The romantic comedy-drama, Adam’s Rib, is the sixth of nine movie collaborations between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy — who had been in a romantic relationship of their own since 1941. The story is about married lawyers who represent opposing sides of an attempted murder case where a spurned wife shoots her philandering husband. Through the course of the trial, the question of how society treats men and women differently comes out and each lawyer tries to exploit those conceits to their advantage.

Directed by George Cukor from a screenplay by the married writing team Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, Adam’s Rib is considered by many to be the quintessential Hepburn-Tracy picture.

While the story takes place in the New York City area, most of the filming was done in Hollywood with a few background plates and establishing shots done on-location using body doubles for the two leads. However, one extended sequence at the beginning of the movie was filmed in New York with the actual co-stars Judy Holliday and Tom Ewell on location, giving us a nice look at Manhattan in the late 1940s. 


The Stake-Out

The movie opens on John Street, looking southeast from around no. 17.


Over at Bowling Green, Doris Attinger nervously eats a candy bar while idling about. 


She focuses her attention on the people exiting the office building at 9 Broadway.


A few moments later, her husband, Warren, exits the building.


When Doris sees him come out, she quickly hides from his view.


Warren and a throng of evening commuters flow down the stairs to the Bowling Green IRT subway station.


As I mentioned in the intro, almost all of the on-location filming in NYC was relegated to simple background plates and establishing shots, using body doubles of Hepburn and Tracy. Despite this, the studio curiously decided to promote the film as being entirely “made in the east” — a misleading statement that accounts for some contemporary websites and publications erroneously claiming as such.

However, this elaborate opening sequence was the one exception, with a good portion of it filmed on the streets of New York with principal actors, Judy Holliday and Tom Ewell. One reason why Director George Cukor might’ve chosen to film these opening scenes on location with Holliday is because she was already in New York, starring in the Broadway play, Born Yesterday. In fact, rumor has it that Hepburn helped orchestrate Holliday’s small but memorial role in Adam’s Rib to be a sort of public audition for Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn who was hesitant to cast her in the upcoming movie adaptation of Born Yesterday.

Publicity still of Judy Holliday wielding a prop gun.

It apparently worked, because Holliday ended up starring in the movie one year later. It’s no wonder, as her performance in Adam’s Rib is probably one of the best things about it, which is pretty impressive considering she was fairly new to the silver screen. What’s also impressive is they shot all of Holliday’s street scenes in just six hours (which included a company move between two Manhattan locations).

As to this location, I immediately recognized it to be taking place in Bowling Green without having to do any research. It’s a very distinct-looking area and there have been countless movies shot there over the decades, including the 1950 film noir, Side Street.

When it came to the quick establishing shot at the top of the scene, I couldn’t identify it right away, but by the looks of it, I figured it was probably not too far from Bowling Green. Since there were a couple business signs along the street, the first thing I did was see if I could find an old listing for any of them.

The sign that was the most clear was a long vertical one for a metals dealer called, “Cooper & Son.” So, I checked out a phone directory from 1946 and eventually found a listing for a Joseph B Cooper & Son, gold refiners, with an address of 26 John Street (located just a few blocks north of Bowling Green). Then, after looking at a tax photo from c 1940, I found plenty of clearcut matches, confirming I got the correct spot.

A still from the 1949 film (left) compared to a c 1940 tax photo of 22-26 John Street.

Turns out, Joseph B Cooper’s gold refining business was one of numerous precious metals operations on John Street. These businesses would typically buy gold dust or fillings then smelt them into bars to be sold to jewelers. In fact, John Street was pretty much the heart of what was known as New York’s “Jewelry District” from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century. Today, most people associate 47th street between 5th and 6th Avenues in Midtown to be the premier jewelry/diamond district. But back when Adam’s Rib was being filmed, practically every building on John between Broadway and Nassau was occupied by jewelers, watchmakers, or precious metals dealers.

