Cinema History: Saved, Lost, and Threatened NYC Movie Locations
New York City is home to many famous historic landmarks, and it’s also the most filmed city in the world, with thousands of movies and TV shows being filmed here every year. The city is always changing, and some famous locations are threatened on a daily basis or have been demolished. But many more have been saved, preserving the entertainment and pop culture side of New York City, which is an important part of its history.
As the National Trust gears up for the Oscars on February 22, I've outlined some saved, demolished, and threatened sites well-known through movies and television. I'm very familiar with both movie locations and preservation, as I graduated from Skidmore College in 1996 with a degree in preservation, and in 1999 started On Location Tours to take tourists to these and other pop culture sites on a daily basis. Here are my highlights.
Demolished Movie Locations
5Pointz, a legal graffiti mecca in Long Island City, was denied landmark status and its demolition began last fall. Before its demise, 5Pointz was featured in the climactic scene of “Now You See Me” and the series finale of “Rescue Me.”
The Beekman Theatre, a single-screen movie theater on the Upper East Side, made an appearance in the classic New York film “Annie Hall.” The theater was demolished in 2005 to make way for new medical facilities.
The Wendy’s in Elmhurst, Queens, that was used as McDowell’s in “Coming to America” was demolished in 2013 to make way for new condos.
Saved Movie Locations
The Rainbow Room, the restaurant at the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, closed in 2009, but was declared a landmark in 2012. After an extensive restoration, it reopened to the public in October 2014. It was featured in the classic rom-com “Sleepless in Seattle.”
Katz’s is the oldest deli in New York City, and the owners have made sure they’ll stick around for years to come by selling the air rights for a developer to build on top of the restaurant. Katz’s was immortalized in the classic rom-com “When Harry Met Sally” and featured in other movies such as “Enchanted” and “Across the Universe.”
The iconic Moondance Diner was located in Soho and featured in movies and TV shows such as “Friends,” “Spider-Man,” and “Sex and the City.” In 2007, it closed and was set for demolition, but instead was donated to a museum and then purchased and relocated to Wyoming.
Tavern on the Green
Tavern on the Green, the infamous restaurant located inside Central Park, closed in 2009; the building was used as a gift shop until new owners reopened the restaurant in 2014. Films such “Ghostbusters” and “Wall Street” had scenes that were filmed there.
The Empire Diner, a New York City dining fixture located in Chelsea, closed in 2010 after lease disputes, but reopened in 2014. The diner was frequented by many celebrities, including Betty Davis, and has appeared in “Manhattan” and “Men in Black II,” among other films.
Rizzoli Bookstore is reopening soon in the Flatiron District after its last 57th Street location was denied landmark status and slated for demolition. But its first location on Fifth Avenue, featured in the films “Manhattan” and “Falling in Love,” was saved after its facade was deemed a landmark.
Currently Threatened Movie Locations
South Street Seaport
The South Street Seaport historical district on the East River has been preserved through the efforts of the South Street Seaport Museum. But now the museum is in danger of being evicted for a new mall and hotel complex on the site, erasing the Seaport Museum and the city’s maritime history. The South Street Seaport has been featured in films such as “The Adjustment Bureau” and “Annie Hall.”