Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

I Remember Mama - "Uncle Chris Is Dying!"

    Mama has received a telegram - Uncle Chris is dying.  She calls her three sisters and they all meet at a train station for the trip to his ranch in Northern California.  She brings Katrin along; she is intimidated at the prospect of seeing someone die but tells herself that if she wants to be a writer she needs to experience everything.

Then ...  The Sausalito sign can be seen at the end of the platform.  This would indeed be where San Franciscans would have gone, by ferry, in 1910 to catch a train directly north...

... but this scene was filmed at the RKO Encino Ranch in the San Fernando Valley, pictured here in a 1947 photo.  RKO's backlot ranch had three working depots; this one was known as the Brick Railroad Station.  The RKO ranch was sold to developers in the 1950s and became the Encino Village subdivision (map).

    Note that the train in the Then image above was pulled by Engine No. 29.  This same one, or a renumbered contemporary, today provides scenic rides from Carson City to Virginia City in Nevada; the climb to 6,150 feet elevation guarantees spectacular vistas along the way (see it here in a promo video).  Here it is in a 2010 photo.


    The sisters, full of trepidation, arrive at the ranch house - Mama leads the way

Then ...  It's a modest place, a little run down.  This house and the barn in the background above were part of a working ranch, the Morrison Agoura Ranch in Agoura Hills 7 miles west of the RKO Encino Ranch.  Many movies were filmed here before the ranch was broken up in the 1960s.  The eastern portion has been developed into housing but the western part, where these buildings were, is still open land (map).

... in 1949 ...  The scene below from the movie The Red Pony was filmed at this same house a year after I Remember Mama was released.  These ranch buildings however are no longer there.


   As Uncle Chris lies dying he reveals to Mama that his housekeeper Jessie is actually his wife - left unsaid over the years because it was not the thing to do amongst his society.  He also admits that he has no money to pass on - Mama learns soon afterwards that  it was because he had spent all he had on operations for crippled children including his niece Sigrid's young son Arne.  A man of bluster but a heart of gold.  His last request is that Jessie should get his house.


Harold And Maude - Glaucus's Studio

    This scene, where Harold stops by the studio of Maude's artist friend Glaucus, was filmed in the former Southern Pacific Rail Yard alongside Bayshore Blvd in the City of Brisbane (map) at a building that has since been demolished.  CitySleuth thanks Walter Boland, whose father worked at the facility, and Chris Hart of for their help in identifying the location.

Then ... He approaches the building, evidently a tall one; the view behind him looks across Bayshore Blvd and past the PG&E Martin Substation to the hills beyond.

... and Now,  from approximately the same spot.  The site, like most of the abandoned 200 acre rail yard, is now an expanse of weeds.

    But which building was used to film the studio scene?  In this 1946 aerial photo it's the long narrow building on the left; the arrow traces Harold's approach 25 years later in the Then image above.  The building , the Erecting and Machine Shops, was known by the employees as 'The Backshops'.  It housed a row of stalls used for working on steam locomotives.  At far right is the circular Roundhouse with its 40 maintenance stalls, 17 covered and 23 uncovered, and a turntable at its focal point.

... and Now,  a recent Google aerial view reveals that the backshops are gone, leaving tell-tale hints of where they used to be - the arrow points to the corner of the building where the entrance to Glaucus's studio was.  The covered part of the Roundhouse is still there, despite damage by fire in 2001.  The surviving building at the center of the image used to be the Tank and Boiler Shop - it's now the home of Lazzari Fuel Co.


Then ...  He opens the door to see artist's paraphernalia scattered around a huge block of ice.

    As mentioned, the backshops are no longer there but this 1975 photo of the building shows (arrowed) the same door, partially hidden by the stack of wood; it was set in the larger door that led into Stall 1 of the building.  By then the shops had been made redundant by the advent of diesels and the building was being used by a lumber company.  It was demolished in the mid 1980s.


Then ...  He sees Glaucus busily chiseling the ice block into shape.  The windows behind him at the back were those of the Machine Shop which ran the length of the building at the rear.  (The Machine and Erecting Shops combined as one huge open space).

    This 1983 photo of the back wall was taken at the opposite end of the building but you can see that the window details match the windows above.


    Maude, naked, looks out cheerily from behind the ice block.  She coquettishly confides to Harold later that she posed because ... "poor Glaucus occasionally needs his memory refreshed as to the contours of the female form".


The Laughing Policeman - Getting Warmer

Then ...  Bus victim Gus Niles' girlfriend's place is on the steep Filbert Street steps on the eastern slope of Telegraph Hill (map).  As Jake and Larsen start climbing up from Sansome Street we see, perched atop the sheer cliff at left, the ill-fated apartment building at 22-30 Alta Street which was to become national news 19 years later when it began collapsing down the cliff.

... and Now,  the steps haven't changed except for the section in front of the Filbert Landing offices at left that replaced the old repair shop above.  At the cliff top the overhanging apartments are gone following condemnation and demolition by the City.


Then ...  The stairs make a right and they continue the climb - the old repair shop is down below them.

... and Now

    This same section of steps was used by Humphrey Bogart's character when, after face-changing surgery, he climbed to Lauren Bacall's apartment in 1947 in Dark Passage - back then the steps were of more precarious wood construction.