Looking at 17-23 John Street, circa 1940.

One of the great architectural gems (pun intended) in the Jewelry District was the Corbin Building, located on the northeast corner of Broadway and John Street. The slender, nine-story building was designed in 1888 by Francis H. Kimball —a pioneer in early commercial skyscrapers— and towered over its modest neighbors that peaked at five-stories. Originally constructed as the headquarters for the Corbin Banking Company, by the 1930s, the terra cotta-embellished building was owned by the Collegiate Reformed Dutch Church. In 1937, the Times reported that the church had leased the entire building to Herman A. Groen, a wholesale jeweler, making it the focal point of the district.

Looking east on John Street from Broadway, featuring the ornate Corbin Building, as seen in the early 20th century versus the early 21st century.

Naturally, with such a high concentration of jewels, gems and metals on John Street, it drew in a high concentration of burglars, robbers and fraudsters seeking to grab an easy haul. Consequently, the police were intensely focused on that part of Lower Manhattan, which was located below what they called the “deadline.”

Invented in 1880 by the chief of detectives, Thomas F. Byrnes, the term “deadline” referred to an invisible border drawn along Fulton Street at the northern end of the Financial District. Any known criminal found below that line would be “arrested on sight,” regardless of whether they were acting suspiciously or not. (Certainly not a practice that would go over very well by today’s standards.)

A 1940 photo of Cooper & Son, the precious metals refiner that appeared in the opening shot of Adam’s Rib, with a group of men outside who look like they might be up to no good.

When it came to taking the modern pictures of John Street, it was a little difficult to match the high angle used in the film. To help raise the height of my camera, I used my super long, 118″ Selfie Stick, which got it close to the same angle, but still ended up being a little off.

Looking east on John Street from 1949 and 2023.

To add to my photographing woes, all the scaffolding, along with the de trop eating shed, cluttered up the composition and contributed to my failure to get an accurate shot. But at least I was able to get a decent comparative photo showing what buildings from this 1949 film are still there today — so I did accomplish something.


The Love Nest

After riding the train uptown, Warren exits the station on the northeast corner of Lexington Avenue and E 52nd Street.


He then crosses south on 52nd Street heading to the apartment of his lover, Beryl.


On Warren’s tail, Doris goes into his “love nest” at 142 E 52 Street where she shoots him multiple times with a pistol.


Like the opening shot on John Street, I figured out this location from one of the business signs that appeared in the scene — or rather, an awning that appeared in it. Of course, I’m talking about Allan’s Steak Heaven that can be seen clear as day next to the apartment building the two characters go into.

A still from the 1949 film featuring the awning to a local steakhouse, with an inset of an ad from the early 1950s.

A quick trip around the internet and I  got a couple hits for the old Midtown restaurant, including a newspaper ad that listed its address to be 140 E 52nd Street. Other than that ad and a couple listings in some periodicals, there wasn’t much information out there about the steakhouse, which probably meant it didn’t last very long.

Also in the scene, you can see across the street from Allan’s, at 137 E 52nd, a small supperclub called “Show Stop” that was owned by veteran vaudeville star, Willie Shore — a dancing comic who’d routinely end his act with a soft shoe and tap dance finale,

The short-lived club would regularly showcase jazz singers and composers, possibly trying capitalize on its close proximity to “Swing Street” — New York’s jazz neighborhood located on the west side of 52nd Street between Fifth and Seventh Avenues.

Dancing comic, Willie Shore, circa 1940.

At the time this scene from Adam’s Rib was being shot, a regular headliner at Show Spot was the English-born cabaret singer, Mabel Mercer who performed upstairs in the Byline Room. A particular favorite of the gay community, Mercer continued her engagement there until the club closed in late 1953 after owner Willie Shore died in a collision with truck in Lexington, Illinois.

