Based on The Destroyer pulp paperback series, this film follows the creation and training of Remo Williams, a New York City cop who is unwillingly recruited as an assassin for a super-secret government agency, known as CURE. Although it fared poorly in the box office, and received mixed reviews upon its released, “Remo Williams” has become somewhat of a cult classic in its ensuing years. Filmed partially in Brooklyn and Manhattan, “Remo” offers a nice glimpse into 1980’s New York, including the iconic Statue of Liberty surrounded by massive scaffolding as it was undergoing major restorations.
The film stars the late Fred Ward in the title role and Joel Grey in old man Korean make-up.
Filming along the East River looking towards Manhattan Island seemed to be a ubiquitous motif in NYC films during the 1980’s. It was an easy way to show a gritty, deserted terrain of a poverty-ridden New York, while also highlighting the iconic skyline in the background. And because the then-desolate waterfront area of Brooklyn and Queens was close to Manhattan, it prevented the cast/crew from having to go too deep into the dangerous urban jungle.
Naturally, with the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges in the background, it wasn’t very hard to get a general fix on the location of this opening scene, but to figure out the exact spot, I had to do a little roaming around the neighborhood. Once I discovered the bricked-up windows of 135 Plymouth Street, I could see that they matched the ones the thugs run past at the top of the scene. From there, I deduced that the police car was parked on the corner of John and Adams.
However, after the two thugs run past the fire hydrant on John Street and wind up at a pier on the water, I got a little lost. I could tell there was a major jump in geography because we could now see the Empire State Building across the river (which is 2-3 miles north of the Manhattan Bridge). Knowing the dilapidated pier seen in the film was surely long-gone, I used the Manhattan skyline as a guide to get a fix on where it used to be, and judging by the positions of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, I figured it was somewhere in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Using Google Street View, I checked out the shoreline of Greenpoint, hoping that one of the brick warehouses featured in the film was still around. When I did this search in 2017, I knew the neighborhood was going through a rapid gentrification, so I tried to keep my street views as old as possible. (Google has a great feature that allows you to switch to older views from their archives —going back as far as 2007— essentially giving you a virtual time-machine.)
Turns out this was a smart move, because when I finally stumbled upon a factory/warehouse on Huron Street that looked like the one from the film, I realized that it would have been gone if I was looking in Google’s 2017 view. Turns out the building got torn down around 2015 to make way for another ridiculous, high-rise luxury apartment complex — just was Greenpoint needs!
When I first spotted the factory in Google Street View, I wasn’t one-hundred percent sure I got the right place, since a lot of those generic industrial buildings look the same. The thing that originally drew me to this address was the fencing on the rooftop that appeared to match the fencing in the film, but I wanted to try and match up any other details as well. That turned out to be a little tricky since, in this scene, the camera is looking at the back of the factory, but Google only had a view from the side.
Eventually I found a decent high-res photo of the back of the factory from an article on CurbedNY and was able to see that several details were matching up, giving me more confidence that I found the right place.
Written by Nathan Kensinger, the article featured several wonderful shots of Greenpoint’s industrial shoreline from around 2010 —including two photos of the former Huxley Envelope Factory at 1 Huron Street— just a few years before things would change dramatically.
In the article, the author used the industrial shoreline of Greenpoint as the perfect archetype of the perpetual destruction and redevelopment of NYC neighborhoods. The main factor for such a rapid change in the landscape in the past decade is probably the local government’s penchant for rezoning, allowing areas that used to have strict height-restrictions to now accommodate gigantic, towering buildings. Under mayor Bloomberg, 37 percent of the city was rezoned, giving developers free rein to demolish many of New York City’s historic neighborhoods, including Brooklyn’s waterfront area. Mayor De Blasio continued with this trend, and there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable policy changes with the current administration.
2022 UPDATE: Back in when I first wrote this article, my one last stumbling block with this scene was creating the before/after pictures of the warehouse. Taking a current photo of 1 Huron was problematic because, not only was the factory no longer around, but a construction crew working on the new apartment building had the entire block closed off, preventing me from getting even close to the actual filming location.
