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Monday April 22nd 2024

The Warriors | 1979

The Warriors film location: 97th Street Playground, Riverside Park, Upper West Side, New York
The Warriors film location: the conclave in 'north Bronx': 97th Street Playground, Riverside Park, Upper West Side, New York | Photograph: Michael Minn

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Walter Hill’s stylised fantasy has an unarmed New York street gang, the Warriors, having to make its way from the north Bronx to their home turf of Coney Island while every other gang in the city is baying for their blood.

It was a small, low-budget production but Hill was determined not to film on studio stages, so there’s real Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan – but no Bronx.

There’s no ‘Warriors Trail’ to follow the gang’s journey, either. The film bounds about across three boroughs using locations not for geographical authenticity, but for the visual impact they bring to the story.

The Warriors are up in the ‘Bronx’ during a truce to attend a vast conclave of rival outfits called by a charismatic leader called Cyrus, who’s on a messianic mission to unite all gangs and effectively rule the city.

Their destination, supposedly 'Van Cortlandt Park', is Riverside Park, a narrow, four-mile green strip running along the Hudson River from West 72nd Street to West 129th Street on the Upper West Side / Morningside Heights of Manhattan.

The arena-like space used for the meeting is the 97th Street Playground (now known as the Dinosaur Playground), 97th Street at Riverside Drive. It was an ambitious scene to film, with around a thousand extras, including real New York gang members.

The shooting of Cyrus unleashes chaos and when the real killer, Luther (David Patrick Kelly), leader of the Rogues, points the finger at the Warriors, they find themselves in serious harm’s way.

Losing their leader, Cleon, the remaining members of the gang flee the mayhem and lie low among the monuments of a nearby graveyard. In fact, this is way over in the east of Brooklyn. It's the Evergreen Cemetery, 1629 Bushwick Avenue in Cypress Hills.

It's also the last resting place of tap dancer and movie star Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, once one of the most highly paid black entertainers in the USA, now probably best remembered as dancing partner of Shirley Temple in several films.

Here the gang members pause to figure out how to cover the “50 to 100 miles” back to Coney Island (a bit of an exaggeration there), the obvious choice being the subway, with Union Square Station, where they need to change lines, as a rendezvous point for anyone who gets separated.

The Warriors film location: Broadway Junction, Brooklyn, New York
The Warriors film location: the Turnbull AC gang arrive in their bus: Broadway Junction, Brooklyn, New York | Photograph: Google Maps

Just south of the cemetery runs the BMT Jamaica Line, and the gang soon find themselves beneath its trestles on Broadway between Conway Street and the junction of Truxton Street and Police Officer Irma Lozada Way, unfortunately at the same time as a busload of Turnbull AC skinheads arrives.

The geography seems to get a bit out of whack here as the bus and the gang seem to be running backwards and forwards along the same stretch of road (there's even a glimpse of the crew and the lights at the junction with Conway Street at one point).

Making a desperate run for a train, they get to what was the western entrance to Broadway Junction Station, at Conway Street.

You won’t be able to follow their steps exactly. As you can see if you look carefully, the stop was then known as Eastern Parkway Station, after the major thoroughfare running alongside, but this entrance has since been permanently closed, and the name had to be changed.

The journey turns out not to be straightforward and the gang’s bad luck really begins when the train is held up by fire and they have to continue on foot.

Luther is meanwhile keeping up with their progress by phone. ‘Harlyn Stationers’, the little store where the Rogues stop while Luther uses the payphone is a long way from Riverside Park, down in New York’s East Village.

It’s now a locksmith shop, Speedy Lock & Door Co, 17 First Avenue just north of Houston Street, near to 2nd Avenue Station.

From the stopped train in Brooklyn, the Warriors are suddenly several miles north in the territory of the despised ‘low class’ Orphans gang, on 45th Road alongside Court Square Station, Long Island City toward the East River in Queens.

The Warriors film location: 45th Road, Long Island City, Queens, New York
The Warriors film location: the Orphans watch from the rooftop: 45th Road, Long Island City, Queens, New York | Photograph: Google Maps

There’s been some redevelopment along the street but for the moment much of what you see in the film remains, including the quaint little ‘Greeting Cards’ shop with its pitched roof from which one of the Orphans watches. It now houses Y&Y Barber Shop, 21-57 45th Road.

The Warriors film location: 45th Road, Long Island City, Queens, New York
The Warriors film location: Swan parleys with the Orphans: 45th Road, Long Island City, Queens, New York | Photograph: Google Maps

As Swan (Michael Beck), who’s taken over as leader, goes to parley with the Orphans, Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) emerges from the doorway at 21-37 45th Road and her taunting threatens the fragile truce.

Undaunted, the Warriors head off west in the direction of 21st Street.

As they round the corner, the street sign mysteriously reads 15th Avenue. In fact, they’re now in north Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, turning from 15th Avenue west into 62nd Street. The street corner itself has been rebuilt but remarkably, considering what happens in the movie, ‘Michael’s Auto Parts’, where Swan fends off the Orphans with a Molotov cocktail, is still standing. It’s 1456 62nd Street, and now houses a building supply company.

Fortunately, this spot is only a couple of doors from the entrance to New Utrecht Avenue Station where the gang, followed by Mercy who seems to be smitten with them, leap aboard a conveniently waiting train.

