Where Was Sonny Corleone Killed and Where Was It Shot?

It’s one of the most famous death scenes in movie history. Sonny Corleone is lured into a trap by Barzini with the help of his shifty brother in law Carlo.  Sonny races off from his families compound in Atlantic Beach and leaves his protective body guards behind, drives up to a Long Island parkway toll booth and is killed in a horrific but spectacular murder.

Two historical questions have lingered about the scene. The first is fictional, the second is factual. Where was this scene supposed to have taken place, and where was it actually shot.

Where Was The Scene Shot?
Since the second question does not rely on the interpretation of a fictitious novel, I thought I would deal with it first. In Jenny Jones’ detailed non-fiction guide The Annotated Godfather she states the location of the hit to be Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. Bennett Field is also mentioned by other sources, including a site called District 9 which not only lists the location, but the filming date of June 22, 1971, and the cost of $100,000.

However, the website Godfather Trilogy states that the Bennett field location is not correct, and that the scene was in fact shot at Mitchell Field on Long Island. Both Mithell and Bennett locations are abandoned air fields, either could have made the scene work. But Blogger ‘Garrett’ at citynoise.org does a nice job of showing an exact location of an abandoned runway that is in existence today at Mitchell that looks to be correct.

image 28942

Mithell Field 2008

Actual Scene


The abandoned runway today

This is an aerial of Garret’s Mitchell field site, just northwest of where the Charles Lindbergh Blvd goes over the Meadowrbook Parkway.
==

Where Did The Shooting Take Place
Since it is a ficitious shooting, the better question might be, where is it depicted to have taken place. The common belief is that it happened near Point Lookout, since you have to pass through Point Lookout from where Sonny was coming. There was a tiny one car toll gate positioned on the Loop Parkway just before it terminates at the Meadowbrook Parkway not far from Point Lookout.

Steve Anderson’s NYC Roads has a description of the plaza by former attendant Gene Biancheri who worked at it. You can see the small structure in this 1953 aerial shown below. When you approached the toll you could pay to head south to Jones Beach, or go north up onto the Meadowbrook Parkway away from the beach.

You can see the Loop Parkway toll on the aerial, like Biancheri says, it only had a single toll gate.

The murder is believed to have taken place in the book in the late 1940’s, although in the scene can be heard the radio call from Bobby Thompson’s famous home run game of 1951. The killing in the book happens at night, in the movie it is during the day. In the book he is in a Buick, in the movie it’s a Lincoln. Nevertheless the Godfather novel gives details as to specifically where Sonny was gunned down…

He headed the Buick toward the causeway that would take him over the water from Long Beach to the parkways on the other side of Jones Beach. He always used this route when he went to New York … The causeway was badly lit, there was not a single car. Far ahead he saw the white cone of the manned tollbooth. There were other tollbooths beside it, but they were staffed only during the day, for heavier traffic. Sonny started braking the Buick and at the same time searched his pockets for change…

There are two main inconsistencies from Puzo’s toll which do not jive with the Loop Parkway toll. Puzo describes ‘several’ unmanned booths’, but the Loop parkway only had one. And he describes Sonny as already being on the Jones Beach Causeway, the Loop comes before you get to the causeway. (Jones Beach Causeway was the old name for the Wantagh Parkway. When Jones Beach was first built it was the only roadway to Jones Beach, and thus was called The Jones Beach causeway.)

Again, from the book, just after the killing

… Afterward, all four men, the three actual assasins and the bogus toll collector, were in their car and speeding toward the Meadowbrook Parkway, on the other side of Jones Beach.

 

By saying ‘The other side of Jones Beach’ Puzo has to mean the men are headed back to the ‘Meadowbrook Parkway’ from the Wantagh. The Loop Parkway and Meadowbrook are on the same side of Jones Beach, the Wantagh on the other.

So, if we are sure Puzo means the Wantagh, we have another big problem. The Wantagh has a toll plaza to enter the beach, but not to leave. Those going north from the beach don’t have to pay a toll and that’s where Sonny was heading. If at one time a toll was there I have not been able to find evidence of it.

Wantagh Parkway Tolls, 1953

Left is the Wantagh toll gates in 1954. Three toll gates for traffic heading south, (today there are 6), but no sign of a toll that ever applied to cars northbound.

So in the end, if we need a real toll that actually existed for Sonny to have passed through, it would have to be the Loop Parkway toll. If we need the real location described, it would have to be the Wantagh toll. It  appears the toll both itself, as well as the killing, was a work of fiction.

You Tube Link To Scene – Circa 1940 map of the area below.

