How ‘Only Murders in the Building’ Pays Tribute to the Upper West Side’s History

The Hulu series uses the very real background of the Belnord’s setting to further the plot.

The Hulu series uses the very real background of the Belnord’s setting to further the plot.

By Esther Zuckerman, thrillist, July 5, 2022

An advertisement for The Belnord apartment building in a 1911 edition of the New York Sun proudly declares it “the largest in the world,” covering the entire city block of West 86th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway, and towers “12 stories high.” Offering rentals starting at $2,400 a year, the copy sells the “delightfully peaceful atmosphere about the Belnord. There is no noise or vibration.” 

These days, The Belnord, which is definitely not the largest apartment in the world but still looms in the Upper West Side, has been converted into condominiums. On Streeteasy, the apartments within are listed for between $13,850,000 and $3,600,000. Outside of New York and within, it is probably best known as its alter ego: The Arconia on the Hulu series Only Murders in the Building.

In the second season of the delightful mystery headlined by Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez, the Arconia itself is even more central to the plot. This time our amateur detectives Charles (Martin), Oliver (Short), and Mabel (Gomez) are implicated in and investigating the death of Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell), the building’s board president, whose family’s history is linked to the very beginnings of the structure. Her grandfather, the fictional Archibald Carter, was the architect, who built secret passageways behind the walls to spy on his neighbors, specifically women. (Gross!) Bunny’s apartment has an elevator hidden in its closet, which may or may not be related to her killing. It’s all very glamorous and a little sordid.

“I think the richness of a life in a building like that is what is romantic for anyone who may feel particularly about New York from the outside looking at it. ‘How do you live there?'” the show’s co-creator John Hoffman tells Thrillist. “I loved the idea of offering up this communal, yet complicated, yet particular experience of your home surrounded by other homes and people and New Yorkers and opinions and curiosities outside your window, being able to look across and see a neighbor and know them without knowing them.”

When Hoffman, who co-created Only Murders with Martin, and the crew were looking for a location for their bloody tale, they knew they wanted one of the rare upper Manhattan buildings with a courtyard. 

“Every little factor made it seem like we were looking for a needle in a haystack when The Belnord offered up some interest,” Hoffman says. “That was one of the dream buildings for me.” He had lived on the opposite corner when he first moved to the city after college and remembers looking at it “longingly.” It’s a sentiment embodied in this season’s flashbacks by the father of Martin’s Charles-Haden Savage, who was having an affair with a woman across the street in 200 West 86th Street, feet away from The Arconia but less storied than the structure in its eyesight. 

In real life, the path from then to now has been riddled with controversy, which, in itself, is an only-in-New York type story. By the time the building was purchased for $15 million in 1994 by real estate developer Gary Barnett, it was in complete disrepair, according to the New York Times. It converted from rentals to condos in 2016 and was revamped by famed architect Robert A.M. Stern, who turned chaotic spaces into luxury residences complete with modern amenities. 

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“Is this Only Murders in the Building Shooting here? Oh my god, is Selena in there? I want to say hi. And can I be in this show? I love this show.”

Mariska Hargitay, outside the Belnord
The Storied History of the Belnord

The Storied History of the Belnord

The New York Times

Filming Locations for Only Murders in the Building

Filming Locations for Only Murders in the Building

The stars were freezing, but they soldiered on