Even though the sign and awning outside the building simply read, “Show Stop,” the club was technically known as “East Side Show Stop.” This was most likely to distinguish it from “Harold’s Show Spot,” over in the Theater District, which was basically a no-frills bar for actors and theatergoers to stop in before or after a Broadway show.

Located at 261 W 45th Street across from the Golden Theatre, Show Spot was operated by Harold Speller, a 200 pound, spectacle-wearing Parisian who was described in a 1958 Times article as “a benevolent host and a forthright bouncer,” known for tossing patrons he disfavored on a daily basis. Being in the heart of the Theater District, the bar was a choice watering hole for numerous New York actors — some Harold adored, like Jack Lemmon and Ben Gazzara, while others, like Paul Newman or Steve McQueen, weren’t treated as kindly.

From 1957, looking west on W 45th Street towards Eighth Avenue with Harold’s Show Spot on the right.

But back on E 52nd Street, you can see from the “before/after” images above that the area has changed dramatically since the days of Adam’s Rib. The only surviving building from the scene is the Racquet and Tennis Club at 370 Park Avenue, which appears in the far distance as the characters are approaching the apartment building.

Of course, all the apartment interiors (as well as the subway station that appears in between this and the previous scene) were filmed on a Hollywood soundstage at MGM Studios.

Tom Ewell and Jean Hagen have a gun pointed at them by Judy Holliday in their “E 52nd Street” apartment.


Driving to Court

Married attorneys Adam and Amanda Bonner drive north on FDR Drive near E 49th Street.


They continue to drive south on the Drive, passing the New York Steam Corp Power House at 247 E 35th Street and a Coca-Cola bottling company at 425 East 34th Street.


If you watched this driving scene, it’d be quite evident that it was done on a Hollywood soundstage using a rear projection set-up. In the background plate, you can see the 59th Street Bridge in the distance, making it apparent they filmed it on FDR Drive along the East River. After studying the buildings they passed (several of which are still around today) I got a good idea of where exactly the footage was taken.

But the part I was most keen to find was the one wide shot in NYC of the car driving by with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn’s body doubles. It was pretty clear it was filmed on FDR Drive, and once the camera swung in the opposite direction, I discovered I could see matching buildings at Bellevue Hospital, located just south of E 29th Street.

A still from the film (left) compared to a 2011 view of Bellevue from FDR Drive (right).

This backside view of Bellevue has since been obstructed by several large skyscrapers, but it was still visible from FDR Drive prior to 2011.

Looking north from 1st Avenue at the New York Steam Corp (building with large chimneys) taken in the 1930s (left) compared to a still from the 1949 film looking north from FDR Drive (right).

After I got a good fix on where the action took place, I was quickly able to identify the hulking power station with the tall chimneys to be an outlet for New York Steam Corp, a public utility dating back to around 1881.

An illustration from a 1881 copy of Scientific American, showing workers installing steam pipes and expansion joints under the streets of New York.

Located between 35th and 36th Streets, the coal-fired steam plant began providing heat and power to the Kips Bay area starting in 1926. It was the corporation’s largest facility in New York with the capacity to produce upwards of 7 million pounds of steam per hour.

Inside the Kips Bay plant, circa 1930, featuring one of seven coal pulverizing mills which were, at the time, the largest in the world.
Inside the control room at the Kips Bay station, circa 1932. Connected to over 65 miles of underground pipe, the facility was able to send steam to its customers at rates upwards of 200 miles per hour. 

They continued operations for the next sixty years or so, when Con Edison, who had become owner of the property in 1970, initiated the demolition of the steam plant. Beginning in 1987, the above-grade demolition was completed in 1994.

The lot then remained empty until around 2014 when a pair of luxury residential skyscrapers, named The Copper, were erected there. The two glass- and copper-clad towers, one reaching 41 stories and the other at 48 stories with a 3-story skybridge connecting them, are distinct in that they were designed with slants to give the effect that they’re “dancing.” But honestly, to me, it just looks like a silly mistake.

