In an iconic scene in The Godfather, Michael Corleone attends his newborn son’s christening. The scene unfolds inside the hallowed walls of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Lower Manhattan and is punctuated by a montage of grisly murders unfolding throughout New York City at the hands of the Corleone mob family. Director Francis Ford Coppola largely used the city as a backdrop for his award-winning film, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its release this year, but also gave it a starring role, filming at various locations across all five boroughs. Today, many of those sites still look similar to the way they did when he filmed the movie in the early 1970s.
Nick Carr, a movie location scout and founder of the website Scouting NY, is well acquainted with many of the filming locations used in The Godfather. As a former New York resident (he now lives in Los Angeles and runs the site Scouting with Nick), he created a comprehensive guide to places seen in the film. Carr says, “To me the movies that make the best usage of New York City are the ones that treat it like a character. The Godfather is a fantastic version of this that shows both period buildings that we all recognize, but also creates new locations that people don’t always think about.”
In celebration of the film’s semicentennial, we tracked down seven filming locations around New York City that movie fans can still see today.
Corleone Mansion, Staten Island
Located at 110 Longfellow Avenue on a cul-de-sac in the Emerson Hill neighborhood of Staten Island, the home that served as the Corleone mansion looks much different now than it did during filming. To help give moviegoers the impression of how significant of a player the Corleone family was amongst the Five Families and in the organized crime arena in general, film crews erected a temporary stone wall with a metal entrance gate (replete with an armed guard) to give the Tudor home a more ostentatious quality. And it worked, making the property appear much larger than it really is and creating a visual separation from the other homes on the block. “The stone fence gives the feeling of a compound, but it’s really on a dead-end street,” Carr says. “It took a pretty creative location manager and production designer to go to that street and turn it into what we see in the film.”
Radio City Music Hall, Manhattan
Radio City Music Hall in Midtown Manhattan (1260 Avenue of the Americas) is no stranger to the silver screen, serving as the backdrop for endless films, including Annie, Rosemary’s Baby and Rocky III. It’s red-and-blue neon signage, which wraps around the Art Deco building’s exterior, stands out amongst the dozens of skyscrapers that surround it. While the circa 1932 building only plays a minor role in the movie, it is also one of the few filming locations that looks identical today versus the 1970s (and the 1940s, for that matter, when the movie was set). In the scene, Michael and Kay Corleone are seen exiting the music hall after attending a screening of The Bells of St. Mary’s, a musical comedy-drama starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman released in 1945. “What’s great about The Godfather is that for a lot of the broader shots, they really had to focus on keeping it period to the 1940s,” he says. “They ended up filming at these classic New York City locations like Radio City that haven’t changed much.”
St. Regis Hotel, Manhattan
Also located in Midtown and a half-mile walk northeast of Radio City Music Hall sits the St. Regis (2 E. 55th St.). Built by business magnate John Jacob Astor IV, the 18-story Beaux-Arts building was one of the city’s earliest skyscrapers and has served as a luxury accommodation since its opening in 1904. The hotel is seen numerous times throughout the film, including an exterior shot that marks Michael and Kay’s arrival for an overnight stay, an interior scene at the on-site barbershop where hitman Willie Cicci gets a quick shave before going on a manhunt to whack the enemy, and a gruesome murder in an elevator that unfolds during one of several killings that transpire in stark contrast to the symbolic christening scene.
Mietz Building and Fruit Stand, Manhattan
In the film, the Corleones start a company called Genco Pura Olive Oil that serves as a front to hide the family’s shady business dealings. Located at 128 Mott Street, in a section of Little Italy that today is considered part of Chinatown, the brick building punctuated by a brick nameplate that says “Mietz Building” was where the family would hold regular business meetings, including one where Don Vito Corleone rejects Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo’s offer to go into the drug business with him and is shot several times by hitmen from the opposing Tattaglia family. The shooting takes place directly across the street at a greengrocer located at 137 Mott Street that remains a fruit stand today. “This scene captures elements of Little Italy before it was erased forever, that to me shows the character of the city and having it play that historical role in a one-of-a-kind fashion,” he says. “You can see that the bones [of the building] are still there, but the storefronts have changed.”
Hotel St. George, Brooklyn
Built in 1885 by Captain William Turnbridge, who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, this ten-story hotel in Brooklyn Heights (111 Hicks St.) was once the largest hotel in the city, boasting more than 2,600 guest rooms, 17 ballrooms and a state-of-the-art saltwater swimming pool. It was also the filming location for a pivotal meeting at the hotel bar between Luca Brasi, Vito Corleone’s personal enforcer, and Sollozzo that ends with Brasi being strangled to death. “[Brasi] goes into a bar that no longer exists today,” Carr says. “The St. George had several interestingly themed bars in the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s, but at some point they went away. So, when you get to the 1970s, when the movie was filmed, I have no idea what still existed and what bar it specifically was.” Today the building houses a co-op, while much of the brick structure’s exterior remains unchanged, including its neon sign and entrance awnings.
St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, Manhattan
While St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown may get much of the limelight as a tourist attraction, there’s actually a second cathedral by the same name located at 264 Mulberry Street in Nolita, a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, that’s worth noting. Built between 1809 and 1815 and known as Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, the Gothic-Revival cathedral was once the home of the Archdiocese of New York. It’s also where the christening of Michael and Kay’s first child, Anthony, takes place. Today, visitors to the cathedral can still see the towering stained-glass windows and stone pillars that serve as a backdrop of this memorable movie scene.