Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
To obviously quote another film kind of about boxing, Cinderella Man coulda been a contender. We’ll never know what gold (both of the Oscar and box office variety) it might have reaped if Russell Crowe had not chucked a telephone at some dude’s head.
What we do know is that when they wanted to film their story, set in 1930s New York and New Jersey, they came up to TO-town. There’s an amazing record of our own history crammed into this film, and we will forever be thankful for the lesson.
The most visible transformation in the movie is the conversion of the downtown Bay’s Richmond Street façade into that of Madison Square Garden. Heck, the city even touts it on their own website. That era’s arena (the third to bear the name) looked nothing like the current arena (the fourth), but whether in the daylight or at night, The Bay does a nice job filling in.
Most of the boxing interiors were actually done at Maple Leaf Gardens, which may or may not one day be a Loblaws.
The final fight takes place at the Madison Square Garden Bowl, an outdoor venue that is basically the Garden’s lower bowl and some CGI. The exterior, on the other hand, is the CNE’s Horse Palace.
One of the cooler locations is the Symes Road Transfer Station, used for the Mt. Vernon, NY fight early in the movie. The 1916 building, located west of the Junction, once served as an incinerator.
Today, it’s mostly used, as far as we can tell, by budding Edward Burtynskys, and there are some gorgeous pictures of its industrial decrepitude. The building itself remains in limbo.
This picture actually shows the door in the above shot, but you also get to see some nice wider shots of the building in the boxing scenes.
Another little bit of unsung Toronto history caught on celluloid is the dear, departed Walnut Hall. The strip of 150-year-old townhomes on Shuter Street, by Moss Park, was demolished in 2007. It brings a bit of a tear to our eye to see them revived here as a 1930s streetscape.
Broadview Village was also used to create a nice vintage Main Street atmosphere.
Before the depression hits, Jim Braddock and family live in a lovely house in the Baby Point neighbourhood.
When things go bad, however, they move to a tenement set up around a courtyard. You can see it in the overhead view of Lauder Avenue, near Dufferin and St. Clair. In particular, it’s behind the rustic looking (but since-closed) Cafe 163.
The Braddock family may not be Maronites, but they still attend church at the Our Lady of Lebanon Church, out near Queen Street and Roncesvalles. The interiors, however, were shot at the Danforth’s Eastminister United Church.
The boxing training scenes take place in a real gym, Sully’s, on Fraser Avenue.
We would also be remiss if we didn’t mention that the Weehawken, NJ ferry, on its way to Manhattan, bears somewhat of a resemblance to our own Toronto Island ferries.
Another cool, historic location the filmmakers made use of is the Ontario Heritage Centre on Adelaide Street. The former Beaux Arts bank serves as the club where all the boxing bigwigs hang out. They also hold a press conference there later in the movie.
The distinctive windows in the back show this to be the Birbeck Room, and also show what a difference a great cinematographer and some nice set design make!
The entrance to the club is a quick shot of the Royal York…
…which Renee Zelwegger arrives at after crossing Front Street, in front of Union Station.
If you are even the most amateur of Hogtown architecture lovers, you’ll recognize The Carlu as the fancy-shmancy restaurant where Braddock runs into Max Baer. In case you don’t know, the College Park site was basically left to rot for years, despite being an Art Moderne gem.
On display here is the Round Room, famous for its Lalique water fountain (seen above) and for being a model for the Rainbow Room, which opened in New York’s Rockefeller Center a few years later.
A bit harder to spot, perhaps, are the docks where Braddock works when he falls on hard times. Those scenes were shot over in Hamilton.
You didn’t actually think they made a period movie in Toronto without using the Distillery District, did you? The centre’s gates are where the dockworkers gather each morning, hoping for work.