*Passes laptop to the lovely Tabetha Karydas, who has written this wonderful piece*
Tea or coffee? Both. I’m a dirty chai kind of girl. I’m a guest blogger, one of a kind and possibly once in a lifetime, as I risk going head to Potterhead with my cousin, who graciously lent me her writing platform.
The Wizarding World narrative has traditionally distanced itself from its contemporary real-world context, so I was surprised to see old New York unfold with detail surpassing any necessary world-building in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The combination of its own dazzling historical context and that touch of Rowling magic made New York take on an arguably far more engaging role than those of the main characters weaving through its streets.
The filmmakers seamlessly integrated historic landmarks into the story-telling and these shout-outs to old New York were, to me, the highlight of the movie. Perhaps intentionally, the filmmakers spotlighted many locations that still exist today, making a Fantastic Beasts tour of New York possible. Thus, the historical New York City enthusiast in me can’t help but capitalize on a completely valid, not at all far-fetched opportunity to share useless, but fantastic facts about New York within a legitimate context.
There are many landmarks, but here I’ll feature just a few:
THE WOOLWORTH BUILDING
If you want to visit the headquarters of the Magical Congress of The United States, you’ll find it at 233 Broadway in the gothic Woolworth building. At the time that the film would have taken place, Woolworth would have been the tallest building in the world and the architectural masterpiece of New York.
Stepping into the Woolworth is its own sort of magic, with mosaics, murals and grotesques that belong more in palaces than an office building lobby. Until recently, tourists were discouraged, but lucky for you, tours are now available.(link here: https://woolworthtours.com/). If you look closely at one of the grotesques you’ll even catch a glimpse of Frank Woolworth holding a nickel, referencing his Five-and-Dime dynasty. He died in 1919, just six years after he commissioned the building, but the Woolworth legacy lives on at your local Foot Locker, the successor of F.W. Woolworth Company.
CITY HALL STATION
No spoilers here, but if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know which station I’m talking about. And if you have any love for abandoned things as I do, you’ll know that City Hall Station is an elusive gem.
In the early 1900s, City Hall was a showcase of the brand-new NYC subway. It was grandiose in a way no rundown, rat-infested subway station is today, with brass chandeliers, skylights, glass tilework. Unfortunately, it was not a busy hub and the expanding trains did not fit the five-car platform, so it closed to the public in 1945.
Save for the glimpses gained from taking the 6 train to the end of the line and peeking through the window as the train makes a loop through the station, it’s not easy to gain access to this underground wonder. You must become a member of the NYC Transit Museum and then book a spot on one of the museum’s limited tours (link here: http://www.nytransitmuseum.org/oldcityhall/)
LOWER MANHATTAN TENEMENT
Many scenes in the film took place in rotting, rundown tenement buildings. If you’ve ever read any of Jacob Riis’ books (How the other half lives, Out of Mulberry Street, etc.) you’ll have a pretty solid idea of the brutal and inhospitable living conditions of tenement life. While Riis wrote in the late 1800s, not much had changed by the 1920s; what was portrayed in Fantastic Beasts could even be considered toned down.
Stories of tenement life has always been particularly fascinating to me; my grandfather grew up in a tenement in Hell’s Kitchen. The immigrants who lived there, often forgotten amidst stories of New York’s upper crust, were the hard workers who laid the foundation of the city we see today. The Tenement Museum of the Lower East Side provides tours that give great insight into the lives many of these immigrants led (link here: http://www.tenement.org/).
Admittedly, Fantastic Beasts provided glimpses of a glossy 1920s NYC that we want to see, rather than a historically well-rounded scope. Unlike most historical fictions, however, it’s easier to accept this superficiality as part of the magic of the Wizarding World narrative. With its post-war rush, technological revolutions, jazz, speakeasies, and glittering dresses, New York in the Roaring Twenties holds the fascination of a Shakespearean tragedy: an epic high with a devastating crash lingering on the horizon. It parallels a (comparatively) light Wizarding World story that skirts the evil of Grindelwald’s coming reign and foreshadows the inevitably darker turn this prequel series will take in future films.
Post Script: It’s me again, Evgenia- in case you needed clarification. I hope you’ve enjoyed Tabetha’s article. She is an incredible writer. I say this as an objective third party and not as her first cousin. Check out her blog, Philoksenia, where she brings awareness to certain aspects of the refugee crisis that are frequently forgotten, which she observed first hand as a volunteer at a camp in Chios, Greece.
Post Post Script: There were too many photos to include throughout the article, so I’m leaving them here for you all to enjoy!