A view from the East River of the “dancing” towers at The Copper, 2020. (Photo by Shinya Suzuki.)

While finding background information on the old steam plant was pretty easy, I had a little difficulty finding anything on its neighbor — that sleek, Art Deco building with the Coke logo on it. In fact, it was that oddly beautiful building that initially made me eager to nail down the location of this otherwise uneventful shot from the movie.

After a thorough search, I couldn’t find any photos of the building in the tax records or the NYPL digital archives, which made me think it probably didn’t have a long lifespan on this East River property. I concluded that the building must’ve been constructed sometime after the c 1940 tax photo was taken and demolished sometime before the c 1984 tax photo was taken.

From the 1940s tax archives, looking north at 419 E 34th Street where I approximated the Art Deco building from the 1949 film was located.

Looking for a little help, I showed the movie clip to my research partner, Blakeslee, who also was intrigued by that elusive building. The first thing he did was go to the 1955 Land Book (available on the NYPL website) and saw that there used to be a thing called, “Coca Cola Bottling Company” on that lot.

For some reason, I initially thought the Coke logo was just a large advertisement, but the notion that it was an associated business made more sense. However, even after we were armed with the name of the business there, we couldn’t find any vintage photos of the building. Blakeslee did find a photo of a Coca-Cola bottling company in Los Angeles that had a similar design to the one in the film. Amazingly, that building is still around  today.

From 2022, the Coca-Cola building at 14th Street and Central in Los Angeles, CA.

While info on the New York bottling company was scant, it appears that it was an independently-operated franchise that would process the concentrate provided by Coca‐Cola, bottle it and truck to retailers. The New York company, whose executive offices were located at that 34th Street plant since its construction in 1947, was the largest independent bottling entity for the Coca‐Cola label. By the 1970s, they had 33 bottling plants and a sales territory that covered New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania (not only for Coke, but for other soft drink labels like 7-Up and Dr. Pepper).

But the fate of that 34th Street facility was starting to look grim. In 1973, the company began moving its executive staff from there to new corporate offices in Hackensack, NJ, and by 1980, the building was completely abandoned. Then, after five years of negotiations with the city to rezone the property for mixed-use development, a massive, white-brick rental apartment building, called Rivergate, was erected on the lot.

In the end, Blakeslee and I never found any vintage photos of the bottling plant on 34th. So, it might just be the case that Adam’s Rib contains the only known image of that unique, streamlined building.


The Courtroom

The attempted murder trial takes place at 100 Centre Street where Thomas Jefferson’s words about justice are etched in stone.


The camera pans left to the entrance of the large criminal courts building.


No real work was needed to figure out this location, as I was already very familiar with the Criminal Courts Building from its appearance in other films, such as the 1948 police procedural, The Naked City. 

Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, and Jean Hagen in a scene that was supposed to be taking place inside Manhattan’s Criminal Courts Building but was actually filmed back in Los Angeles. 

Completed in 1941, the Criminal Courts Building replaced the old 1894 Criminal Courthouse and the old Tombs prison on Centre Street in downtown Manhattan. One the architects of the seventeen-story modernist structure was Harvey Wiley Corbett, who also co-designed Rockefeller Center as well as the Metropolitan Life North Building (featured in the 1985 film, After Hours).

A postcard, circa 1941, showing the newly-constructed courthouse building on Centre Street.

In addition to the criminal and supreme courts —the city’s busiest— the building houses the District Attorney, Department of Correction, and Department of Probation. It’s also connected to the Manhattan Detention Complex which has adopted the old nickname, “The Tombs.”

However, long before being home to criminal institutions, this area was the location of New York City’s first main water supply called Collect Pond.

An illustration of Connecticut inventor John Fitch testing a paddle wheeled ship on Collect Pond in 1796.

