Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

The House Across The Bay - Alcatraz

    Prisoners on their way to Alcatraz embarked from a small pier at Fort Mason, adjacent to Aquatic Park (map).  (Fort Mason had its own pier numbering system independent of the city's waterfront Embarcadero piers).  The sign informs us that these boats also supplied Fort McDowell on Angel Island .


Then ...  Larwitt is driven to the pier down a narrow boardwalk alongside the Aquatic Park municipal pier.  At far right is the newly built (in 1939) bathhouse building and behind it the Ghirardelli Square clock tower.  Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill is there too, hiding behind the wooden post.

... and Now,  the Alcatraz Pier has survived but in poor condition and is now off-limits to the public.  CitySleuth captured this matching view from the municipal pier ... considering the passage of 70-plus years it's remarkably similar from here except for the TransAmerica Building on the horizon to the left of the extant clock tower.  Coit Tower is clearly seen and in both Then and Now images you can make out the white speaker tower behind the bleachers, one of a pair erected on either side of the bathhouse.

... and Now,  taken through the locked gate, here's a recent photo of the Alcatraz Pier.  Alcatraz Island is out of the picture to the right.


    In this great image Larwitt, flanked by and handcuffed to federal guards, gets his first glimpse of his future home - he won't be needing that natty attire for the next ten years.  The bathhouse and the second speaker tower are seen behind him.  (This closeup was filmed in a studio with a photo plate backdrop).


Then ...  What he sees is Alcatraz sitting there, imposing, intimidating, awaiting.

... and Now,  the federal prison was operational only from 1934 to 1963 and is but a part of the history of Alcatraz Island.  In the recent photo below, with the Alcatraz Pier in the foreground, a few changes can be seen, including the water tower built in the same year (1940) the movie was released.  The island today is a huge tourist destination hosting a million visitors annually. 


Then ...  The feds lead him down the gangway but a knowledgable observer would recognize that this isn't the same pier, in fact Fort Mason is across the water in the distance, just right of center.

... and Now,  this was filmed more than two miles away at the small coastguard pier near Crissy Field in the Presidio.  A second shed next to the smaller square one has since been added and an adjacent pier on the right is gone.

    On a trivia note here's the same location from the 1958 movie The Lineup by which time that second shed had been built (in fact it was already built by 1947 as seen, together with the adjacent pier, here in the movie Dark Passage.

    The red and white markers on the map below show the locations of the two piers relative to each other.


    ... but as the boat pulls away we are back at the Fort Mason Alcatraz Pier.


Then ...  The next shot looks back towards the bathhouse and speaker tower.

... and Now,  1939 coincided with the tail end of the Art Deco period and its Streamline Moderne influence on the speaker tower and bathhouse are clearly evident.


    CitySleuth couldn't resist including this cute vintage photo taken the year the bathhouse was built.  Intended primarily to broadcast sports events, the speakers went silent decades ago.


    Brenda has witnessed the prisoner transfer - the poignant sight of her husband's slowly receding boat heralds a significant life-changer for them both.


The Conversation - At The Convention

    A Security and Surveillance Conference is being held in San Francisco on the mezzanine level of the St. Francis Hotel at Union Square (map) and Caul is in attendance.  A vendor goes through the motions of pitching his product to him until he notices the name tag ... he switches gears, pressing him to accept a free sample, anything to be able to associate his product with the man considered preeminent in the field.


Then ...  Caul is sitting in at a presentation when one of his team runs over to invite him to come meet a competitor, another well-known surveillance expert.

and Now ...  this was filmed in the Colonial Room at the St. Francis.  Except for the mural on the wall, attendance at a presentation in the same room today would offer an deja-vu experience.


Then ...  In the main hall Caul meets the competitor, the also-mustachio'd Bernie Moran (Allen Garfield), but is surprised and hurt to find that his assistant Stan, below left,  is now working for Moran. 

and Now ...  the convention booths were set up in the Grand Ballroom at the St. Francis, pictured below in this recent photo.  For the movie scene the booths were set up on the right side of the room - the part of the wall seen in the background above is where the white screen (on the right) is mounted below.


