I have a confession to make.
Yeah, I haven’t geeked out this much over a current television show since 1987.
In fact, I don’t even own a TV.
But between the fedoras, the British accents, the witty banter, the crime fighting and calamity, and, most importantly, the smart badass woman who is marginalized in her work because of her gender but who outsmarts everyone and kicks total ass doing it… Agent Carter has been the first show in thirty years to hit all of my previously established fandom points and completely reel me in.
To the point that my fandom for it makes me feel like a teenager again.
Sadly, though, I’m now far past being a teenager, and, this time, I likely won’t be, among other things, scrapbooking or plastering my bedroom walls with pictures of its stars (because that would be weird). There are other things that are a little different, too – in good ways and bad. On the bad side, I’d take the 1982-1986 Top 40 charts any day over the current ones.
On the good side, I now live in New York City.
Which brings me to one of the things that I love most about Agent Carter and which is unique to it — the intersection between my favorite television program and NYC history. Living in the city and having a pre-existing interest in its past, I get absolutely giddy about the fact that certain plot points have foundations in NYC’s real-life history, and the show has prompted me to research and learn more about those things.
And some of the results of that research are pretty cool.
So please join me as I spend the afternoon touring the NYC haunts of our hero – Agent Peggy Carter — while somehow managing to locate, in real life, fictional places that should not actually exist.
But there they are.
So let’s get started, shall we?
The Barbizon Hotel For Women (aka the Griffith Hotel) – 140 East 63rd Street.
The Barbizon was likely also the inspiration for the women’s residence in the early ‘80s TV show Bosom Buddies (starring Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari), and Sylvia Plath’s character in The Bell Jar stayed at the hotel (renamed “The Amazon”) during her summer internship. (Note: Having spent a mere hour and a half in the area today, it doesn’t surprise me that the descent into the Bell Jar began on the Upper East Side).
Unfortunately, the Barbizon is no longer a residence for women – just like most everything else in NYC, it’s been converted into luxury condominiums.
There’s an Equinox and a Soul Cycle in the Barbizon/Griffith now, which would have been super-convenient for Peggy. She’d be doing 200 one-armed push-ups – instead of a mere 107 — in months.
As you can see, the only ledge that may be used to avoid raiding SSR agents is the one slightly above the scaffolding, so, while one could use said ledge to effectively avoid one’s co-workers when they burst into one’s room (and then one’s best friend’s room) to arrest one for treason (after one has shoved the last remaining vial of one’s ex-boyfriend’s blood into one’s purse), one would actually be in full view of people on the street while standing on such ledge.
One would also not be overlooking the park.
Subway Station, F Train – corner of 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue.
Smart, badass agent. Awesome accent. Incredible wardrobe. Super-hero ex-boyfriend. Close friend of Howard Stark.
All of that… and the subway entrance is right next to her building?!?!?!?!
Damn… that Peggy Carter has it ALL!
But … wait a minute… that subway entrance just looks too… new.
Look at the sign. Look at the façade. Look at the escalator. The materials look very 1960s/1970s.
Here’s a current subway map…
… And here’s a subway map from 1948.
The F train across 63rd Street – i.e., the orange line – wasn’t present on the 1948 subway map; therefore, 63rd and Lexington would not have been Peggy’s subway stop.
This is Burger Heaven, where I stopped for brunch. It’s not an automat, but it is the only diner-y-type place that I could find in the neighborhood.
What you can’t see in this picture is the grandmother standing in that doorway in the back of the restaurant with her two-year-old grandchild who did not stop screaming bloody murder for twenty-five minutes. I would have much preferred having my coffee and eggs amidst the relative idyllic silence of Peggy and Jarvis fighting a team of SSR agents.
Subway station, R train – corner of 59th Street and Lexington Avenue.
So here’s Peggy’s subway station. It’s four blocks from the Griffith Hotel, which isn’t so bad. Plus, the walk is lined with a good number of luxurious conveniences that a badass female super-spy doesn’t need at all but would certainly appreciate: Bloomingdales, The Banana Republic That Always Has Sizes, Sephora (for restocking the red lipstick), Lush… and a cupcake ATM.
