Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

I Remember Mama - Quid Pro Quo At The Fairmont

    Katrin has been sending stories to a long list of publishers.  Thoroughly devastated after the tenth rejection, she declares it would be a waste of time going to college because she will never be a writer.  But when Mama reads that the famous author Florence Dana Morehead is in town staying at Nob Hill's Fairmont Hotel (map), and that she is also passionate about gastronomy, she has an idea ...


 Then ...  We next see her, clutching some of Katrin's stories under her arm, in the hotel lobby.  This shot was reflected in a mirror; CitySleuth has reversed the image in order to compare it with the Fairmont's lobby now.

... and Now,  those beautiful marble Corinthian columns have been standing there for over one hundred years.  But in the movie, above, there are less columns in the back corner than there should be.  Also, the column flanking the far side of the  staircase on the left, below, is missing, above.  Clearly the lobby scenes were filmed on a studio set, not on location.  One wonders if the hotel denied the moviemakers permission to film in the lobby (unlike 20 years later when the opening scene of Petulia was filmed here). 


 Then ...  she waylays Mrs. Morehead near the revolving door of the lobby's main entrance.  The author is not interested in reading Katrina's stories but when Mama tells her she has a secret recipe for Lutefisk and Koetbullar - Norwegian Meatballs in Cream Sauce - her curiosity is piqued.

... and Now,  the real Fairmont's main entrance.


 Then ...  they sit down in front of the registration desk and Mama offers to write down the recipe while Mrs. Morehead reads Katrin's stories, an offer the gourmand cannot refuse.

... and Now,  the set designers did an excellent job simulating this part of the real lobby but there's a tell-tale difference - the ingrained patterns of the marble columns, the one thing that would never change over the years, don't even come close to matching, more confirmation that the scene was filmed on a set.


    Back home Mama finds Katrin in her attic room dejectedly tearing up all of her stories.  She tells her about her visit, how Mrs Morehead found the stories too formulaic but nevertheless recognized a gift and suggested Katrin write about something or somebody she knows really well then to send it to her agent.  Mama suggests she write about Papa.


Harold And Maude - Inside The Rail Car

    Maude lives in a railroad Pullman car parked near Oyster point in South San Francisco.  When Harold first steps inside he is amazed by what he sees.

Then...  The railcar is chock full of Maude's collectibles, a reflection of who she is.  A piano, sculptures large and small, plants, porcelains, pottery, paintings, decorative plates, lamp shades, a smiling corpulent Buddha, a hookah, books, empty picture frames, bric-a-brac of all kinds and much more.

... and Now,  the railcar used in the movie was  Western Pacific's lounge car number 653 (see the previous post for more information). The car is on public display at the Western Railway Museum located between Fairfield and Rio Vista, California (map). This 2015 photo (and the next one, both courtesy of Hunter Lohse of the Western Railway Museum) shows the car preserved in 1930s style.  The multi-paned art deco partitions are in the center of the car .  For the movie a faux fireplace, partially visible above, covered the door at the far end of the carriage.


Then...  In this view from the opposite direction Harold and Maude stand next to a piano beyond the sculpture.  There's a round dining table on this side of the central glass partitions and Maude's bed with peacock headboards is in the left foreground.

... and Now,  at the Railway Museum, the same view today.


Then...  Maude sits at the piano and treats Harold to an impromptu rendition of If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out. (Watch it here, or listen to Cat Stevens' version - he composed the song for the movie - here). 

... and Now,  Maude had a stained-glass window on the left side of the partition wall, above, but the original car has plain glass panels.


     In this scene by the fireplace at the bedroom end of the car she pauses damp-eyed while reminiscing about her husband Frederick, a doctor in Vienna.  A later glimpse of a tattooed number on her arm suggests she had been imprisoned in a concentration camp; perhaps Frederick was a Holocaust victim?  This might explain why Maude embraces life so passionately, and why she has no time for convention or authority.

    Oh, and in case you were wondering what that gadget is on the left? ... it's Maude's "olfactory banquet" ... a device that delivers an aromatic  experience to the user.  Watch the movie for a demonstration!