They get as far as ‘96th Street Station’ before cops turn up while the train is stopped and the Warriors once again make a run. Embroiled in a fight with the police, one of their number, Fox, falls under a train (in truth, the actor was having issues with director Hill and was hastily written out of the story).

The Warriors film location: Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets Station, Brooklyn, New York
The Warriors film location: the fight with the cops at '96th Street Station': Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets Station, Brooklyn, New York | Photograph: Wikimedia / Beyond My Ken

‘96th Street Station’ is no such thing. It’s a regular screen location, the old disused platforms of Hoyt–Schermerhorn Streets Station in Downtown Brooklyn.

Originally served by six lines, all on one level, only the four central lines are still in use. The two 'dead' outer tracks – visible from the still-used platforms – are now used for movie and TV shoots.

These platforms have been seen on-screen in Eddie Murphy comedy Coming To America, The Wiz and in Martin Scorsese’s 1987 music video for Michael Jackson’s Bad.

The gang splits up, with Vermin (Terry Michos), Cochise (David Harris), and Rembrandt (Marcelino Sánchez) getting back on the train and heading on to Union Square, while Swan and the others exit what is supposed to be ‘96th Street’.

Despite the signage, this is recognisably 72nd Street Station, the southern exit on Broadway at the junction with Amsterdam Avenue. It’s here they’re menaced by the Baseball Furies, the most visually extravagant, if least likely, of all the gangs (except for the SoHo Hi-Hats, those white-face mimes we won’t mention).

Wisely, the Warriors hurriedly scoot off along West 71st Street – at first.

A barely perceptible cut sees them nearly 30 blocks north (and three blocks north of the park they originally set out from), being chased along West 100th Street towards the Firemen’s Memorial on Riverside Drive. The grand 1913 marble and granite landmark and its flight of steps give a dramatic visual punch as they run into Riverside Park, for that wonderfully choreographed fight with the Furies.

Without streetlights, it’s a pretty dark area, which explains why – if you look carefully – you see unexplained lights hanging in the trees. Don’t depend on them at night – they were only added for the film.

There’s a further complication in the park when Ajax (James Remar) gets arrested after accosting an undercover policewoman (Mercedes Ruehl).

The Warriors film location: 72nd Street Station, Broadway, New York
The Warriors film location: Swan returns to '96th Street Station': 72nd Street Station, Broadway, New York

As Swan returns to what is supposed to be ‘96th Street Station’, he uses the northern entrance to 72nd Street Station, which you might recognise as the spot where Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson play “Simon says” in Die Hard With A Vengeance, with the landmark Gray's papaya hot-dog (and exotic fruit juice) restaurant in the background.

There’s trouble for the three other Warriors when they, like Ajax, allow sex to sway their better judgement. From Union Square Station, they follow a group of suspiciously obliging women back for a spot of horizontal relaxation.

The Warriors film location: 10th Avenue, Hell's Kitchen, New York
The Warriors film location: the hangout of the Lizzie's, alongside the pizza parlor: 10th Avenue, Hell's Kitchen, New York | Photograph: Google Maps

Yes, this turns out to be yet another lethal gang, the Lizzies. There’s been quite a walk from Union Square. The Lizzies’ place is behind the door alongside Velebit Croatian restaurant (which was the old pizza place you can see in the movie) at 716 10th Avenue at West 49th Street in Hell's Kitchen.

Rembrandt realizes the danger just in time and the three make a narrow escape, running east down West 49th Street and nipping into the scuzzy doorway of the building alongside 420 West 49th Street. The street’s been spruced up quite a bit. That building's gone, and the dodgy-looking ‘TV Studio’ rental space in the background has been replaced by smart condos.

Everyone finally makes it to 14th Street-Union Square Station, in time to take on the Punks. The station’s endless passageways are real enough (though the station has changed following a massive renovation in the 1990s), but the platform is back at Hoyt–Schermerhorn Streets Station and the men’s bathroom is a set.

It's the only set built for the film, constructed at the famous Kaufman-Astoria Studios on 36th Street, Astoria, in Queens. This decision is understandable. The most experienced location scout in New York would have been hard pressed to find a men’s room spacious enough to accommodate a full-scale, ten-men fight scene.

The Warriors film location: Stillwell Avenue Station, Coney Island, New York
The Warriors film location: the Warriors arrive back on their own turf: Stillwell Avenue Station, Coney Island, New York

Having overcome the Punks, there’s an uneventful ride from Union Square to Stillwell Avenue Station at Coney Island.

Some of Coney’s famous landmarks, the Cyclone, Wonder Wheel, the (disused) Parachute Jump, remain. The Astro Tower hung on until being demolished in 2013 when it started to wobble (a new one opened in 2018).

Completely gone, though, is the Stauch’s Baths building, which bore the Warriors’ graffitied name, and alongside which Luther memorably taunts the gang to “come out to play”.

The Warriors film location: Coney Island Boardwalk, New York
The Warriors film location: the Warriors walk away victorious: Coney Island Boardwalk, New York

A longstanding landmark, once a bathhouse venue for gay men in the furtive days of the Forties and Fifties, Stauch’s stood east of Stillwell Avenue, at the Boardwalk, until the building was demolished sometime in the Eighties. The Coney Island branch of Tom's Restaurant has stood on the spot since 2012.

If you're a real fan of the film, don't miss the excellently researched Scouting New York, which has a painstakingly forensic account of almost every shot in the film.