Because when one gets home, angst-ridden, in the middle of the night following the shooting death of one’s co-worker after one tipped him off to the discovery of Howard Stark’s missing “bad babies” … the cupcake shop is probably gonna be closed.
And how cool is that old bar sign?
Although we’re eventually going to take the subway downtown… we’re going to make a short sidetrip first.
The L&L Automat in Agent Carter was based on the Horn & Hardart Automat chains in NYC and Philadelphia. (Horn & Hardart … H&H … L&L … see what they did there?). Read more about Horn & Hardart here.
Here’s a map of former Horn & Hardart Automat locations in NYC.
And here’s a zoomed-in image of that map, which shows that the closest Horn & Hardart Automat to the Griffith (located at the red pin) was at 47 East 59th Street.
Former Horn & Hardart Automat – 47 East 59th Street – ish.
The old automat has been replaced with a completely new building, so we can’t see what it might have looked like. But it also doesn’t really matter, because it’s most likely not The Right Automat.
Here’s the thing: in NYC, people frequent places near where they are. In the 1940s, there would have been automats all over the city, so Peggy would have been frequenting one that was either near her old apartment (that she shared with Colleen (RIP)) or near her work.
As she continued to go to the same automat after she moved to the Griffith (and making the reasonable assumption that she didn’t already live on the Upper East Side, i.e., the “district of the silver spoon”), we can only assume that The Right Automat was near her work.
But where was her work?
Let’s walk back over to the subway and head down to Lower Manhattan to the first of two potential locations of the SSR headquarters.
In Agent Carter, the cover is that the SSR agents work for the New York Bell Company… i.e., “the phone company.” Here’s the logo.
Make sure you read the bottom line and the date. And remember it.
Now, here’s the office.
So where were the phone company offices in NYC in the 1940s? Well, there were a few of them, and we’re going to look at two.
Barclay-Vesey Building – 140 West Street.
First, there’s this one – currently known as the Verizon Building, but formerly known as the Barclay-Vesey Building – which opened in 1927. Read more about it here.
It’s right across the street (to the north) from the new WTC1, and, in the 1940s, it would have been right next to the Hudson River (as Battery Park City was created with landfill in the 1960s).
Here are some more pictures of the building.
Now, it’s possible that the Agent Carter team did have this building in mind for the SSR headquarters, because, during one street scene, a sign for the Hudson Grand Hotel is shown. But, aside from that, this building – and this area – just don’t feel right.
The building seems way too big (it’s an entire city block). The entrance isn’t on a corner. The subway is too far away. In 1946, the building would have been next to the Hudson (with construction on an extension for the West Side Elevated Highway beginning the following year), and there would have been very few people around.
Plus, the thought of a guy jumping out a window, in flames, fifty-five years earlier and a block or two up is just too awful to bear.
So we’ll move on.
But before we hop back onto the subway, let’s look at the nearest automat. Pulling out the map, here it is. (Note: The telephone company building is indicated with the red pin).
Former Horn & Hardart Automat – 15 Park Row.
This was an automat! How COOL is that?? (In addition to Agent Carter, I am a total geek for mid-20th century commercial architecture).
But, while it’s cool, this may not be The Right Automat, because the phone company building may not be The Right Phone Company Building. So we’ll hop back onto the R train and head to the Jay Street-Metrotech stop in Downtown Brooklyn.
But, first, let’s look at the SSR headquarters again.
New York and New Jersey Telephone Company Building – corner of Willoughby and Lawrence Streets, Brooklyn.
Now this is what I’m talking about.
This is the New York and New Jersey Telephone Company building, dating to 1897… i.e., the same date that’s on the SSR cover company’s logo. Read more about the building here.
Just like the SSR office in Agent Carter, there’s a corner entrance, 3 bays of windows at an angle… but it gets even better.
Here’s the SSR headquarters again.
Look at the decorative oval to the right of the entrance – it’s reminiscent of the oval window at the top of the Brooklyn building.
Also, take a look at the carved telephone bell and telephone-hardware-related carvings over the entrance.
Now, here’s part of the detail around the Brooklyn building’s side entrance (which isn’t visible in the initial picture).
Stepping back to get a better picture of it…
Oh, look… and are those carved eagles over the door? Like in the SSR logo?
