One of the biggest mysteries amongst film location aficionados is the identity of the building that portrayed the Brooks Memorial Home for the Aged in “Miracle on 34th Street.” As of yet, no one interested in such things has been able to locate the supposed Great Neck, New York-area convalescent hospital where Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) lived in the 1947 Christmas classic. But if there is anything the film has taught audiences over and over again since its debut more than 70 years ago, it is never to lose faith!
Adapted from a short story written by Valentine Davies, the heartwarming tale (which is currently streaming on HBO Max) centers around Kris, a department store Santa at Macy’s Herald Square who believes he is the actual Saint Nick and, throughout his Christmastime stint, winds up making a believer out of virtually everyone he comes into contact with including Macy’s executive/single mom Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), her six-year-old skeptic daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), and their charming lawyer neighbor, Fred Gailey (John Payne).
According to “Natalie Wood: The Complete Biography,” years after the movie premiered, the actress said, “I remember very clearly that at that time, at Fox, they were doing many, many pictures. They had no high hopes for ‘Miracle’ whatsoever. It was just a little extra picture that was sort of done on the sideline.” The film definitely superseded expectations! Despite its relatively meager budget, summer release and divorcée leading character (a plot point that caused the Legion of Decency to rule the film “morally objectionable”), audiences fell in love with “Miracle on 34th Street.” Not only did it go on to win three Academy Awards (for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Story and Best Supporting Actor for Gwenn), but it is now largely considered one of the seminal holiday classics, withstanding both the test of time and the fickle nature of audiences.
In her 2004 autobiography “‘Tis Herself,” O’Hara attributes the movie’s timelessness to its warmth, charm, sentimentality and overall Christmas spirit. She writes, “Everyone felt the magic on the set and we all knew we were creating something special. I am very proud to have been part of a film that has been continually shown and loved all over the world for nearly 60 years. ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ has endured all this time because of the special relationship of the cast and crew, the uplifting story and its message of hope and love, which steals hearts all over the world every year.”
A few of the film’s locations have also managed to withstand the test of time, miraculously remaining untouched from their cameo more than seven decades ago! Macy’s Herald Square, the flagship store at the center of the film, is still in operation at 151 W. 34th St., bearing many of the same architectural details that were in place when the movie was filmed, including the original wooden escalators. And the New York State Supreme Court Building, where Kris’ Lunacy Commission hearing is held, stands unchanged from its ‘Miracle’ appearance at 60 Centre St.