Harold And Maude - Maude's Rail Car

    Maude's home is rather unusual, to say the least.  She lives in a Pullman railroad car.  There were many scenes filmed at the car from which CitySleuth chose examples for this post, revealing the location, and the next post, focusing on the interior.

    Here's an undated photo of the railcar used in the movie.  Originally built by Pullman in 1913 as a sleeper, it was converted in 1931 to a buffet lounge car and given the number 653.  For the next 34 years it saw service with Western Pacific until being retired in 1965 - for a time it was part of the Exposition Flyer that ran between Chicago and Oakland via the Sierra Nevada mountains by way of the Feather River Valley.  It was acquired in 1966 by the Western Railway Museum in Solano County, California (map) where it is still on display.  The moviemakers leased it from the museum and transported it by rail to the end of a spur line in South San Francisco for the filming.


Then ...  Harold's hearse-ified Jaguar is parked alongside the railcar on the north side of Oyster Point Boulevard, South San Francisco, between Eccles Avenue and Gull Drive (map).  An added covered patio serves as a convenient entry.

... and Now,  Oyster Point Boulevard was previously named Butler Road; the roadside spur line was removed when the road was widened into a divided highway and renamed.  What if the railcar could be returned to the same spot? ...  click to bring it back.


Then ...  CitySleuth was able to estimate the railcar site by triangulation from two of the exterior shots.  First, as Maude is helped up to the patio we see, across the street, a building which is still there. 

... and Now,  the same building, viewed from today's median.


Then ...  And second, to the left of that building, across from Maude's mailbox, there's a hydrant and an empty lot.

... and Now,  an office building has since been built on the lot but the hydrant is at or very close to the same place, serving as a point of reference.

    The roadside rail spur is shown on this USGS map: rail tracks and buildings that were there in 1956 are shown in black.  Added structures as of 1979 are shown in purple, including both buildings described above across the road from the arrow pointing to where the railcar was.

    CitySleuth also created this aerial overlay of Then (a 1968 image) and Now (a Google Earth Image) of the railcar location.  Click the image to toggle between 1968 and Now.  X marks the spot.


Then ...  When Harold drives away from the railcar (it's on the right), the railroad crossing ahead is for the spur line track where it crosses the road as shown on the map above.

... and Now,  no tracks cross today so there are no crossing signs - they would have been just past the Eccles Avenue junction.  The building at far left across the median is the same as the one above, and new offices - the green building - have since been built next to it.


The Laughing Policeman - Prime Suspect

    Jake thinks Henry Camerero could be the killer they are looking for but his supervisor doesn't agree, accusing him of bearing a grudge because he couldn't pin down Camerero for a previous murder.  When Jake asks Larsen to tail Camerero, against the supervisor's orders, they get into a good old-fashioned shouting match in the parking lot at the Hall Of Justice.


Then ...  But Larsen relents and Jake takes him to the Financial District where Camerero works, to point him out.

... and Now,  this is One Embarcadero Center, newly completed shortly before the movie was filmed - three similar high-rise office buildings were added to the Center over the following years.  This view is from the corner of Sacramento and Front (map).  (Incidentally, One Embarcadero also appeared several times in the 1974 movie The Conversation).


Then ...  The camera pans down to show them walking west along Sacramento towards the building's south entrance.

... and Now,  the entrance awning has been redesigned, retail stores have replaced the alcoves at right and several new buildings have since been built across and down the street.


Then ...  They enter from Sacramento Street through an arcade-like tunnel, an architectural feature referred to as a 'people-scoop'.

... and Now, for some reason the tunnels have been removed.   Across the street the site of Kielty and Dayton Stationery, on the right above, has been claimed by the 353 Sacramento office building.


Then ...  A balcony alongside the footbridge spanning Clay Street at the north side of One Embarcadero (map) proves to be a good vantage point to look out for Camerero - his real estate investment office is in this building.

... and Now, a sign advertises a Landmark Theaters cinema that has since been opened at the Center.


    They watch as Camerero, flanked by two colleagues, approaches the Battery Street junction on Clay.  From now on he's a marked man.


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