**We briefly interrupt this article while I have a #nerdgasm right in the middle of Willoughby Street.**
So … a few things.
What I Don’t Like About This Building For SSR Headquarters:
The streets in front of it aren’t as big as they should be, the building itself should be a bit bigger, and the show definitely implies that the headquarters are in Manhattan. (In fact, my initial impression was that the headquarters were around Grand Central). But (1) realistically, that building was probably on a backlot, (2) locations in television and films are often not in the right places, and (3) the actual buildings are where they are.
What I Like About This Building for the SSR Headquarters:
It’s all there… the corner entrance, the number of window bays, the telephone carvings, the eagles, the date in the SSR logo. It’s in Brooklyn, which actually works because (1) BROOKLYN!!!! (so much cooler than Manhattan), (2) per the first Captain America movie, the SSR has a history of having operational sites in Brooklyn, and (3) “SSR” stands for “Strategic Scientific Reserve” … and what is mere blocks away from the Brooklyn building?
Brooklyn Polytechnic and … [to be read in a Thomas Dolby voice] “SCIENCE!”
Read more about Brooklyn Polytechnic here.
Frankly, there are a lot of things in real life that don’t add up this well.
But hang on… we’re not done yet. I wonder if there are any automats around?
Let’s check our map.
Well, would you look at that? Per our Horn & Hardart Automat map, there was one automat in Brooklyn.
And it was two blocks away from the phone company building (indicated with the red pin).
Before we walk down there, let’s take a look at the L&L Automat from Agent Carter.
Former Horn & Hardart Automat – 3 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn.
And here’s the Willoughby Street automat – or, at least, what’s left of it.
This one actually broke my heart a little bit, because when I was doing my initial research, I found a picture of it on the Forgotten NY website.
As of September 2008, the old automat signage was still there, and I was crushed to get there and find the sign gone in the space of a few short years… especially as it had apparently been there for decades.
What I Like About This Building For The Automat:
- It’s two blocks from the building that I like for The Right Phone Company Building.
- It has the right look. Ish.
- When Jarvis and Stark initially approached Peggy, they did it in the alley behind the automat. Then, they drove to a dock, where Stark got into a boat and motored off towards the lights of Manhattan. They wouldn’t have gone from an alley behind a Manhattan automat to a Brooklyn dock so Stark could boat back to Manhattan. That doesn’t make any sense.
What I Don’t Like About This Building For The Automat:
- It would have been more difficult for Angie to get to her Broadway auditions. (But, then, maybe there was a reason she wasn’t getting any parts.)
- There is no alley in the block. Anywhere.
- At one point, Peggy and Dottie were eating at the automat, and Peggy told Dottie that if she wanted to learn about the city, she should “go to Brooklyn” where its real people were. But that wouldn’t make any sense if they were in Brooklyn. #continuity
Unfortunately, there was nothing in the automat that looked remotely appetizing, so I walked a few doors farther and grabbed a burger at Shake Shack. Afterwards, I thought about walking back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge, but, alas, I didn’t have a vial of an ex-boyfriend’s blood to dump into the East River in symbolic closure.
That Peggy Carter has ALL the luck.
Because every woman – for one reason or another – has at least one ex-boyfriend whose blood she’d like to throw into the East River.
So there you have it.
On the one hand, this was admittedly a somewhat silly exercise (after all, it is a fictional TV show), but, on the other, it was interesting and fun to spend the day immersing myself in the Agent Carter world, discovering long-forgotten commercial architecture, and learning more about the history of this city in which I live. And the fact that, at the end of it, I could actually make a supportable argument that I found the SSR headquarters and the automat is a testament to how great the Agent Carter showrunners, writers, researchers, and set designers are … because, at this point, having seen these sites in real life, I’m not entirely convinced that the SSR and Peggy Carter didn’t exist.
And for that existence, we can only hope.
Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you found it all as interesting and fun as I did!
Molly B. Denham is a periodic contributor to Forces Of Geek. In addition to geeking out over one television program every thirty years, she is a life-long music geek, particularly with respect to ’60s pop and soul, ’80s and ’90s British indie, and modern day indie rock and garage. She also takes pictures and tries unsuccessfully to write songs that sound like the Shangri-Las on her guitar.