Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

The Laughing Policeman - Porno Theatre

  Jake visits a porno theater to question the manager about his brother, an ex-San Quentin inmate, one of the bus victims.  A long shot, but Jake was hoping the connection might shed light on the massacre.

    The theatre scenes were filmed at the New Follies Theatre at 2961 16th Street in San Francisco's Mission District (map), seen here in 1968 as it must have looked when the movie was made.  (Note an earlier name, the Victoria, on the side wall).

... and Now,  The theatre is still in operation, below, but in 1979 it reverted to its earlier name, the Victoria Theatre.  The theatre first opened in 1908 as Brown's Opera House featuring G-rated vaudeville but when The Laughing Policeman was filmed it was offering R-rated burlesque entertainment.  Its longevity makes it the oldest operating theatre in the city.

 

Then ...  By way of introduction Jake flashes his SFPD badge to the sassy lady in the ticket booth.

... and Now,  from the same booth today, a daytime view across 16th Street.

 

Then ...  He heads up the stairs in the lobby but is taken aback to see his teenage son entering the theatre.

... and Now,  other than the snack counter and new paint the lobby has hardly changed.

 

Then ...  We have come to realize that Jake never cracks a smile but he's understandably less than amused to witness his son and a smattering of others enjoying an eyeful.

... and Now,  the seats have been replaced but there's still a firehose on the side wall.

 

Then ...  Backstage, the theatre manager gives Jake lip for being questioned about his murdered brother but more importantly is unable to provide useful information.  Yet another dead-end lead.

... and Now,  this is the basement dressing room area where today a concrete pillar has been added against the wall on the right to add seismic stability.

 

Then ...  On the way out the last thing he wants to do is listen to a Hare Krishna pitch.  The tiled ticket booth adds color, style and the street number, 2961, to the exterior.  This view looks west along 16th from Capp Street.

... and Now,  it's always good to see time stand still in these Then and Now comparisons.  OK, so the last digit of the street number is missing.

    A chicken and egg question ...  which came first, the floor tiles or the ticket booth?

 

The House Across The Bay - White Knuckles

    Tim persuades Brenda to go up with him for her first ever flight.  Below, they are above Treasure Island (map), newly built on silt dredged from the Bay in 1936 to host the Golden Gate International Exposition, a World's Fair celebrating, in part, the opening of the Bay Area's two great bridges.  The movie was filmed during the fair (1939 -1940) and the island is packed with Exposition buildings.  The elevated approach from Oakland to the eastern section of the Bay Bridge is visible at far right.

 Then ... Brenda is tense and white-knuckled as her relaxed guide points out the Tower of the Sun, the Exposition's 400 foot tall centerpiece.

 ... in 1939 ...   this contemporaneous image gives us a closer look at the Tower Of The Sun.   The theme of the Exposition was 'Pageant Of The Pacific' highlighting the culture and architecture of the countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean.  As an example the colossal Elephant Towers flanking the approach to the Tower Of The Sun incorporated both Oriental and Mayan elements.  Check out the informative newsreel footage here and chuckle at the stridently hyperbolic commentary so popular at that time.

    This wider view shows the full expanse of the Exposition and the entire eastern section of the Bay Bridge can be seen, connecting to Yerba Buena Island on the right.

... and Now,  the same aerial view today courtesy of Google Earth.  The original cantilever bridge is partially dismantled after been replaced in September 2013 by a new causeway and single tower suspension bridge.

 

 Then ...  The sightseeing flight continues across the Bay to San Francisco.  In this shot the clock tower of the Ferry Building is dead center on the Embarcadero - beyond it is the western section of the Bay Bridge.

... and Now,  the bridge and Ferry Building remain the same but over 60 years of rampant development has transformed the Financial District.

 

 Then ...  They swing back across the Bay and Brenda is brought down to earth, so to speak, at the sight of Alcatraz below them.  She is yet to reveal her past to Tim who doesn't know she has a husband nor that he is incarcerated on The Rock. 

... and Now,  the prison block itself is unchanged (other than closing down in 1963) but a close comparison of the Then and Now images does reveal some additions and subtractions on the island.

 

The Conversation - "Room 773, Jack Tar Hotel"

    On the taped recording Caul hears the lovers arranging to meet in Room 773 at the Jack Tar, a hotel between Geary and Post on Van Ness Avenue (map).   Knowing that the Director has heard the tape and fearing for their safety, he decides to go there.

Then ...  He asks for room 773 at the desk, confirms that it's occupied, and books the adjacent room.  On his balcony he peers towards 773 but the frosted glass divider juts out beyond the railing, thwarting his attempt.

... recently ...  here's a matching image by American Zoetrope that fortuitously was taken in 2011 two years before the hotel was demolished.  Other than the bland wall paint on the left that "removes the colors from our sight" (Moody Blues, anyone?) the balconies remain exactly the same despite the passage of 40 years.

 

    The Jack Tar's Grand Opening in 1960 was heralded by a public relations blitz trumpeting "... the world's most modern hotel ..." and the "... dazzling innovations ...".  (Many San Franciscans however were less than impressed with its architecture, considering it garish).  It was the City's first hotel to have air conditioning and boasted over 400 rooms each easily accessible from a guest's parked car.  This photo taken from across Van Ness Avenue the year the hotel opened also gives us a rare look, on the left, at the Cathedral of Saint Mary Of The Assumption on Van Ness and O'Farrell that, after being destroyed 2 years later by arson, was replaced by today's modern cathedral nearby on Gough.  Tommy's Joynt on the other hand, seen on the corner of Geary, opened at that spot in 1947 and is still going strong.