   ... and again during the suspect's desperate dash home in 1952 in The Sniper.  The Gibraltar Warehouse across Sansome from the repair shop was subsequently demolished - its site is now part of the Levi Strauss headquarters.


Then ...  They take a breather just below Napier Lane; Jake points to the house alongside, it's the one they are looking for, the first one on the right during the climb.

... and Now,  this section is still built of wood with maintenance over the years leading to inevitable changes in the railings.  Newer home construction and remodeling are seen on the right side.


Then ...  The house has two side-by-side units; they head for the one on the right, number 218.

... and Now,  the tree next to the steps has been removed but a little more greenery makes up for it.  We see too that the second floor balcony of number 220 on the left has been redone.


Then ...  Nobody responds to the knock on the door but no worries, Larsen has it open in seconds.

... and Now,  hey, it's still  the same door, light switch too!


Then ...  Larsen enters a room and stumbles over a dead woman with a needle in her arm.  They have found Niles' girlfriend.

... and Now,  in the same room today.


    Jake looks around; he finds a war-time photo of Gus Niles and recognizes his taller buddy - it's Henry Camerero who happens to be the prime suspect in a two-year old murder case of his who he was never able to nail.  The trail is getting warmer ...


I Remember Mama - Street Posters

    Back around 1910 when this movie's story was set mass media entertainment as we know it today did not exist.  Radio didn't become widespread until the 1920s; television the early 1950s.  Even silent movies, initially individually shown in nickelodeons, didn't take off until the advent of luxury movie theaters beginning in 1915.  So where could the Hanson family and their contemporaries go out for entertainment?  Well, they could see live performances at one of the many vaudeville theaters across town, visit Playland-At-The-Beach, go swimming at Sutro Baths, or go skating at a rink.  The bold amongst them could place bets at the races.  These and other forms of entertainment were widely advertised across town by large eye-catching posters, some of which we get a glimpse of in the background of scenes from I Remember Mama.

    When Mama and Katrin were out shopping the keen of eye would have noticed the posters plastered on a door across the street, partially hidden by the flower stall canopy.  One advertises the Pantage Theater and the other Skating at the Coliseum.

    A small theater, the Empire at Sutter and Steiner, was renamed the Pantage from 1908 to 1911 but that poster would be advertising the much better known 1800 seat Pantage vaudeville theater that opened in 1911 at 941 Market Street.  Here's a postcard image, viewed south from 5th Street, showing how it looked before being converted into a department store in 1926.

... coming soon,  at the site today the ground has recently been broken for a $150 million, 250,000 square foot urban mall to be called Market Street Place, the latest contribution to the ongoing Mid Market revival.  Here's a rendering of how it will look.


    In this shot there's another Coliseum poster and one advertising the Orpheum Theater.  The Coliseum poster clearly shows the address as Baker and Oak Streets.

... a vintage photo ...  the Coliseum roller skating rink, pictured here in 1913, spanned the Baker Street block between Fell and Oak opposite Golden Gate Park's panhandle in the Upper Haight.  As an added attraction evening sessions there would sometimes include ragtime dancing on skates.  A monument to President McKinley,  erected in 1904 three years after his assassination, faces the entrance.

... and Now,  the Coliseum is long gone; its site today is occupied by San Francisco's DMV office (map).  The McKinley statue is still there, a constant target for graffiti tagging, the irksome malaise of modern times.


... a vintage photo ... The Orpheum advertised in the movie image above was the 2300 seat theater at 147 O'Farrell Street near Union Square (map), pictured here in 1910 after it was rebuilt following the great earthquake.  It was renamed the Columbia Theater in 1929 but was torn down in 1937, a victim of the Great Depression.

... and Now,  the Ellis - O'Farrell parking structure is at this site today.  The same building on the right however is still there, newly refurbished - how nice to have these century-old architectural reminders dotted around town.


    During a walk on Telegraph Hill Katrin and her sister pass by a poster for an amusement park, Idora Park (the poster showing the full name can be seen in the on-location still included in the previous post).

... a vintage photo ...   Here's a panorama of Idora Park taken in 1910.  The Victorian era entertainment park on 17 acres opened in 1904 and closed in 1929.  Trumpeted as one of the Wonders Of The West, it offered numerous rides including a roller coaster, a skating rink, a shooting gallery, a stadium for 5,000, an opera theater, picnic grounds and much more.  If you full-size the image (click or swipe it) perhaps you can find the Hanson family amongst the crowd - then again maybe not since they had so few pennies to rub together.

    The park was bounded by Shattuck, Telegraph,  56th and 58th in North Oakland (map).  It's at the center of this 1912 map detail.


    The girls walked past another poster, this one exhorting folks to come place their bets on the horses at the New California Jockey Club.

   The New California Jockey Club was the name given in 1896 to the renovated Oakland Trotting Park which had been open since 1871 as a mile-long racetrack for harness and thoroughbred racing.  Unfortunately for them horse racing was banned by the State in 1911 and after trying out automobile and airplane racing the track was demolished in 1915.  This 1912 map shows the track, still referring to it as the Oakland Trotting Park.  The site is now an industrial zone; today both the Novartis Research Institute and Pixar Animation Studios overlap the site of the old racetrack, centered at Hollis and 53rd in Emeryville (map).  


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