This Sunday, June 8th, marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the comedy classic “Ghostbusters.” I admit that I haven’t rewatched “Ghostbusters” in years, maybe since I was young enough to think, “He slimed me” was the funniest line in movie history (it’s not, but it’s up there), yet I feel confident in saying that it holds up as well now as it ever did. If you have kids, watch it with them and you’ll see what I mean, And they’ll be impressed that an incredibly old, clueless person like you actually knows about something good.
The reason I’m talking about “Ghostbusters,” though is because it features so many great New York locations. As noted in this Vanity Fair article about the making of the movie , New York in the early ’80s wasn’t the most desirable place to be. The entertainment industry had pretty much fled the crime-ridden, decaying streets, with the notable exception of “Saturday Night Live,” which is why SNL alum Dan Aykroyd and “Ghostbusters” star/creator wasn’t afraid to film here when the idea came up. You know how today people in New York tend to be annoyed at seeing a film crew on the street? The extras and passersby in “Ghostbusters” were probably genuinely excited to see things like Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson walking down the street in their Ghostbuster gear (though not as excited as the plainly gawking crowds hanging over the railing at Rockefeller Center, watching Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin filming the climactic moment of “New York New York” in “On the Town.” I love old movies.).
There are three locations in “Ghostbusters” that stand out for me.
The New York Public Library – A ghost hanging around the bookshelves scares the fledgling Ghostbusters out of the library. If I’m ever a ghost, I really hope that I am confined to a library. I promise I will help people find things and give out the occasional recommendation. But I would probably have to scare anyone who incorrectly reshelved a book. Scare them to death.
Columbia University – Ahh, my graduate school alma mater where I spent only a very small amount of time (I worked full time and commuted from New Jersey). So no, I can’t give you much of a guided tour beyond the School of the Arts building. Anyway, there’s a scene where Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler sit outside Havemeyer Hall drinking. Since that’s a science building, I never actually went inside, but I do have a vivid memory of sitting on the steps of the building, desperately trying to pry open one of those awful hard plastic packages that headphones come in with a key and a pen. It took forever and I got a cut from the jagged plastic. Good times, Columbia.
55 Central Park West – I once brought a client to a building in Tudor City to look at an apartment, and the seller’s broker capped off the tour with a visit to the roof deck. I blurted out, “This is where Spider-Man killed Willem Dafoe! I mean the Green Goblin.” The other broker and the client where like, “Oh yeah, really?” so I guess I should have been cooler, but seriously, SPIDER-MAN HAD BEEN THERE!! And that’s probably how I would feel if I had a chance to show someone an apartment at 55 Central Park West, where some of the most important scenes in “Ghostbusters” take place. Except I would say something like “THE GHOSTBUSTERS WERE HERE!!!” I wouldn’t mention Spider-Man at all.
In “Ghostbusters” they say the building was designed in 1920 by a mad architect named Ivo Shandor, who used its roof as a base for his secret society and their demonic rituals. Sadly that isn’t true; it was actually just a rental building designed in 1929 by the non-demonic (as far as we know) architectural firm Schwartz & Gross.
The rental apartments at 55 Central Park West hit the market in 1930. It was one of the first examples of Art Deco architecture to appear on Central Park West, but at the time, the city’s upper crust socialites regarded it as a bit of an abomination (note: the city’s upper crust socialites will pretty much regard anything as an abomination. That’s how they roll). Here’s how On the Set of New York describes the building’s original apartments:
When the building opened in 1930 it had apartments ranging from three to nine rooms, the largest of which had four bedrooms. The apartment living rooms featured a dropped living room, developed by the Earle brothers, which set the interior apart from most others constructed around the same period. An original rental brochure shows the dropped living room nearly entirely open to the entrance gallery; traditionally the gallery was held as a different room. The six apartments on the top five floors of the building are considered the most desirable. Two apartments in particular, 19 and 20F, are the most highly sought after. Together the two units form a 4,500-square-foot (420 m2) penthouse, sporting eleven-foot ceilings, two functioning fireplaces and a 1,000-square-foot (93 m2) terrace.
(By the way, it appears that On the Set of New York lifted their descriptions of the building from Wikipedia and didn’t credit them. For shame. Wikipedia has feelings too.)
The building was notable for its use of different color brick on its facade, shifting from a deep purple to a light yellow. According to Wikipedia, the original rental brochure pointed out the “new modernistic design of exterior with beautiful shaded color scheme.” Nothing made people in the 1930s happier than the potential attached to the word “modern,” you know, what with the current world falling apart all around them.
Wikipedia says Ginger Rogers was an early resident of the building before she went to Hollywood, which is nicely appropriate because most of later the Astaire/Rogers films are monuments to Art Deco design. Later residents included Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, and my favorite, the funniest member of the Hollywood Ten, Ring Lardner Jr.
I’d love to have an opportunity to show someone an apartment in this building. There’s one for sale for just $15,000,000. Are you in? Alas, the actual building was only used for exterior shots; the apartment and rooftop sequences were done on a set in LA, and the demon temple featured in the movie was CGI, but hey, we’ve still got those Central Park views.