Image Source: Hulu
New York City living can be luxurious for some, and Hulu's murder-mystery comedy series "Only Murders in the Building" is no exception to this rule. Starring Steve Martin, Selena Gomez, and Martin Short, the show takes place at the fictional Arconia luxury condominium, situated in NYC's elite neighborhood, the Upper West Side. The series follows residents-turned-true-crime-podcasters Mabel (Gomez), Charles (Martin), and Oliver (Short), who - in the first season - take it upon themselves to track down a killer who murdered their neighbor, Tim Kono.
In season two, which premiered on June 28, the trio finds themselves at the center of another murder investigation set in the Arconia. As it turns out, the massive NYC condo which their fictional residence is based on has a storied history of its own.
While "Only Murders in the Building" was indeed filmed on the Upper West Side and near surrounding NYC landmarks like Central Park, scenes taking place inside the Arconia were not. Rather, a nearby studio set was designed to look like the interiors of well-appointed apartments, which is where a majority of filming took place. Meanwhile, for the scenes set on the outskirts of the Arconia, production used the exterior, courtyards, and entry gates of the real-life Belnord building.
Described as "the grandest of the Upper West Side apartment houses," the Belnord is located at 225 W 86th Street and stands 13 stories high with over 200 multi-million dollar apartment units. Among the condominium's extravagant amenities are a club lounge, concierge, children's playroom, teen room, sports court, and a private residential elevator. The landmarked, Italian Renaissance building boasts six distinct residential lobbies, a grand, open staircase, and a courtyard with over 20,000 square feet of lush gardens.
According to production designer Curt Beech, the Belnord offered a balance of grandeur and uniqueness, making it the perfect place to shoot various scenes from the show. "The setting is based on a conglomeration of buildings where the courtyards take up an entire city block," Beech told Architectural Digest in Aug. 2021. "There are not many of them left in the city and they are kind of unicorns."
It turns out that the Belnord has a unique and slightly checkered history of its own - much like the Arconia. Per a June 27 piece in the New York Times, when the building was completed in 1909, its architect claimed it was the largest apartment building in the country and possibly the world.
In its early days, its luxurious amenities attracted the likes of Lee Strasberg, the founder of method acting, whose visitors included Marilyn Monroe. Other inhabitants included Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer and the then-young actor Walter Matthau.
By the 1970s, the building had begun to fall apart. Its landlord, Lillian Seril, had a reputation for failing to fix basic technical issues and frequently suing her tenants; this led to a 16-year rent strike. Finally, in the mid '90s, the troubled Belnord was purchased by a new owner, Gary Barnett, who wanted to turn it into an upscale rental building. When his efforts failed, a slew of new investors took it over, and eventually managed to turn it into a high-class condominium.
In its later days, the building hosted a variety of notable inhabitants, including John Scanlon, the lawyer who represented Ivana Trump in former President Donald Trump's first divorce, and a cast of characters including influential literary and publishing figures like State Department official Richard Stengel, who was the editor in chief of Time magazine during his tenure in the Belnord. It also was home to "Jewish European émigrés, unreconstructed Socialists and scores of psychoanalysts," per The Times. In short, it has as much history and dynamism as any slice of New York City.
For John Hoffman, who created "Only Murders in the Building" with Steve Martin, the building's eclectic history made it perfect for the show. "I was obsessed," Hoffman told The Times. "I knew we could make something as elevated as that amazing building. It's a cliché to say that the building itself is a character, but I like the challenge of getting beyond that cliché a bit."
The second season of "Only Murders in the Building" was released on Hulu on June 28.