Jones Beach Map Circa 1940

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34 Comments

  1. GENE BIANCHERI

     /  June 3, 2011

    Very interesting reading, especially to an old toll collector who worked on those Jones Beach access roads from 1952-1957, summers/weekends. The Loop toll is the very likely place Puzo intended for that scene, since it was on the main road from Long Beach to NYC. Some time in the late 1950s, the toll plaza was rebuilt, with more than one booth for peak traffic. Puzo’s description may have been a little inaccurate, but hey it’s fiction. I too recall reading that the scene was shot at Mitchel Field, the site of the old Army Air Corps base, near Roosevelt Field, where Lindbergh left for his flight to Paris.

    Reply
  2. vicki

     /  November 16, 2011

    ok, i just saw the godfather for the first time. crazy, i know. i grew up in atlantic beach and immediately thought it looked like the tolls at the loop.

    Reply
  3. BillRVC

     /  March 27, 2013

    I went to Nassau Community College in the early ’70s and actually found the site in Mitchell Field where the scene was filmed. It was around 1973 and the traffic lines that were painted for the movie were still visible. I was able to duplicate the camera angles which were used.

    Reply
    • jim

       /  May 14, 2013

      how would i find the exact location from stewart ave

      Reply
      • BillRVC

         /  June 20, 2013

        Sorry, but it was a long time ago and there has been a lot of construction in that area. I have a feeling that it’s where the Marriott is now, but not sure.

      • Doesn’t it show above, in 2008, how to recreate that shot? I’ve been on that road between NCMC and the barn a quarter billion times. I had no idea there was a runway right there.

      • Alex

         /  August 13, 2013

        OK, I am going to clear this up. I was indeed filmed at Nassau Community College, I am currently a student there and I am sorry to report that the piece of runway that the scene was shot on no longer exists. The picture from 2008 is accurate, but as of the past two years there has been construction and that area where the historic scene was shot is now a damn parking lot. The only pieces of some of the original runways are located within the main parking lot at Nassau and small parts of Hofstra.

    • Marianne

       /  August 17, 2013

      I remember the toll booths being there too. I went to the College there and remember the road. It was the 1980’s.

      Reply
  4. Susan

     /  August 13, 2013

    I agree with Hilary It was The Atlantic Beach Tolls. No way he traveled all the was east from Atlantic Beach to go to the city. And It could have been the Toll out of Rockaway by Broad channel. That puts you right on the Belt Pkwy. into lower Manhattan

    Reply
  5. Susan,

    It might make more sense to go through the Atlantic Beach tolls to get to the city, but the book talks about Sony being headed to Jones Beach, on a causeway with not a single car in sight. When I read that I still think of what is today the Wantagh.

    Reply
  6. Gene B

     /  August 13, 2013

    Since the family lived in Long Beach, the quick parkway route to the city would be via the Loop parkway to Meadowbrook to the city, which is the way author Puzo depicted it in the novel. The alternate western route would take you through local streets, traffic lights, etc. , which is why residents use the parkways.

    Reply
  7. Meadowbrook probably only went as far as the Southern State Parkway at the time … and when one refers to the Jones Beach Causeway they mean what eventually became the Wantagh, Sonny may have wanted the Wantagh because it went right up to the Northen State.

    Reply
  8. 5w30

     /  August 13, 2013

    Certainly filmed at Mitchel Field. In one of the backround scenes, an antenna mast is seen. That mast [still there] transmitted instructional TV programs to Catholic schools in Nassau County, NY. Also seen in a background shot – cranes. The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum was under construction at the time the Sonny Corleone shooting was filmed.

    Reply
  9. Nope, nope, nope and nope – it was shot at the toll booth of the then College of Staten Island (now Petrides School) on Ocean Terrace, off the SI Expressway, not far from the house used as the residence of the Godfather in the movie, a few blocks up off Ocean Terrace. My cousin was an extra who was one of the shooters…he was also in a scene shot in front of Jack Dempsey’s in NYC…so try it again guys and get it straight this time! There was a never finished, unused entrance ramp to the SI Expwy in the film…

    Reply
  10. “Long Beach?” Didn’t real mobsters live in Lido Beach? Anyone know which ones and when? I remember seeing a Nike missile installation there as a kid, and I thought, “Wow, those Mafia bastards even get Strategic Air Command protection!”

    Reply
  11. craig

     /  January 11, 2014

    There are remnants of that Nike base still there today. The bays are right behind the bus yard.