The pond —a large, 60-foot deep pool fed by an underground spring— was a favorite spot for picnics and ice-skating throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. But as the city expanded, various commercial enterprises started building along the shores of the pond —tanneries, breweries, slaughterhouses, laundries— eventually contaminating the water. In addition, local residents contributed to the growing environmental health hazard by washing filthy household items at the Collect, as well as dumping dead animals and bodily waste into the water.

In 1805, the city initiated a project to drain the polluted pond by way of a newly- constructed 40-foot-wide canal (located where Canal Street is today). By 1811, the pond was completely filled in and residential homes began being built on the land. But it was soon discovered that the landfill was poorly engineered, and as a result, the ground gradually subsided. Houses started shifting on their foundations and the land became overrun with mud and sewage, creating swampy, mosquito-ridden conditions.

Needless to say, the affluent homeowners didn’t stick around for very long and they began migrating uptown and over to the West Village.

Circa 1827, a Swell and a Bowery Boy exchange fisticuffs in the Five Points neighborhood of Manhattan, located where Collect Pond used to be.

Shortly thereafter, poorer immigrants began moving in, and by 1830, the neighborhood became notoriously known as the crime-ridden, “Five Points,” which was depicted in Martin Scorsese’s 2002 drama, Gangs of New York.


Adam and Amanda’s Apartment

After losing the court case, a humiliated Adam moves out of their apartment at 422 E 52nd Street, only to return later that night to see the silhouettes of his wife Amanda and their neighbor Kip in the window.  


This was the only location from this movie that presented a real problem in finding.

It consisted of a single night shot of a nondescript apartment building with what looked like a body double for Spencer Tracy. But in the reverse shot, it featured the actor himself, who was presumptively standing in front of a “New York” backdrop at MGM Studios in Hollywood.

Without any real details in that single NYC shot, I didn’t have a clue of where they filmed it. So, I threw the video clip on my Missing Page, hoping that Blakeslee or some reader might recognize the apartment building. But I wasn’t feeling too optimistic.

Plus, if I was being honest, I wasn’t terribly desperate to find it. Afterall, it’s just a quick shot that’s pretty murky and doesn’t even have Tracy there. But since I tend to be a fervent completist when it comes to movie locations, as the months rolled by, I became more and more obsessed with finding it.

Finally, as it struck me that the building looked like something that’d be on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I decided to look through the 1940s tax photos, street by street, to see if I could spot it. While going through thousands of photos sounds like a daunting task, the way the website arranges the thumbnails, you can scroll through a bunch of images fairly quickly. This was especially true in this case because since I was looking for a large, multi-unit building with wide windows, it easily stood out from all the older brownstones and townhouses.

Starting in the 30s, I worked my way up Manhattan’s East Side, stopping and reviewing a potential candidate every once in a while. But usually when I partake in looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, when I get about halfway through with no results, doubts start creeping in, like, “what if I scrolled too fast and went right by it?” or the dreaded,”What if they shot this in Los Angeles?”

But I carried on, and thankfully, after a few more near-misses, I spotted a promising picture at 422 E 52nd Street near FDR Drive. As soon as I enlarged the image, I became confident I hit paydirt and went to Google Street View to get better details of the extant building. After spotting several matching details, I joyfully concluded I had solved this missing location.

(What’s funny is, I realized afterwards that the location made perfect geographical sense in the story, as we first see the married couple driving south on FDR Drive from around E 50th Street, heading downtown towards the courts.)


Meeting with an Accountant

Weeks later, we’re back at the criminal courthouse building, looking at the back side on Baxter Street.


The camera pans down to several legal services located at 100-108 Bayard Street.


Now in the midst of a divorce, Adam and Amanda reunite for a meeting with their tax accountant at 98 Bayard Street..


Since this establishing shot was just on the other side of the Criminal Courts Building, I quickly figured out the general area used. Judging by the angles, I determined the “accountant office” was on Bayard Street near the bus exit for the detention center.