So, I ended up using one of the 2010 photos from the CurbedNY article to serve as my “after ” picture, which still had the factory in place. (While not the perfect option, it was much better than what I first used — a screenshot from Google Street View that had to be drastically stretched and warped to make it line up with the film. Needless to say, it wasn’t very pretty.)
Once the new building had been completed, I went back to the location and took a more current photo (which appears above). But here is the “before/after” image I originally posted back in 2018, when I was pretending in my head that the factory was actually still there.
Like the opening sequence, this funeral scene obviously took place on a riverbank, which helped limit the number of possible locations. Since I was unaware of any cemeteries directly on a shoreline, I assumed it was most likely a park set-dressed to look like a cemetery. Like the previous scene, I used the skyline across the river as a way to help figure out the location. I couldn’t spot any obvious skyscrapers like the Empire State Building or the Twin Towers, but the sheer congestion of buildings suggested that we were in Brooklyn or Queens, looking towards Manhattan. The other clue was the large factory complex appearing at the end of the scene, but like the factory/warehouse from the previous scene, I knew there was a chance it’d be gone today.
So, the first thing I did was check out any city park along the eastern bank of the East River, especially in Queens. Since there were no landmark buildings seen across the river, I figured we were somewhere north of midtown Manhattan.
It didn’t take me long to figure out Queensbridge Park in Long Island City was the location of this funeral scene. The main clue was the extant Ravenswood Generating Station found just to the north of it. The 2,480 megawatt power plant is still around today and looks almost as it did when they filmed Remo Williams. Although not seen in the film, Ravenswood has a very distinctive set of smoke stacks which have proven to be a helpful landmark when figuring out other filming locations, especially for scenes taking place on nearby Roosevelt Island.
When I first started this film location project in 2016, Remo Williams was one of the first films I decided to work on, mainly because Remo has been one of my favorite guilty pleasures since I was a teen, and there wasn’t much information on its filming locations on the web at the time. Being new to the game, I originally thought finding this funeral location was going to be a long, daunting task, but once I applied some simple logic, I found it fairly quickly.
I can still remember the thrill I felt when I figured out this filming location, and it got me addicted to the hunt for more locations.
Escaping the Hospital
Obviously, with this scene, the first thing I did was research the hospital name seen above the entrance in the establishing shot. I had never heard of “St. Clare’s Hospital and Medical Center,” and thought that perhaps it was just set-dressing. But turns out it was a real place.
Founded in 1934 by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, this small Catholic hospital served mostly immigrants and working class residents, with a capacity of around 250 beds, as well as a small psychiatric unit of 12 beds. In the 1970’s, the hospital expanded to provide social services, including a small shelter in a nearby abandoned brownstone, made solely for homeless women. In the late 1980s, despite protests from some Catholic leaders, the hospital was designated the country’s first comprehensive center for AIDS patients.
Then, after declining funding that began in the 1990’s, St. Clare’s Hospital got saved from being shut down when it was absorbed by St. Vincent’s in 2003. However, the hospital’s reprieve was short-lived, as its doors were closed for good just a few years later. The building is currently being gutted and readied to be converted into condos.
When I was first trying to figure out this filming location, the one thing that temporarily tripped me up was that when I looked up the hospital’s old address, it was listed as 415 W 51st Street. But when I looked on Google Street View, the buildings on 51st didn’t match the ones in the film, which puzzled and frustrated me. Then I figured it out — they just shot the scene at the back entrance of the hospital on 52nd Street, opposed to the main entrance on 51st Street.
In figuring out the location of this quick scene, I noticed that the ambulance drove past a street sign which read, “Hanover.” Knowing there was both a Hanover Street and Hanover Square in downtown Manhattan, I did a quick poking around in Google Street View and found an intersection at Hanover Street and Exchange Place that matched the scene in the film.
Unfortunately, the CURE headquarters building at 20 Exchange was covered in scaffolding, which made for a lousy “before/after” photo.
The interiors of the headquarters, along with the interiors of most of the other scenes from Remo Williams were shot at Churubusco Studios in Mexico City.
While many productions in the 1980s would minimize their time in New York for budgetary reasons, they would usually complete the shooting schedule back in Hollywood. According to the film’s producers, they went to the Mexico because the studio there had the cheapest artisans who could build a replica of the Statue of Liberty for another scene (see below).