Then ...  Further evidence indicating that these scenes were filmed in the grand ballroom comes from on-the-set footage (an extra on the DVD) which includes this shot from behind the cameraman clearly showing the room's raised ceiling areas where the chandeliers hang.

and Now ...  the raised ceiling areas viewed from the same spot.

Then ...  Caul finds a telephone in a quiet part of the hotel to call his girlfriend Amy but is told the number has been discontinued.  True to her word (described here in an earlier post), she doesn't want to see him again.  Note the model of the St Francis Hotel and Union Square in the foreground.

and Now ...  this spot is on the hotel's second level, one up from the Grand Ballroom.  The red border outlines the camera's field of view above - the telephone has gone but there's still an under-stair closet.


Then ...  Who should be sitting there watching him make the call but The Director's assistant Stett.  Caul is furious, accusing him of following him, but Stett brings a message - the Director is back in town and is ready to receive the conversation tapes in person.  In this carefully framed shot both Caul and the hotel model are reflected in the mirror, extending the confined space in a most effective way.

and Now ...  artwork featuring the Bay Bridge has replaced the mirror but it's still a place for casual seating.  Hotel guests can sit here and sense the presence of Harrison Ford - "Feel The Force!".  (Oops ... wrong movie).


The Laughing Policeman - Kay Butler's Apartment

  Jake has no idea why his partner Detective Dave Evans had been caught in the bus massacre.  He drives across town to ask Kay Butler, Evans' live-in girlfriend.

Then ...  The drive through Russian Hill gives us a glimpse of the passing neighborhood.

... and Now,  he was heading south on Leavenworth, passing this building at the northeast corner of Lombard.  But what are those tourists gawking at? (map).

... ah yes, by far the most visited street block in the city.  Or could it be they are all looking up at the apartment where Jack Palance's character lived in the 1952 noir movie Sudden Fear?   OK, that's highly unlikely but just in case, CitySleuth points it out for their benefit.


Then ...  Still on Leavenworth, this is three blocks further along, between Union and Green.

... and Now,  over 40 years have elapsed but the same block, where MacCondray Lane tees off to the left, hasn't changed.


Then ...  Again traveling south on Leavenworth but this cut jumps back to the northeast corner of Greenwich.

... and Now,  the same building today.  On the right Greenwich dips down to North Beach then swoops up to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.


Then ...  In her apartment Kay Butler (Cathy Lee Crosby) grieves over her boyfriend's death.  The north-facing view towards the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County was all CitySleuth needed to deduce the location.

... and Now,  this scene was filmed in the top floor apartment at 2768 Green Street near Baker in the Cow Hollow neighborhood (map).  CitySleuth has not been able to access that apartment for matching photos but he was able to take almost identical views from the one immediately below it.


    Here's a recent look at 2768 Green.  The top floor apartment is the upper structure at the rear of the building with the clapboard siding.


Then ...  Kay isn't able to shed any light on why Evans had called in sick at work or why he might have been on the bus.  In this shot the wider view includes the domed Palace Of Fine Arts.

... and Now,  the same view taken from the apartment downstairs - the Palace gleams even more after a 2009 seismic and cosmetic restoration.


    Talk about Rooms With A View!  This satellite image includes the apartment (arrowed), now with even bigger picture windows than those seen in the movie.  The large building on the right is the Russian Consulate on the corner of Baker Street.


The House Across The Bay - The House

    After watching her husband transported under guard across the bay to Alcatraz Brenda decides to stay in San Francisco and wait for his release.  She looks for a place with a view of the prison and comes across a promising ad.


Then ...  Don't be fooled by that address in the ad.  There's no such place.  Instead, let CitySleuth explain the trickery used by the moviemakers to represent this, 'The House Across The Bay'.  First, we get this glimpse of the top floor apartment in a later scene in the movie ...