Because the camera offered an oblique view of the tenement buildings along Bayard, it took me a little time to figure out the exact address of the accountant. My hope was that it would be in one of the four extant buildings, but after lining up the fire escapes and studying the old tax photos, I determined that the accountant was at no. 98 which is now an open lot.

A still from the 1949 film featuring 98-100 Bayard Street (left) compared to a wider 1940s tax photo of the same buildings (right) with red boxes indicating matching door frame. (Note: Both buildings have since been demolished.)

Even though the accountant’s building is gone, at least the Criminal Courts Building  and the neighboring tenements are still around, giving us a good sense of what was where.

As mentioned earlier, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn made a total of nine films together, but most would consider Adam’s Rib to be the best. It’s got sharp dialogue, a great supporting cast and a story that’s engaging and monumental. While the idea of battling married attorneys was inspired by a real court case, Ruth Gordon and her husband Garson Kanin’s screenplay boldly used this framework to explore sexual standards and feminist issues in American society. By combining witty repartee with insightful social commentary, they, along with incisive directing from George Cukor, created a movie that was years ahead of its time.

In a sense, Adam’s Rib was the logical evolution of the screwball comedy of the 30s and early-40s, which had been seeing a steady decline in popularity with audiences. Here, all the characters are well-defined, and go beyond the typical one-dimensional caricatures found in many romantic comedies of the preceding decade. Aside from the always reliable Spencer and Hepburn, the cast gives us a nuanced, comic-dramatic turn from Holiday, and a standout debut from Jean Hagen.

A promotional still of the “other woman,” played by Jean Hagen in her screen debut and who was Judy Holliday’s understudy in Born Yesterday on Broadway.

Best known for the broadly comic Lina Lamont in the 1952 musical, Singin’ in the Rain, Hagen also created some great characters on the other side of the acting scale, playing a plaintive nightclub singer in Side Street and the ambivalent love interest in The Asphalt Jungle.

Hepburn relaxes in between takes on a soundstage at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.
Future First Lady, Nancy Davis Reagan (center), who had just signed a seven-year contract with MGM, visits Tracy and Hepburn on the set of Adam’s RIb.

Another reason Adam’s Rib seems to work so well is because the screenplay was specially written by Gordon and Kanin for the famous acting team.

Dinner with Adam’s Rib’s stars, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, and screenwriters, Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin.

Even in the early stages of development, the husband-and-wife writers referred to the leads as “Spence and Kate.” It makes sense, as they, along with Cukor, were already part of their inner circle of friends.

It wouldn’t be uncommon for this intimate group of five to spend a weekend at Gordon and Kanin’s home in Sandy Hook, CT, known as “Far Away Meadows.” Located at 7 Bradley Lane, their rugged 18th century estate is where the Bonners’ “home movies” scenes for Adam’s Rib was reportedly shot.

Circa 2015, Far Away Meadows in Sandy Hook, CT, which after the 1950s, was broken into smaller parcels of land.

While it seems certainly possible that this is true —after all, the footage was shot in “home movie” style, so it wouldn’t require bringing in an official film crew— it’s hard to know whether this was more fiction put out by the studio to support their “entirely made on the East” publicity tale. But since Spencer and Hepburn spent a great deal of their free time in Connecticut anyway, it seems plausible that they’d take one afternoon to crank out some amateur footage.

Cukor, Hepburn and Tracy at what appears to be the Connecticut estate, Far Away Meadows, which was once owned by famed opera singer, Grace Moore.

If indeed the Connecticut estate, Far Away Meadows, was briefly used for the film, it would be the only footage of the two leads that was shot on the East Coast.

Regardless, by all accounts, it’s quite clear that this “New York” story was almost entirely told from the West Coast, despite several sources claiming otherwise (including the normally reliable TCM website). While some of the rear projection can be a little distracting, overall, this Hollywood version of NYC doesn’t really detract from what is most certainly a marvellous and memorable courtroom movie.

And with that, the state rests.