The New York Grimpendium: Ghostbusters

Below is an special excerpt from my book, The New York Grimpendium, out now.

October 16, 2012 — I might, might, might just have pitched this entire New York Grimpendium project to my publisher so that I could have an excuse to visit Ghostbusters headquarters.

I mean, what can I say about Ghostbusters? It’s a movie that needs no introduction, no synopsis, no writing angle. It doesn’t matter whether you were too young, too old, or nonexistent when it came out in 1984. It’s Ghostbusters, man. We all get it, we all dig it, we’re all that much cooler as a species for having produced it. There’s nothing really that needs to be said about it. But here’s a wall of text, anyway.

Say what you want about any of the films of Woody Allen or Spike Lee or Sydney Lumet, I posit that there is no more New York a movie than Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters. If New York City were incarnated into flesh and then split into four people, you’d get Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, Ray Stantz, and Winston Zeddmore, with maybe a Slimer by-product.

Fortitude, at the NYPL
In Peter, we find the bravado and cynicism that comes from being one of the world’s largest cities, which is both a burden and a point of pride. Relevant quote: “Maybe now you’ll never slime a guy with a positron collider, huh?”

In Egon, we find the serious, academic side that comes from being home to a staggering number of world-class museums, institutions, colleges, and libraries. This is the city that raised Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Robert Oppenheimer, and Richard Feynman, and has produced scores of Nobel laureates. Relevant quote: “I collect spores, molds, and fungus.”

In Ray, we see the childish wonder that still revels (although sometimes it pretends not to) in the bright lights of Times Square, the majesty of the Statue of Liberty, the beauty of multiple skyscrapers holding up the roof of the world. Relevant quote: “Hey, does this pole still work?”

Columbia University
In Winston is personified the everyday blue-collar worker who is the foundation of this grand city—the hard hat behind the jackhammer, the apron behind the hot-dog stand, the driver behind the delivery truck. These are the men and women without whom the wonders of New York City would never have existed. Relevant quote: “If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.”

Even when it seems that the city has turned against them, when it’s overrun by ghosts, when their work has been doubted and they’ve been thrown in jail, it’s never Ghostbusters versus the city (although I think that’s how the lower-quality but still enjoyable 1989 sequel starts out). Heck, the last line of the movie is Winston’s: “I love this town.” And obviously this idea comes to a culmination in the already mentioned Ghostbusters II when the Ghostbusters animate the symbol of the city, the Statue of Liberty, to attack Vigo and his slimy pink menace that threatens the world.

The other side of Columbia University.

So that’s what I can say about Ghostbusters.

But on to the filming locations.

Believe it or not, Ghostbusters was actually filmed in Chicago. Ha. Joking. Some of the exteriors and most of the interiors were, of course, filmed in Los Angeles, but all the important exteriors were in New York. For instance, the exteriors for the opening sequence were filmed at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, which is the main branch of the New York Public Library at 455 Fifth Avenue (“You’re right. No human being would stack books like this.”). The names of the lions that guard its main entrance are “Patience” and “Fortitude,” the latter having the honor of being the focus of the very first shot of the film.

Where the Ghostbusters worked at
Columbia University
Another central location for the film was character Dana Barrett’s apartment building, where the Ghostbusters first learned of Zuul through a refrigerator and where the climactic battle with that flat-topped female spook took place. The building, at 55 Central Park West, is just 20 stories high. Special effects were used to double its height and give it a more ominous crown, so it’s almost unrecognizable in real life. Adjacent to the building is the church that the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man crushes. (“Nobody steps on a church in my town.”)

The bank exterior for the brief but funny “My parents left me that house. I was born there” scene is at 489 Fifth Avenue, right across the street from the already mentioned main branch of New York Public Library.

Of course, before they were Ghostbusters, they were mere university-funded paranormal researchers. Columbia University at Broadway and 116th Street was the college that kicked them out (“But the kids love us!”), forcing them to privatize and offer their expertise to the common haunted man.

Dana Barrett's apartment building
and the church that nobody steps on
in Peter Venkman's town.
The restaurant where Louis finally succumbs to Vinz Clortho, the Keymaster, after being chased by its demon dog form, was Tavern on the Green, at the intersection of West 67th Street and Central Park West. These days, it’s a New York gift shop. In addition, the fountain where Peter is introduced to “the stiff” by Dana and in front of which he does his little dance is at Lincoln Center, at 140 West 65th Street.

Well, you’ve made it this far, and I’m proud of you, especially because you can get all this information on every other Internet site on the web. Anyway, the most important filming locale for the entire movie was Ghostbusters headquarters, GBHQ.

It fits in with the whole “I Heart New York” theme of Ghostbusters that they would choose a firehouse for a headquarters, as well as the fact that it was a building that should be condemned (“There’s serious metal fatigue in all the load-bearing members, the wiring is substandard, it’s completely inadequate for our power needs, and the neighborhood is like a demilitarized zone”).

"My parents left me that house.
I was born there."
The interiors were filmed at a Los Angeles fire station, but the more important exterior for GBHQ is Hook and Ladder Company No. 8 at 14 North Moore Street. Growing up in a suburban area hours and state lines away from New York City, I was used to fire departments looking much different than the tall, red brick and gray block edifice, embedding the building that much more in my mind as GBHQ. When I finally got to visit, after decades of watching the movie, the iconic red door was shut, so after taking a few pictures, I hung around at a bar and restaurant called Walker’s across the street. Finally, the door opened (for non-emergency reasons) and I was able to peek inside to see, hung prominently on the wall, the Ghostbusters II sign left over from when they filmed the sequel there in 1989.

Speaking of that sequel, I’ve neglected it so far in the entry, but let me remedy that right quick. Many of the same New York locations were used (for instance, GBHQ and Columbia University), but also featured in the sequel were the Washington Square Park arch (for a brief shot involving a giant ghost), the Statue of Liberty (of course), and the U.S. Customs House at 1 Bowling Green near Battery Park, at the southern end of Manhattan. That building played the role of the Manhattan Museum of Art, which was this movie’s “spook central.”

Tavern on the Green
I’ve been to quite a few movie filming locations, both for this book and in my life in general. Often, there’s a bit of a letdown at seeing too much behind the curtain. But with Ghostbusters, where the filming locations are as integral to the movie as the characters themselves, it feels a lot more like meeting a celebrity.

So when New York gets you down, which it can whether you live here, visit here, or just see it on the movie screen, all you have to do is watch Ghostbusters. Bustin’ll make you feel good.

Imagine a giant ghost framed by that arch.

Eventually, the iconic red door opened...

And I saw the quarter-century-old Ghostbusters II sign.
Quarter century. Geez.

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