Terror Dog location before it got dramatically altered.
One last thing about this scene. If you look closely into the restaurant as Louis is being attacked by the Terror Dog, you can see a young girl celebrating her birthday in the Crystal Room. As many Ghostbusters fans have pointed out, that was a 13-year-old Debbie Gibson working as an unbilled background actor several years before she became a pop singing superstar.
Louis Talks to a Horse
This scene was obviously filmed at Columbus Circle, and I was able to figure out the basic orientation thanks to the presence of the substantial USS Maine monument, located just south of the the Merchants’ Gate entrance to Central Park.
I can only assume both this and the Central Park locations were added to the schedule after production realized they couldn’t film Dana’s apartment in Greenwich Village at 1 Fifth Avenue. I would imagine they originally planned to stage these scenes down by Washington Square Park, although I don’t know who Louis would’ve been talking to, as there generally aren’t horses loitering around down there.
The EPA Shuts Down the Ghostbusters
Even though the explosion of ghosts through the rooftop was later inserted optically, practical effects were also employed during the filming of this scene, where blasts of smoke, slime, and debris poured out into the street as a huge cast of characters ran outside.
While the optical effects are a little cartoonish by todays standards, it kind of goes well with the style of the film, and integrated nicely with this scene, which was done in a lot of masters and medium shots — something that wouldn’t have been possible if the location wasn’t right.
Reitman later admitted how lucky he was to find Hook and Ladder Company 8, perfectly situated on the corner of a wide open intersection.
Consequently, the camera crews were able to get really far back, which came in handy for capturing this busy scene. They could put a camera across the street and get an all-encompassing wide shot that could then have matte paintings or special effects added to it.
But as I already mentioned, some of these effects were practicals done on location at the time of filming, including a huge “ecto shower.” The plan was to use a methyl-cellulose compound that had been developed by the effects team and had already been established in the film. This ecto-slime was very gooey, and naturally, most of the actors were not looking forward to having it poured all over them in this scene.
However, as it turned out, Harold Ramis was wearing a one-of-a-kind suit that production was going to need when they filmed the firehouse interiors back in LA. So, not wanting to risk ruining it with ecto-slime, they had to settle for using just plain old regular water, which ended up looking good enough and surely made the actors quite relieved.
Ghosts Take Over NYC
Like the “Ghostbusting” montage earlier, this “Ghosts Take Over NYC” montage had a bunch of different locations, but most of them seemed easy to find.
While I couldn’t find a reference to the initial skyline shot on the Spook Central website, the iconic Empire State Building and its relationship to the neighboring skyscrapers helped me conclude they filmed it on top of Rockefeller Center, known at the time as the RCA Building.
The subway scene, where a long-armed apparition flies out of an entrance, was identified by both Spook Central and ScoutingNY as taking place on Broadway near Murray Street (no relation to Bill). The subway is located immediately west of City Hall —a location that gets used in an upcoming scene— and just one block south of where the reporter was standing in the first montage. This shows, once again, how they were economical in their on-location filming.
The skeletal cabbie scene was already discussed earlier in this post. While Nick Carr from ScoutingNY couldn’t identify it, one of the readers did and wrote in the comments section, “The commuter gets in cab with a corpse at Madison Avenue on the east side of the avenue at about 61st street. The back of the GM building/FAO Shwartz can be seen a few blocks away I think.”
You can see a little more of the area in some alternate takes which have since been added to SONY’s stock footage library.
The hot dog scene, where Slimer pops out of vendor’s cart, was filmed outside of the McGraw-Hill building.
Constructed in the late 60s during Rockefeller Center’s later expansion, the 51-floor skyscraper located at 1221 Sixth Avenue, has a distinct modernist design with alternating narrow glass and limestone stripes at its base. This striped pattern on the building, plus the fact that it was filmed close to an earlier Rockefeller Center scene, is probably how this location was found by others.
In another Elf connection, 1221 Sixth Avenue was also used in a scene where Buddy and Jovie gaze at a large Christmas tree inside its lobby.
The montage ends with a couple shots of Louis roaming around looking for otherworldly guidance. While the scene doesn’t include the obligatory wide shot of Times Square and all its lights, it was pretty obvious that it was filmed there. The big clue in the first shot was the WienerWald restaurant, which was also featured in the 1981 film The Fan.