    Reply
  12. Perhaps, it was shot in more than one location. (Maybe someone should ask Coppola who went to school at nearby Hofstra College.) Anyway to underscore the belief that it was filmed at Mitchel Field, a high school friend of mine who lived in the military housing that remained after they decommissioned the Air Force Base, pinched one of the actors hats when they had completed shooting the scene. An example of life imitating art.

    Reply
    • BillRVC

       /  January 11, 2014

      It was absolutely shot at Mitchell Field. I saw the spot with my own eyes and read an interview with Coppola where he mentioned that scene. Case closed.

      Reply
  13. BillRVC is right. I went to NCC in the late 70’s and knew a guy who worked on the campus for a number of years. He showed me the exact spot where the booth scene was set up and filmed. The painted highway lines were still there. As part of the NCC maintenance staff, he was actually on site during the filming of the scene.

    Reply
  14. Gary m

     /  January 12, 2014

    For years I was always under the impression that the scene was shot on the old Jones beach cause way. But now that i have read this it does make sense it was the old Mitchell Field Tolls.I had also heard Floyd Bennett Field was another location. I have many friends who had their cars in the movie..

    Reply
  15. Danny

     /  January 13, 2014

    It made sense he’d use an abandoned air field and create a weathered toll booth. Coppola would have known Mitchel Field very well and may have even made some student films there.

    Reply
  16. Ben

     /  February 8, 2014

    I just used google earth. Found the stretch where it took place. It is east of Mitchell field, west of the Meadowbrook pkwy, north of the Nassau coliseum. Not positive that it’s still there today, but whenever Google photographed it, the same stretch was there.

    Reply
  17. Pete

     /  February 14, 2014

    the toll for thy beach in the late 40s was 25Cts-parking was another Q-one of the origianal booths on the Meadowbrook was demolished by a tank going to the beach from Camp Santini during WW11

    Reply
    • Gene B

       /  February 19, 2014

      When I started as a toll collector on the Meadowbrook causeway in the summer of 1952, I recall one of the older collectors telling about a booth that was demolished (by a car, I thought), and I was told that was the reason 3-foot high concrete barriers were put in front if each booth. Not much protection from the Barzini boys.

      Reply
  18. James

     /  May 24, 2014

    I grew up in Garden City on the border of Hempstead, we kids had a blast hanging out in Mitchell Field/Roosevelt Field/Coliseum/Flea Market/area. First on our bikes, then on skateboards, and when we were older in our cars…The air strip used to also be the Nassau County Police testing track back in the day. One afternoon in 1990 some buddies and me were racing around the track when a police helicopter swooped down above us and landed about 100 feet away…while we parked and watching in awe with our mouths open, this Highway Patrol looking officer stepped out of the chopper, walked over to our window and said “Let me guess, you all want to be cops when you get older?”…and then told us to get the hell out of there. Pretty dam funny looking back. Anyway, I had no idea at the time that that is where they filmed the Godfather toll booth scene…I had always heard rumours about it growing up in the area, but now after seeing the pictures above I believe it. Hell, I may take a ride out there tomorrow and lie down on the same spot James Cann did.

    Reply
  19. Norm

     /  June 29, 2014

    It was filmed in Mitchell Field. I remember my Dad telling me he saw the filming, he was a Nassau County cop at the time at their testing site.

    Reply
  20. Omar Federici

     /  July 26, 2014

    In this picture (see the link below) I can clearly see at the left of the tollbooth cabin the “Nassau Veteran Memorial Coliseum”. For me the scene is roll in the Mitchel Field abandoned runway, Another feature is the enormous width of the supposed route that cars approach to cabin. I have no doubt about it. Regards from Argentina.
    ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMTI2Nzg3OTI0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzQ0NTQ2._V1_SX640_SY720_.jpg

    Reply
  21. Omar Federici

     /  July 26, 2014

    Here are another link from IMBD (See photo number 26)

    http://www.imdb.com/media/rm3664877568/tt0068646

    Reply
  22. Gary

     /  August 12, 2014

    FYI: I grew up in Long Beach in the 50’s and 60’s and NOBODY EVER referred to the stretch of highway connecting Lido Beach/Point Lookout to the Meadowbrook Parkway/Jones Beach toll booths as the Loop Parkway. Locals always referred to it as “The Causeway”. In fact, I remember at some point, looking at a map, and being surprised to learn that that stretch of road actually had an official name, “Loop Parkway”. I mentioned this to my father who grew up in Freeport and lived in Long Beach for 60 years, and he was also unaware that that road was known by anything other than “The Causeway”. Also, the current toll bridge in Atlantic Beach didn’t open until 1952. It replaced a much smaller older bridge that had opened in 1927. I could find no evidence that the earlier bridge had a toll.

    Reply
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