Remo’s First Assignment
This is one of those rare instances where being a long-time New Yorker came in handy when trying to identify a filming location. Even though there were no visible street signs or obvious landmarks in this scene, there was something about the neighborhood that looked familiar. When the car first turned the corner and parked on a cross street, I instinctively thought the buildings in the background looked like they were on Fifth Avenue, somewhere south of 14th Street.
A quick visit to Google Street View and I confirmed this instinct — finding a match on Fifth and W 11th Street.
The reason I recognized those rather run-of-the-mill buildings on Fifth so quickly was because my aunt lived just three blocks north of that intersection, and I found myself walking in that area a lot over the years. Even though I never specifically took notice of any those buildings along Fifth Avenue before, I guess their image just lingered in my subconscious, ready to help me out out with a film location puzzle when the time arose.
Moving in with Chiun
When I began researching Remo Williams, I had already identified several locations for the 1985 film, Desperately Seeking Susan, which included a chase scene that took place in Jones Alley. And since Remo was shot around the same time, it wasn’t unreasonable to think that perhaps they used the same alley for Chiun’s residence.
Since Google Street View didn’t offer great images of the alley, I decided to go there in person, and sure enough, it didn’t take me long to find enough matching elements to confirm that I found the right spot.
Training on a Rooftop
This is another filming location I found by using the skyline to help figure out the general area the scene was filmed in, then going to Google Street View to find the more exact spot. Fortunately in this scene, there is a POV shot of Remo on the edge of the roof which shows several major Manhattan buildings in the background, as well as smaller tenement buildings on the nearby avenue.
Using the Chrysler building as a start mark, it didn’t take long to figure out they were somewhere in the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen on the west side. From there, it was just a matter of checking out a couple avenues in Google Street View before I finally found matching tenement buildings along Tenth. Then, I just looked about halfway down the block on the adjacent 49th Street, and found the Red Cross building at no. 520 that matched the building seen in the film.
There have been a few alterations to the structure over the last few decades, but it was pretty clear I got the right place. And incredulously, the empty lot adjacent to the building is still there and hasn’t been paved over with a giant skyscraper.
Training at Coney Island
Not much of a mystery to where they filmed this scene — it’s pretty hard to find a more obvious landmark than Denos Wonder Wheel in Coney Island.
Initially called “Dip-the-Dip” when it opened Memorial weekend in 1920, the inventor of the Wonder Wheel promised the giant ride would combine the thrill of a scenic railway, ferris wheel and Chute-the-Chutes. A contemporary article in Science and Invention described the Wheel as a “real thrill like you have probably never had before—at least not at this great height!”
The iconic Ferris wheel got renamed “Deno’s” in 1983, when it was bought by Greek immigrant, Constantinos Dionysios “Deno” Vourderis, who had dreamed of buying the ride ever since he proposed to his wife in front of it in 1948. After spending the previous years fixing and maintaining kiddie rides in Coney Island, Deno bought the Wheel for $250,000. And supposedly the ride didn’t come with any operating instructions — only a handwritten note on the back of a carton of cigarettes that said, “Good Luck.”
Thankfully, the Wonder Wheel will remain in Coney Island for many years to come, as it was designated an official New York City landmark a few years after this scene from Remo Williams was filmed.
After Fred Ward and Joel Grey get off the Wonder Wheel, it took me a little time to figure out the exact spot they walked to where they encountered William Hickey and the hoop-on-the-bottle game. I basically used the tall residential buildings in the background to figure out the general orientation of the camera, but it wasn’t until I went to Coney Island in person that I was able to figure out the exact spot. When I was there, I was amazed to discover that both the merry-go-round and the Tilt-A-Whirl were still in the same place they were when production filmed this scene in the winter of 1984.
Remo Learns to Float
I knew this scene also took place on Coney Island, but I figured out the exact location by identifying the former Stauch Baths building in the background, which used to be on on the corner of Stillwell Avenue and the boardwalk.
At the time this scene was filmed, Stauch Baths was a dilapidated remnant from a bygone era in Coney Island, when dozens of competing swimming pools and bathhouses dotted the boardwalk.
The reason there used to be so many bathhouses is because before 1923, all the beaches at Coney Island were actually privately-owned, and visiting sunbathers had to pay an admission price at a bathhouse to gain access to the ocean.