The big clue in the second shot was the TCKT booth and the George Cohan statue behind him, both of which are Times Square trademarks (although the ticket booth has changed quite a bit since then). Like a lot of the other shots from these montages, this scene with Louis was taken on the fly without any official permits. What’s funny is how crazy Rick Moranis acts in the scene, but is ignored by all the passersby who probably had no idea a movie was being made.
This is one of the few NYC locations that was filmed exactly where the characters said they were. As Bill Murray’s character jibed in the jail scene that preceded this one, “I gotta split, the mayor wants to rap with me about some things.”
In addition to the exteriors, the crew actually got to film inside City Hall as well, which usually isn’t allowed. They didn’t film in the actual Mayor’s office, but City Council president, Carol Bellamy, graciously made her office available for filming.
As to the aforementioned jail scene, it was supposedly shot at an actual New York prison facility that was out of commission and essentially abandoned. “The lock-up was just a terrible place to shoot,” recalled Joe Meclluck. “It was dark and very crowded with low ceilings and dirt everywhere.”
As far as I can tell, this is the only major missing location. The 1985 Making Ghostbusters book included a barebones map showing some of the filming locations, which indicated a Manhattan prison, but it’s hard to tell where it’s supposed to be.
This scene was supposed to take place in the rear of City Hall, but since the real City Hall had no loading dock, it was actually shot in the Municipal Building across the street. Once again, this shows the deliberate choices made by production for making an efficient filming schedule.
As scripted, there wasn’t a really solid ending to this scene (which originally ran much longer). It needed a sort of “Go get ’em” line, and everyone thought Murray should deliver it after jumping into the Ectomobile. He apparently ad-libbed a different line with every take, and during the editing process, Reitman finally settled on the memorable, “C’mon, let’s run some red lights!”
The Final Battle at Spook Central
These street exteriors surrounding the final battle sequence at 55 Central Park West probably took the longest to film. They involved a lot of practical and optical effects, specialty vehicles, the entire main cast, as well as hundreds of extras.
With so many things to coordinate, the time it took to get just one single shot could sometimes be very long, which got compounded when steadfast New Yorkers kept trying to get through the set. Reitman commented about it in 2016:
“Shooting in New York is not an easy thing. You have the right to shoot on the street, but everyone has their own right to occupy and cross on the street as well. It can become chaotic unless you know how to handle it. Both Bill and Dan were very effective on the street. People love them, and they were not thrown by the energy and the thousands of people that would show up every day.”
In order for me to get a matching modern pic of the ghostbusters team driving up Central Park West (the second “before/after” image above), I used my 106 inch selfie stick to simulate the high angle used in the film. I don’t know if the doorman at no. 55 knew why I was taking a picture like that, but he seemed very amused by it, gaily waving his arms and giving me a thumbs up.
When they filmed that wide shot in 1983, they obviously used a crane, and since they were using a convoy of speeding cars, they had to close all traffic from W 67th Street to Columbus Circle (which I’m sure frustrated a slew of New Yorkers).
However, not everything from this sequence was filmed in New York — a portion of it was done in California, where they rebuilt a full-scale version of the ground floor of Spook Central on the backlot at the Columbia Ranch (now called the Warner Bros Ranch). The big reason a double was needed was for the earthquake scene where the trembling street opens up and sucks the ghostbusters and a cop car in.
They obviously couldn’t destroy a real Manhattan street, so they had to do it on a controlled set. The mechanical effects group in Burbank had a way of making the road break apart on a hydraulics system, which could then restore it to it’s original state so they could film multiple takes.
The combination of the two locations ended up being pretty seamless. To help make the two locations match, the New York street was dressed with fake chunks of asphalt and a police car cut in half to make it look like it was stuck in a sinkhole.
This replica of the apartment building was also used for one other shot not associated with this sequence. When the shooting schedule ran out in New York, production filmed Bill Murray’s entrance into Dana’s Building for their date on the studio backlot in Burbank.
But back in New York, in the first shot from this sequence, the building is viewed across the broad expanse of Sheep Meadow in Central Park. This vantage point best shows the work done by the special effects team to raise the building’s height and add a gothic-like rooftop using both miniatures and matte paintings.
Stay Puft Marshmallow Man
When the creative team was still hoping to film down at 1 Fifth Avenue, one of their inspirations was to have the Stay-Puft marshmallow man working his way around the Washington Square Arch (an effect later used in the sequel), but when the location moved uptown, they had to come up with some new visual ideas.
