About the Film
Q: What do Jane Alexander, Marge Champion, Larry David, Patrick Dempsey, Giancarlo Esposito, Donald Faison, Tom Fontana, Dexter Gordon, Gloria Graham, Terrence Howard, Alicia Keys, Angela Lansbury, Thomas Meehan, Alan Menken, Mickey Rourke, John Spencer, Martha Swope, Jack Warden, Jim Vallely, and Tennessee Williams all have in common?
A: At one time in all their lives they all participated in a great social experiment when they lived in a federally subsidized housing complex for artists on the Westside of New York City — known as Manhattan Plaza.
Miracle on 42nd Street is a fascinating documentary about the history and impact of the Manhattan Plaza apartment complex in New York City. Starting with the history of the blighted Hell's Kitchen neighborhood and the facilities’ initial commercial failure in the mid-1970s, the story recounts how – in a moment of bold inspiration or maybe desperation - the buildings were “re-purposed” as subsidized housing for people who worked in the performing arts. The social experiment was a resounding success in the lives of the tenants, as well as the neighborhood and local economy. The film makes a compelling case for both the value of subsidized housing for artists in America, as well as the value supporting the arts to the American economy. The film features on-camera interviews with people who’s lives were positively impacted by the complex, including Alicia Keys, Terrance Howard, Donald Faison, Larry David and Samuel L Jackson, Angela Lansbury, and many others. The film was to be narrated by James Gandolfini until his untimely death in 2013.
Now in post-production
Miracle on 42nd Street in an important film and will inspire new ways of thinking about the value of the arts in our culture and the role of affordable housing in New York and other cities around the globe. The film stands as a timeless tribute to Manhattan Plaza's incredible success which was the direct result of the creative community who called it home.
“Manhattan Plaza is often called the ‘Miracle on 42nd Street’, and if I did nothing else in my life but be associated with that, my life would be complete. It is the type of place to live that has to be duplicated throughout the major cities of this country.” — Irving Fischer, Manhattan Plaza Builder
About the Filmmakers
The filmmakers, several of whom are current and former residents, are passionate about sharing the story of Manhattan Plaza with the world.
Mary Jo Slater (Producer) was an original tenant of Manhattan Plaza. As a working single mother, she was able to launch a successful career a producer and an award-winning casting director. While still a resident at Manhattan Plaza she produced the off-Broadway hit “Starting Here, Start Now” and went on to cast ABC’s “One Life To Live” and Hollywood films such as “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and the Academy Award nominated film “The Contender.”
Alice Elliott (Director) is an Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker whose films are dedicated to celebrating the role of community activism in elevating the quality of people’s lives. Her film “Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy” was nominated for an International Documentary Association Award. Her films have been presented in over 100 film festivals, as well as on HBO and PBS.
Erika Lockridge (Producer) is a member of the Lockridge Charitable Foundation, which funds non-profit ventures. As president of Bahr Productions she has produced “The Dust Factory,” starring Armin Mueller-Stahl, “The Forger,” starring Josh Hutcherson, and is the Co-producer of “Leni,” a film developed with Jodie Foster and producer Gabriela Bacher.
Cindy Cowan (Producer) is the former president and co-founder of Initial Entertainment Group (IEG), a leading film production and foreign sales company. She is currently producing the feature RED LIGHTS starring Robert DeNiro. She is also a producer of VERY BAD THINGS with an all-star cast, which included Cameron Diaz.
Ken Aguado (Executive Producer) is a long time studio executive and producer who’s credits include “The Salton Sea,” starring Val Kilmer for Warner Bros, “Sexual Life,” starring Kerry Washington and Anne Heche for Showtime, and the recently released film “Standing Up,” written and directed by DJ Caruso (“Disturbia,” “Eagle Eye”).
Joal Ryan & Steve Ryfle (Screenwriters) are long-time journalists and the authors of multiple books.
History of Manhattan Plaza
Construction of the Manhattan Plaza buildings began in the early 1970’s as part of a larger plan to revitalize the blighted Westside of Manhattan. At that time this part of Manhattan (between west 34th and 59th Streets) was known as “Hell’s Kitchen.” While the neighborhood included world-famous Broadway theaters, the area was more infamous for its rampant crime, drugs, pornography and prostitution.
As originally planned, the buildings were a commercial venture intended to provide affordable housing for middle and upper income people who, it was hoped, would move in and help revitalize the blighted area. But things did not go as planned.