These bathhouses that lined the beach front offered a variety of amenities, such as games, food & drinks, saunas, whirlpools, sunbathing decks, and large salt-water swimming pools. They also rented lockers and, more importantly, rented bathing suits, since most New Yorkers of the late 19th century and early 20th didn’t own their own suits.
And these folks didn’t flock these bathhouses strictly for entertainment purposes either. Back in these early years, not everyone had a bathtub or hot running water in their homes, so these public bathhouses (both at Coney Island and throughout the city), offered them a reliable place to cleanse and refresh themselves.
One of largest and longest-lasting bath pavilions in Coney Island was Stauch Baths. The eponymous founder of this bathhouse, Louis Stauch, began his life in Coney Island when he was just a teenager, working as a piano player for Daniel Welch’s Saloon (located on what was known as Bowery Lane). To save money on rent, Louis slept on the saloon’s kitchen floor at night, and after a few years of skimping and saving, he was able to accumulate enough money to lease Welch’s for himself, at a rate of $700/year.
After a series of fires and subsequent rebuildings, Louis eventually expanded his establishment far beyond a simple bar & restaurant. By 1903, he had constructed a grand, three-story bathhouse and entertainment center which was in the heart of Coney Island.
By the 1930’s, under the city’s newly increased powers of eminent domain, Robert Moses was able to convert the majority of Coney Island’s beaches into city parks, making them free and open to the public. It was right around this time that a lot of the bathhouses became settings for homosexual rendezvous, and Stauch’s Baths infamously became the epicenter of unabashed gay activities.
Even after WWII, when there was a major crackdown on homosexual activity in New York, Stauch’s remained an establishment where the gay community was able to thrive — and it continued all the way up to its closure in the early 1970’s. After Stauch’s Baths went out of business, the abandoned building became a decrepit shell on the boardwalk, emblazoned with the word, “Warriors,” which was spray-painted when the 1979 action film of the same name was filmed there.
The big spray-painted letters actually remained on the building for the next decade, until the monumental, three-story bathhouse was finally demolished in the winter of 1992. In its place, there now sits an unremarkable one-story restaurant.
As of the time of this writing, Coney Island’s last remaining bathhouse structure from this era is the former McLochlin’s Baths on West 25th Street and the boardwalk, according to Forgotten New York.
Erected in 1922, McLochlin’s Baths was a fixture on the boardwalk for a couple decades, before finally closing its doors in 1945. The baths themselves might be gone, but the building on W 25th Street is still standing today, and is now home to the Parks Department’s Garage and Dispatcher’s Office. And since the building is owned by the city, perhaps that’ll help ensure its survival.
Remo Follows Major Fleming
Finding the building the Major went into wasn’t too hard to find since Bryant Park (seen across the street) is fairly recognizable. A lot of the other neighboring buildings that appear in the scene are still around today, but it took me a while to realize that the building the Major went into is also still around — it simply has gone through a major renovation and face-lift.
Statue of Liberty
While it’s fairly obvious that several parts of this action sequence were done with a fake statue at another location, they did actually shoot a lot of it at the real Statue of Liberty in New York. It’s probably most obvious they were on location during the impressive stunt where Fred Ward’s double, Steve Lambert, holds onto a construction pole as it bends away from the superstructure, dangling 360 feet above the New York Harbor by one hand.
Stunts like that helped make this towering action sequence the highlight of the film, but getting access to the iconic statue wasn’t an easy task. It apparently took weeks of negorionatins with the city for the filmmakers to finally get permission to shoot on Liberty Island, which was in the middle of extensive renovations at the time. One of the studio’s bargaining chips was Remo’s executive producer (and TV icon) Dick Clark, who agreed to appear in a Statue of Liberty PSA.
However, one caveat given to the filmmakers was that the action had to be limited to taking place on the scaffolding surrounding the copper statue.
Whenever the characters are in direct contact with the statue, those parts were filmed months later in Mexico City where production constructed a 75-foot wood and fiberglass replica of Lady Liberty’s head and arm (for a reported $250,000).
