Rose Elliot's Apartment Building in Inferno

Monday, 12 March 2018

In my blog post entitled "My Trip to Profondo Rosso and Rome" I detailed my experiences visiting some of the filming locations present in various Italian films; predominantly Dario Argento's Inferno (1980). In the post I talked about Rose Elliot's New York apartment building/the home of Mater Tenebrarum but at the time I wasn't wholly convinced of its real life location although I suspected that the original building was indeed in New York as it was proposed to be in the film. I have subsequently conducted further research on the building's real life origins as well as how it came to be in Inferno and wanted to share this information on my blog for those with an interest. Although there's plenty of English language information available about the house of Mater Suspiriorum in Suspiria (1977), there's little available about Mater Tenebrarum's house so I thought it would be good to shed some light on this mystery. 


Scouting for locations prior to the shooting of Inferno, Dario Argento had been inspired by a Gothic revival building in New York that he felt was perfect for Inferno and the film's aesthetic. Unfortunately, Argento was unable to film there due to building deterioration. It would have been too costly to carry out the extensive repair work that would have been required to get the building to an acceptable condition so the building's exterior was replicated on a soundstage at I.N.C.I.R de Paolis Studio on Via Tiburtino. Legendary Italian director and Godfather of giallo, Mario Bava, was enlisted during the film's production to provide various special effects. He was was responsible for creating visual effects that would make the scenes set in New York appear convincing. Bava achieved this by using a combination of matte paintings and model work and the skyscrapers that can be seen framing Rose's apartment building are in actual fact milk cartons wrapped in photographs which create the illusion of a New York setting. However, in actual fact, only one scene that supposedly takes place at Rose's apartment was filmed at the real life location in New York. This was in the scene where Rose mails a letter to her brother Mark; you can see Rose cross the road towards a blue American post box where she posts her letter before returning to her apartment. The rest of the scenes that take place outside the building's exterior were filmed on the soundstage in Rome and as you'd expect, Kazanian's shop was a fabrication for the film and this building does not exist next to the real life building in New York and was simply another set. Unlike the exterior building set for Suspiria which was used again in The Perfect Crime (1978), Inferno's building set was set ablaze for the climatic final scenes. 

The Fortune Academy
The real life inspiration behind Rose's apartment building is St. Walburga's Academy which is located at 630 Riverside Drive and 140th Street in New York. It was built in the Late Gothic Revival style by the architect John W. Kearney in 1911 and was completed two years later in 1913. St Walburga's was opened as a Roman Catholic school for girls that took on both day and boarding pupils and functioned as such till 1957 when the decision was made to close the academy and relocate it to Rye, New York. In the early sixties the building was sold by the city of New York after plans to turn it into a tuberculosis hospital fell through. It was used as a Yeshiva throughout the 1970s but was abandoned in 1980, falling into the hands of the city once again. The city sold the building to business man Samuel Silberberg who had plans to turn it into condominiums but decline in the real estate and stock markets during the subsequent decade halted Silberberg's plans and the building remained empty throughout the 1980s and the majority of the 1990s until it was sold in 1998 to the Fortune Society. The building is now known as the Fortune Academy and currently functions as a  a residential housing facility for formally incarcerated individuals who are now homeless. Despite the building's numerous owners and name changes it is still affectionately known to residents as "The Castle" known for it's remarkable and imposing gothic architectural style. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. 

The construction of Rose's apartment building at I.N.C.I.R de Paolis Studio was conceived by set designer and art director, Giuseppe Bassan who also served as production designer for Suspiria. Bassan's set is remarkably similar to the real life building it is modelled on and is so convincing that it has led to great confusion over to whether Rose's apartment building is real or not. Bassan's set painstakingly recreates key details and features of Kearney's building including the stone turrets and wooden doorway with pointed arch. However, the memorable lizard/snake like etchings on the stonework in Inferno's portrayal of the building are pure fiction but this perhaps cements the idea that the lizard/snake motifs in Inferno were deliberate, used as a visual signifier to depict the hellish goings on inside the building. 


Perhaps a coincidence, it is interesting that Argento modelled Mater Tenebrarum's residence on a building that was originally used as a boarding school for girls. The Suspiria connection feels glaringly obvious and I certainly wouldn't be surprised to learn that this was a decider in choosing the building as the home of Mater Tenebrarum perfectly linking it to the goings on in the first film of the Three Mothers trilogy. Perhaps fittingly, the residents of the Fortune Academy currently put on a yearly haunted house event over the Halloween period where they open the doors of their facility to entertain children in a spooky Halloween extravaganza. I wonder if the local residents are aware of the building's real life connection to the world of horror?

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2 comments:

  1. Have you ever seen those Horror’s Hallowed Grounds episodes that appear as special features on Blu-rays? You ought to have a series like that also focuses on fashion and architecture. It could be specifically focused on gialli and Italian cinema. Arrow ought to take advantage of your passion and skills to put this in place. Just credit me with the idea. ��

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    1. Hi Daniel!

      I haven't come across those Horror's Hallowed Grounds before but that sounds like a great special feature especially for those with more of an interest in where their favourite films take place and the history/significance. It would be pretty cool to see something like that on an Arrow release (even if not by me haha) it's certainly an area that seems to have a lack of English writing although doubt how great my takes really are. If they ever decide to do it I'll definitely credit you with the idea!

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