... and Now,  this is 301 Lombard Street in Telegraph Hill where Telegraph Hill Boulevard begins winding its way up to the parking lot at the base of Coit Tower (map).  The house is still there today, hardly changed.


Then ...  The owner shows Brenda around the apartment.  The window view looks east towards Yerba Buena Island and part of the Bay Bridge roadway is seen to its right.  But the apartment interiors were filmed on a studio soundstage using a photograph or painted backdrop to represent the view.  Note too (as pointed out by an alert reader) that sunlight is pouring in from the north (duh!).  What's more, this isn't the view from the real 301 Lombard ...

... in 1950 ...  The movie Woman On The Run includes a scene filmed in 1950 at the circular perimeter of the Coit Tower parking lot which shows the same Yerba Buena Island view.  The image used for the apartment scene above was taken at this location to capitalize on the higher elevation.

... and Now,  Why show this view from the other movie?  Because, from the same spot now Yerba Buena Island and the surrounding panorama is completely hidden by tree growth.  City management doesn't seem to realize that an occasional arboreal haircut is all that's needed to completely restore the surrounding breathtaking vistas for the benefit of the 200,000 folks who visit here each year.


Then ...  The next room looks out to the north and Brenda is stopped in her tracks by the sight of Alcatraz ... this is the place for her!  For this studio view projected background footage filmed at the Coit Tower parking lot was used.  At far left is part of Belvedere island and the two piers down on the Embarcadero are Pier 41 at bottom left and next to it Pier 39 as it was long before being replaced by today's tourist complex.

... and Now,  here's a recent matching shot of that same view from the Coit Tower parking lot just visible, for now anyway, above the trees  (but only if you stand tippy-toes on the perimeter wall).  Absent those trees both piers, since demolished and rebuilt, would also be visible from here.


... from a vintage photo ...  This 1952 photo taken from the top of Coit Tower (210 feet higher than the parking lot) shows, from left to right, piers 41, 39, 37 and 35.  It happens to capture Brenda's window view in the top left quadrant and also 'The House Across The Bay' itself at 301 Lombard Street (arrowed at bottom left).  Clearly the views from the actual house would be far less impressive and the house opposite, built in the 1920s, would block its view of the piers anyway.

... and Now,  the same view today reveals changes on the waterfront.  Pier 41 at far left is smaller than it was, rebuilt as a ferry terminal.  Pier 39 has been developed into a tourist sprawl and Pier 37 disappeared to make way for the Pier 39 marina.  Only pier 35 remains as it was.  'The House' too is still there but out of sight just below the bottom of the frame - most of the houses around it are also there today.


The Conversation - A Breakthrough

Then ...  Back at his workshop Caul continues to tweak the recorded conversation.  He's particularly frustrated by one garbled comment that he can't quite make out but after running it through a customized filter, bingo! ... the words suddenly become coherent.

... and Now,  this location, Suite 360, 1616 16th Street in Potrero Hill, has been described in detail in an earlier post.  In the matching shot today at the back corner of the Dara Rosenfeld Design studio the two major alterations are the partitioning wall incongruously terminating mid-window and the earthquake-protecting steelwork.


    In his mind's eye he pictures the moment as he hears the words ... "He'll kill us if he got the chance".  His worst fears are realized; the lives of this young couple are in danger!  (Watch the scene here).


Then ...  What to do?  He's consumed with guilt and so, a practicing catholic, he seeks the confessional to tell the priest he has sinned, he has put lives at risk and what's more not for the first time.

... and Now,  this was filmed in St. Patrick Church at 757 Mission Street (map).  We see in this recent matching photo that Caul's confessional is still in the same spot but Saints Rita, Therese and Anne have reversed their positions after moving along one pillar to make way for the mounted loudspeakers.


    The English Gothic styled church faces Yerba Buena Gardens.  St. Patrick was founded in 1851 but this building dates to 1914.  Dwarfed as it is by the Art Deco styled 'Jukebox' Marriott Marquis Hotel and other high-rises the once-majestic exterior now looks at best forlorn and at worst completely incongruous.


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