As a result of New York City’s financial crisis of the early 1970s, and the fact that middle class people did not want to move to Hell’s Kitchen, construction stopped and the buildings sat vacant, the apartments un-rented. Then came an idea. Out of what many saw as a failure, others saw as unique opportunity. When developers, elected officials, community leaders, representatives of the theatrical industry and the federal government joined forces, no one could have predicted the outcome. Manhattan Plaza would re-open its doors as subsidized, affordable housing for the people who had always been the backbone of this community – the people who made their living in television, movies and the performing arts.
This energetic and creative population took hold as the building’s primary tenants and, little by little, hard-working artists and their families replaced the prostitutes and drug dealers. Restaurants and small businesses replaced the porn parlors and gang-controlled dive bars. Slowly, jobs were created, tourism increased, property values rose - all increasing the City’s tax revenue. Manhattan Plaza and the revitalized Westside of New York became a resounding economic success.
Since then the list of tenants whose lives were profoundly impacted reads like a who’s who of show business and the arts, all because - at one time in their lives - they were given a chance to survive and thrive when the needed a helping hand.
How You Can Help
Miracle on 42nd Street is now in post-production but we need your help to complete the film, targeted for release in 2015.
Miracle on 42nd Street is a non-profit production (501c3 - Federal ID #26-1595185). Donors are entitled to the maximum tax deduction allowed. (For more information, please talk to your tax-preparer.)
For a limited time we have access to a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, meaning your donations can go twice a far!
Join our efforts to share the story of Manhattan Plaza by contributing to this wonderful project. Read our Fundraising Letter
We share the belief that when government, forward-thinking developers and community leaders embark upon a unique concept and that concept succeeds beyond anyone’s imagination, it should be recognized and duplicated. Manhattan Plaza, often referred to as “The Miracle on 42nd Street”, is that unique concept. For the past thirty years, the building complex, taking up an entire city block, has provided an affordable, safe and supportive environment for its tenants, 70% of whom work in the performing arts. The story of how the building came to be, and the changes it brought about, is a story that must be told. It is a unique model of what can be achieved by bringing together over 3,500 people from differing cultural, ethnic and economic backgrounds. Manhattan Plaza’s success was brought about by the creative community it housed, people whose dreams and goals might not have been realized had it not been for the opportunity of living in Manhattan Plaza.
Construction of the buildings began in the early 1970’s as part of a revitalization plan for the Westside of Manhattan. They were originally planned as affordable housing for middle income people. As a result of the City’s financial crisis, together with the undesirable location of the buildings, work stopped and the buildings sat vacant, the apartments un-rented. Out of what many saw as a failure, others saw as unique opportunity. The developers, elected officials, community leaders, representatives of the theatrical industry and the federal government joined forces.
No one could have predicted the outcome. The once crime-ridden streets became safer and filled with people. New restaurants and other businesses began to open in the vicinity of Manhattan Plaza. Property values rose, providing increased tax revenue to the City. Manhattan Plaza and the West Side of New York were on their way.
By making this film, we want to tell the story of the pioneering residents, community leaders, federal government and business people who joined together to resurrect a blighted neighborhood. We have dedicated ourselves to spreading awareness about the miracle of Manhattan Plaza.
We are creating a 60-minute film that we hope to release theatrically, air on television and screen at major film festivals around the world to bring attention to this remarkable complex and the people it houses. We hope that by making this film the example of Manhattan Plaza will inspire new ways of thinking about affordable housing in our cities.
To date, we have shot over 90 hours of footage. We are in the midst of assembling the film and editing a fundraising trailer at our production offices located in Manhattan Plaza. The trailer will include interviews with current residents, as well as celebrated former tenants including Angela Lansbury, Terrence Howard, Giancarlo Esposito, Larry David, and Donald Faison, as well as Samuel L. Jackson, who was one of the first security guards to work the night shift in the building!
Beautiful footage of the building and the community has been shot. We continue to acquire a comprehensive collection of archival materials and footage of the history of the Westside and Manhattan Plaza. Interviews have been conducted with current residents, as well as business and community leaders, who are contributing their stories, memorabilia, and perspectives.
Join our effort by contributing to this wonderful project. No donation is too small.
Donations of any size can also be made by check or money order and made payable to Miracle on 42nd Street, Inc. and mailed to:
Mary Jo Slater c/o MSI
1430 Broadway, 17th Floor
New York, New York 10018
For more information about the film or to share your own Manhattan Plaza stories,
please email us at email@example.com.
Mary Jo Slater