At first, they were going to have the marshmallow man rise up out of the New York Harbor, near the Statue of Liberty so it’d show its scale. Not surprisingly, the special effects department didn’t love the idea, since anything involving water wasn’t as easy to pull off back in the 1980s. In the end, everyone decided that it didn’t make any difference where he came from, realizing the audience would assume that he just materialized.
And again, I might be biased having seen the movie so many times, but there’s something more fun and original about seeing a giant marshmallow creature lumbering through the open space of Columbus Circle (especially back then when the area had a lot of odd and unique looking buildings).
Using an obvious landmark like the Statue of Liberty or the Washington Square Arch is a little boring, and the fact that they used both of them in the sequel shows why it ended up paling in comparison to the first film.
While I’ve never been particularly interested in how special effects are done for a film, I was a little excited to see that one of the techniques they used to accomplish the Stay-Puft sequence was building a miniaturized version of Central Park West. I’ve always found models fascinating, especially when they are replicas of real places like New York City.
But before they did any of these visual effects, production had to film all the on-location stuff first. And with a big complicated sequence like this which was being filmed on a major Manhattan thoroughfare, the crew knew lot of New Yorkers would be upset with all the disruptions, even if they were doing it late at night.
For the book, Making Ghostbusters, associate producer Michael Gross talked about how traffic got badly congested when they were working on this Stay Puft sequence:
“We all wore buttons that said ‘Ghostbuslers Crew‘ so we could move around the shoot without being stopped by production assistants. One night, just after we finished, l went into a bar down the street from where we’d been shooting. A guy came in really angry, yelling, ‘What the hell’s going on? Traffic’s backed up for miles!‘
l just sat there, quietly removed my crew button, and hid it in my pocket. [Associate producer] Joe Medjuck had his own way of dealing with the problem. Whenever somebody asked him what we were shooting. he told them, The Cotton Club [which was being filmed around the same time].
Saving the Day
While I’m sure the new “After Life” movie will be a box office success, most would agree it’ll never compare to this original film, mainly because the marketplace has changed so much. Today, the concept of a “hit” is very different, and the days of a title becoming an international, multigenerational phenomena has passed us by.
The legacy of Ghostbusters is undeniable, and the fact that a sequel is coming out almost forty years after the original release date is incredible. No matter how huge of a hit any new movie might be today, the idea that people will still be passionately talking about it four decades later seems almost inconceivable.
Of course, when Ghostbusters came out, this was back in the days when the theater was the main source of big entertainment. Even though the new “After Life” sequel has repeatedly delayed its release date so it could premiere exclusively in theaters, it will surely be available for home-streaming in the not-to-distant future — unlike the original Ghostbusters, which wouldn’t be available on home video for nearly a year and a half after it came out. That’s why it wouldn’t be uncommon for someone to watch a single title a bunch of times in the theater.
As a kid, I myself saw Ghostbusters in theaters at least two or three times, and when I finally saw it on my TV a couple years later, it was weird to hear lines I never heard before because every other time they were drowned out by the sustained laughter of a packed audience.
It’s hard to know how a simple comedy was able to generate such a huge following. It’s wasn’t just the star power, the well-written script, or the cutting-edge special effects that gave Ghostbusters a firm foothold in the world’s zeitgeist, a lot of it came down to just being the right movie coming out at the right time.
It was a fun, straightforward film that simply made you feel good. Why? Because, as Ray Parker Jr. would attest, bustin’ makes you feel good!
Brilliant! Incredibly interesting anecdotes and facts I didn’t know. Brilliant before/after shots too. So much effort put into this. Ghostbusters is a classic but I was two years away from being born when this movie came out. In the UK, movies could take months to come out in theatres, long after they had been out in the US. Then, as you said, waiting on a VHS copy to even rent would take another 12-18 months. So by the time this came out on VHS on the UK, I was probably born! It was great to read of your experience watching it in at the cinema, and when you mentioned about hearing new lines you missed in the theatre, I had forgotten this could even be a thing!
I have seen Ghostbusters Afterlife and it is a very worthy sequel. It shouldn’t be compared to either of the first two, but pays homage in the right way. The only complaint I had about it was that there was only 1 shot of NYC, right at the end. (The film was shot in Canada).
I am not spoiling anything, but there is also a post credits scene in which they visit the firehouse. It’s only the interior that’s shown, and it looks preeeeeetty much identical to the Downtown LA firehouse used in the first film. It would be interested to know if they went back there and shot that scene there! Seeing as it’s still vacant? Who knows!
Thanks again for this. Had me entertained for a good while.
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