    By 2011 when this photo was taken the hotel, renamed since 1982 as the Cathedral Hill Hotel (after its neighborhood), was closed, awaiting its fate.

 .. and Now,  by the end of 2013 the heavy equipment had moved in and demolition begun.  This view from Franklin Street of the rear of the hotel reveals Caul's room (arrowed) for our benefit.  As of this writing the entire site is a large hole in the ground in preparation for a state-of-the-art California Pacific Medical Center hospital. 

    The billion dollar CPMC Cathedral Hill hospital, rendered below, is scheduled to open in 2015.

 

    But we digress ... back to the movie ...

Then ...  Caul has drilled a hole through the bathrooms' dividing wall and is listening in to the conversation in room 773.  He hears the voices of the lovers and the Director and becomes increasingly alarmed as denials and shouts flood his earphones.

... recently ...  another American Zoetrope image captured the same spot in 2011.

 

    Hearing screams he rushes out to the balcony where through the frosted glass partition he witnesses the wife being attacked by her bloodstained husband.  Or does he?  Is it real or is it all a figment of his tortured mind?

 

The Laughing Policeman - Fun Terminal

   Jake Martin sends two of his assistants working the murder case, Inspectors Pappas (Val Avery) and Larrimore (Louis Gossett Jr)  back to The TransBay Terminal on Mission Street to find out if the on-duty staff might have seen anything suspicious when the victims boarded the ill-fated bus.  They hear a ruckus ahead of them ... 

 

Then ...  A pimp outside the main upper level entrance is abusing his prostitute but Pappas and Larrimore quickly put a stop to it.  Across the street are two eye-catching signs, the Fun Terminal, an amusement arcade at 120 1st Street, and next to it the Wagon Wheel Tavern at 118 1st (map), both popular in their day with locals and with denizens of the night.

Then ...  None of those businesses, likewise the TransBay Terminal, are there anymore but here's a contemporaneous 1973 photo with them in the background.  The larger arrow at far left indicates where the pimp scene was filmed and the smaller points to the Fun Terminal on the corner of 1st and Minna.  Both it and the Wagon Wheel next door look rather ordinary sans neon glow in the harsh light of day.  Mission Street traffic passes by on the right.

and Now ...  here's the same view taken after the TransBay terminal was demolished in 2011.  The 1st Street block between Minna and Mission had already been claimed in 1988 by a 27-story office skyscraper, 100 First Plaza.  The Fun Terminal used to be at the bottom left corner of that building (arrowed).

 

    Larrimore takes the pimp down the ramp and around the corner on 1st and roughs him up some.  Below, he returns up the ramp inside the station to where his partner Pappas is questioning the prostitute at the upper entrance.  The Fun Terminal arcade glows across 1st Street.

 

... trivia but related ... A local art punk band called The Mutants became popular in San Francisco in the late 1970s.  In 1982 they released an album called 'Fun Terminal' featuring on the cover ... a great image of the amusement arcade - we can still see it as it was in its heyday!    The cocktail glass by the way is part of the adjacent Wagon Wheel sign, also visible four images above.  (The band is still at it, watch them here in a relatively recent set).

The House Across The Bay - At The Airport

Then ...  Tim's idea of a date with Brenda is to to take her to a local airport.  They drive onto the tarmac between two hangars.

     In the storyline this scene was set in the Bay Area but it was filmed at Clover Field in Southern California at what is now Santa Monica Airport.  Here's an early 1930s vintage photo of Clover Field; at that time there were just three hangars - the one on the left was the first to be built.  The arrow shows the path of Tim's car in the movie.

    By 1940 a much larger hangar had been added alongside the first three as well as the sprawling Douglas Aircraft plant next to it at 3000 Ocean Park Boulevard.  The path taken by Tim's car is again marked, on the left.  Douglas Aircraft Company became a major defense contractor during WW II employing 44,000 working 3 shifts seven days a week.

 

    Brenda is about to find out there's more to Tim than she knew - it turns out he's an ace aircraft designer for the Crane Aviation Company.  They pull up and look skyward where a test pilot barrels Tim's latest experimental plane through its paces. 

 

Then ...  The plane lands and taxis up to them - the pilot is effusive in his praise.  The Douglas plant is In the background at left and the structure in the center is the large hangar seen in the photo (two above) next to the plant.  Douglas Aircraft's original Clover Field hangar is on the right.

    Here's another aerial photo of the airfield, taken in 1940, with a good view of the buildings seen above.  The arrow points to another plane which happened to be parked in the same spot as Tim's was.

... and Now ...  the same site today, alongside Santa Monica airport.  The newer, longer runway was built on the golf course seen in the lower foreground above.  The Douglas plant and hangars have since been torn down, replaced by business parks; the arrow points approximately to where the location above was.  The Sunset Park neighborhood of single family homes surrounding the airport mostly sprung up during WW II to house the Douglas Aircraft workers.

 

    Tim persuades a very nervous Brenda to climb into the aircraft with him for what will be her first ever plane ride.  "Contact!", he calls and the propeller is cranked.  Looking at this slick flying machine makes it hard to believe that heavier-than-air machine flight began only 36 years earlier.

    The aircraft in the movie was a Phillips Aeroneer.  This 1940 photo taken while it was in the Bay Area for the filming was at the San Francisco Bay Airdrome, an east bay airfield that used to be next to where Alameda Naval Air Station is now.  The tail is marked with its identification number NX16075 but also sports 'Crane Aviation Co. XPT', its name in the movie (check it out above).  By this time the aircraft had been bought by MGM studios who featured it in many movies, usually using renowned stunt pilot Paul Mantz, who flew it in this movie. (Photo by William T. Larkins).

 

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