Behind the scenes of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: MACUSA

The Magical Congress of the United States of America is secretly based in the Woolworth Building in New York. Here’s the story of how it was conceived for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

MACUSA plaque and clock from Fantastic Beasts
Layouts © HarperCollins Publishers/© WBEI. (s18) Inside the Magic

The extraordinary headquarters of MACUSA can be found inside the Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway, toward the lower end of Manhattan, about a block from City Hall, and concealed in another dimension.

It was J.K. Rowling who picked the famous, 60-storey skyscraper as the ideal hiding place for the magical community of New York. In 1926, it was the tallest building in the world at 792 feet, but production designer Stuart Craig suspects the author might have been swayed by the neo-Gothic façade of the ground and mezzanine levels. The array of carvings and spires, echoing the great cathedrals of Europe, do have a hint of Hogwarts about them.

‘That enabled us to acknowledge the Harry Potter connection,’ he says. ‘This is very much a turn of the twentieth-century Gothic detail, but it neatly tied things up, demonstrating that the aesthetic was common to both, fundamentally.’

Symbolically, at the point of the arch of the main entrance there is a carved owl. Craig laughs, ‘She must’ve seen that and thought, “Eureka!”’

The Woolworth Building in New York City conceals the entrance to MACUSA
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

It is to this address that Tina will dutifully escort Newt, charged with a Section 3A – failing to Obliviate the memory of a No-Maj (Jacob) who has witnessed him perform magic. At street level you wouldn’t notice anything more than the shop windows, accountancy offices and insurance firms that face on to the ceaseless flow of traffic of the world’s most modern city. ‘There’s a layer of Muggle activity around this seemingly Muggle building,’ explains Craig.

Tina will surreptitiously point her wand in the direction of the stone owl, which launching into the air commences an intricate magical operation – transforming a humble set of revolving doors into the entrance to MACUSA.

Concept sketch of MACUSA from Fantastic Beasts
Layouts © HarperCollins Publishers/© WBEI. (s18) Inside the Magic

‘The façade might be familiar,’ says Eddie Redmayne, and an exact replica of the Woolworth Building front entrance was built as part of their elaborate New York set. ‘But when you go inside it is another world.’

Forbidden from revealing their powers to No-Majs, the witches and wizards of America have to be very discreet. They are indistinguishable from the rest of the population. Walk down Fifth Avenue, claims director David Yates, and any one of the oncoming people could be concealing a wand about their person.

Colin Farrell as Percival Graves, Director of Magical Security at MACUSA and a high-ranking Auror
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

‘There’s a Statute of Secrecy that’s at play,’ says Colin Farrell, who as the enigmatic Percival Graves, Director of Magical Security, is effectively the chief of the wizard police. He claims it is simply a matter of safety – America has a dark history of persecuting those who display any unusual talents.

Read more behind-the-scenes facts in Inside the Magic: The Making of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, from HarperCollins.