According to Lambert, he did most of his stunt work on Liberty Island without any rigs or harnesses. The one notable exception was the initial helicopter shot of Remo standing at the very top of the landmark. The wind was so strong up there, they had to strap his feet down and insert steel poles up his pant legs so he wouldn’t be blown into the New York Harbor.
Interestingly, the New York Harbor has been a source of contention between New York and New Jersey states for years, with the Statue of Liberty being in the heart of it. If you look at a map, Liberty and Ellis Islands clearly fall on the Jersey side of the harbor, but thanks to a signed agreement between the states in the 1830s, New York was given exclusive jurisdiction of those two parcels of land.
Oddly enough, New Jersey was given jurisdiction to the water and the submerged land that immediately surrounded the islands, which led to some boundary disputes after the islands were artificially expanded with landfill.
This dispute over this newly-built land eventually led to a 1998 Supreme Court case involving Ellis Island. The court ruled in New Jersey’s favor, giving them sovereignty over any of the artificial land that was built after the original 1830s agreement. So technically, Ellis Island is part of both states. This ruling could also theoretically be applied to the roughly 4 acres of added land to Liberty Island, but as of now, the Garden State has not pursued it.
While not a great movie, Remo Williams: the Adventure Begins is still a fun film to watch, taking full advantage of the New York landscape, incorporating iconic landmarks into many of its action sequences. Plus, it’s got a super memorable soundtrack by Craig Safan, even if it can be a bit onenote at times.
I never thought the late Fred Ward was an especially competent actor, but he does have a certain gruff charm about him that goes a long way in this film. Plus, supporting actors, Wilford Brimley and J.A. Preston are great as the operators of the secret government program, CURE.
Of course, when comes to casting Joel Grey as the Korean master, Chiun, the idea of a caucasian actor playing an Asian character would not go over very well with audiences today. But all in all, I don’t find it particularly offensive (unlike Mickey Rooney’s jingoistic take of a Japanese landlord in Breakfast At Tiffany’s), it just seems unnecessary and a bit distracting.
That unfortunate casting choice, along with a pell mell script filled with cheesy 80s tropes, hasn’t helped Remo age very well,. These detractions also probably contributed to the film’s poor box office performance, making the “Adventure” begin and end in 1985.
And yet, Remo has always had a special (guilty) place in my heart. It used be because it was the very first PG-13 film I ever saw in the theatre. But now, it’s because it has some great New York locations perfectly utilized by the filmmakers — it’s as if the city was their cinematic playground.
This was amazing. I came here because I always thought Remo and Chiun’s loft apartment was sort of like a dream residence and was hoping to find out if it was actually a place, or just converted for film. This was a very nice surprise to see all these places and how much has changed in NY since I was a teenager. I don’t know NYC as well as the author, but I lived and commuted from NJ to NY for much of my life. I appreciate the work that was done in this research. I never expected to see the day where no one really knows this film anymore, but I guess that’s how it goes when you get older. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. 🙂
Thanks for dropping a line. When I was writing this post, I knew it would be for a relatively small audience, but hoped there’d be a few folks out there who’d appreciate a location-breakdown of this oft-overlooked film.
Thanks for the follow up of the original. I’ve always loved revisiting films that capture gritty New York in the 80’s (whether it be Remo Williams or even CHUD), before the real estate boom. My dad and I had a large payphone company that began in the mid 80’s and eventually became obsolete by the early 2000’s, so you can imagine my constant exposure to the city streets of the boroughs on a daily basis. It’s great nostalgia.
As for the film itself, I’m not much of film buff, but I think it’s charm makes up for quite a bit of it’s shortcomings. I still watch whenever it’s on tv. It can feel incredibly flat at times and hasn’t really aged well, but the dynamic between Remo and Chiun was fun. I liked Fred Ward in this role. His gruff demeanor fits perfectly with gritty downtown and feels almost like a predator moving about it’s habitat. I was sad to learn of his passing because I heard from at least one source that he was a friendly, down to earth guy.
Anyway, it’s always fun for me revisiting cult classics, so thanks for expanding on the original.
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There is no such a thing as ‘Pulp paperbacks’! Pulps were magazines; paperbacks killed them. Action heroes were only about 4% of pulp contents. They were mostly westerns and romance.
An amazing trip to the locations of a cool movie based on one of my favorite book series thank you so much for this it made my day