The adventures in the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them are set in a magical dimension of 1920s New York City. Called “roaring” for a reason, the decade brought a surge of prosperity to the City—the height of the Jazz Age, the birth of the Broadway musical, the construction of skyline-defining art deco skyscrapers and the dawn of a new era of urban development. Many landmarks of the era still stand today, enabling us to see the City through the film’s fantastical lens. Read on to see how these sites played a role in the film, what they were like in real-life 1926, and what you’ll see there now.
Fantastic 1926: Newt, Jacob, Tina and Queenie venture to a Fifth Avenue department store to try and find one of the beasts that has escaped from Newt’s case.
Real-Life 1926: It would be two years until the company opened its famous store at 58th Street and Fifth Avenue on the site of what had been Cornelius Vanderbilt’s spectacular mansion. At the time, Bergdorf was operating out of 616 Fifth Ave.
Now: The 1928 Bergdorf still stands, and now features eight floors of women’s clothes and an on-site restaurant. There’s also a men’s store across the street.
Central Park Zoo
Fantastic 1926: Newt and Jacob find themselves here, tracking one of the beasts that escapes from Newt’s case.
Real-Life 1926: Known as the Central Park Menagerie—the name under which it opened back in 1864—NYC’s first zoo already had a sea lion pool as a main feature.
Now: After extensive renovations that improved animals’ living conditions, the zoo is much different. But as you can see, the sea lion pool remains a focal point.
Lower East Side
Fantastic 1926: The LES is home to Jacob's apartment and Tina and Queenie's brownstone. The film's production crew visited the Tenement Museum for inspiration before building the set.
1926: The neighborhood was an immigrant enclave, particularly for Jewish people from Europe. As a result, Yiddish theater and ethnic food establishments thrived there.
Now: While new buildings and chic nightlife have moved in, you can still recognize some of the architecture and visit surviving businesses from the old days, like Russ & Daughters (an appetizing shop) and Yonah Schimmel (which serves knishes). The Tenement Museum, a National Historic Site, offers tenement and neighborhood walking tours along with other educational programming.
Pictured: Orchard Street, between Rivington and Stanton Streets
Statue of Liberty
Fantastic 1926:There isn't much difference between the film’s Statue of Liberty and the real-life one. Newt Scamander arrives New York City by ship, and steams past the Statue on his way into port.
Real-Life 1926: This gift from France stood on what was then called Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island) and was the first sight many immigrants saw as their ships arrived at Ellis Island, which in the 1920s was still a major port of entry.
Now: Ellis Island has long since transitioned into a second life as a museum, but it and the Statue of Liberty remain powerful symbols of America’s history as a nation of immigrants who came to these shores looking for a better life.
Fantastic 1926: Times Square is the setting for an epic battle in the film.
Real-Life 1926: Already the center of the City’s theater scene, Times Square hosted hundreds of shows each year in the 1920s. The neighborhood was also a popular public gathering place and already becoming identified with the bright electric signs that provide much of its character. One Times Square (pictured) was the home of The New York Times.
Now: You can still recognize One Times Square—the site of the New Year’s Eve ball drop. Meanwhile, the adjoining buildings are adorned with video billboards and even brighter lights than before.
Fantastic 1926: This is the headquarters of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). While the building is open to everyone, there’s a magical entrance to MACUSA which only witches and wizards can enter.
Real-Life 1926: From 1913 until 1929 (when the Chrysler Building soared past it), this skyscraper was the tallest building in New York City.
Now: Its upper floors being converted to luxury condos, the Woolworth stands as a stunning example of neo-Gothic architecture and an important part of Lower Manhattan’s character.
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