Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

The Penalty - Years Later

Then ...  The caption moves the story to its next phase where the camera looks towards the Ferry Building on the left then, slowly panning to the right, reveals the Financial District.

... and Now,  the city today is even richer.  Both panoramas, facing east across San Francisco Bay, were taken from the Fairmont hotel on Nob Hill (map).  (The reverse view from the bay was seen earlier in the previous post).  Note the Bay Bridge below, at upper left; the movie image above, filmed early in 1920, preceded its opening by 16 years.  Old St. Mary's Church tower in the center foreground is a common denominator in both images.


    The amputee is now an adult, known only as Blizzard (Lon Chaney), with an enormous axe to grind, intent on avenging the malpractice inflicted on him as a child.  He makes his entrance, below, a little later in the movie.  To get in character Lon Chaney doubled his legs back, strapped his ankles to his thighs then attached specially designed wooden stumps.  It was painful; he had a limited time for each scene before having to take them off.  An oversized coat hid his legs and he wore padding beneath his clothes to maintain proportion.  Quite the sacrifice, making his remarkable performance even more so.


Then ...  The city panorama is followed by views of contrasting neighborhoods that illustrate the socially opposed lives of the movie's main characters.  First we see the now successful and respected Dr. Ferris being chauffeured  from an enclave of exclusive homes.

... and Now,  this is Presidio Terrace on Arguello Blvd at Washington at the edge of the Inner Richmond district (map). The gated (but it's always open) community of 36 luxury homes, most of them built between 1905 and 1920, has been home to the city's smart set ever since.

... and Now,  in this aerial view the mostly Beaux Arts, Mission Revival and Tudor Revival homes flank a circular road.  When the enclave opened, its advertised policy reflected the blatant discrimination of the time ... "There is only one spot in San Francisco where only Caucasians are permitted to buy or lease real estate or where they may reside. That place is Presidio Terrace."    Many dignitaries over the years have lived here including Senator Dianne Feinstein whose former home was 30 Presidio Terrace, the English Tudor at far left above.  Typical sales prices for these homes are in the $5 - 10 million range.


Then ...  Next, a street in a shabbier neighborhood, Blizzard's stomping ground.  The pagoda-like tower in the background suggests this is Chinatown, mostly rebuilt since its devastation by the 1906 earthquake and fire only 14 years earlier.

... and Now,  sure enough, this is Chinatown's Grant Avenue looking south from Clay (map).  The pagoda belongs to the Sing Chong Building on the corner of California Street.  The neighborhood, because of its tradition, resistance to change and absence of trees, has maintained its look and feel for over a century.  Long may that continue!  And what if the old man crossing the street above were time-transported into the scene below?  He might be forgiven if he thought the lady on the left was nursing an earache and the man on the right was reading his own palm.


Then ...  And, at the far end of the social scale, the infamous and licentious Barbary Coast where the two sailors entering the Diana Hall saloon are oblivious to the  policeman harassing a couple of prostitutes in the street.  The bar next to it is Spider Kelly's, and next to that (with the columns) the Hippodrome, a drinking and dancing establishment which will play a part as the story unfolds.

... and Now,  This is the north side of the 500 block of Pacific Street between Montgomery and Kearny (mapin what is today known as the Jackson Square neighborhood having traded its early 20th century pimps, prostitutes and bartenders for lawyers, interior designers and high-end office and boutique workers while still retaining its old commercial character.


The Penalty - "You Should Not Have Amputated!"

    The Penalty is a very entertaining silent film starring Lon Chaney in a remarkable performance that made him famous.  Its addition to this blog takes us back to 1920 San Francisco and lets us see how the movie's location sites have changed over the passage of almost 100 years.


    The  movie's opening credits roll over a background of the Ferry Building at the turn of the century as seen from the bay (map).  But this is a stylized matte painted image, the clock tower is similar to but a little different from that of the current Ferry Building which replaced an earlier wooden structure in 1898 and has remained more or less unchanged to this day.  Also, the hill to the right, perhaps meant to be Nob Hill, would not loom so large when viewed from this far out.

Then ...  Had the moviemakers used the actual bay view when they filmed the movie it would have looked similar to this contemporaneous postcard photo.   The building at far right is the Fairmont Hotel, atop Nob Hill since 1906.  Left of center is the Southern Pacific Building, there since 1916.

... and Now,  in a drastic transformation the Financial District today dwarfs the surviving Ferry Building and Southern Pacific Building.


    (Note to readers -  to streamline readability CitySleuth has taken the liberty of attaching the script from the title cards beneath the image).

    The story begins with an inexperienced doctor (Charles Clary) called upon to operate on a young accident victim.


   He decides to amputate both of the unfortunate boy's legs above the knee.  Right after the operation his senior colleague checks the boy out and tells Ferris he has made a huge mistake.


    Ferris has mangled the poor child for life but the older doctor covers for him and lies to the boy's parents.


   The boy had overheard the doctors' conversation and tries to tell his parents but they believe their explanation that he is delusional from the anesthetic... "It's the effect of the ether".


    The boy now has to wear artificial stumps for the rest of his life - he will grow up with a twisted determination to wreak revenge both on the doctor and the city of San Francisco itself.


Harold And Maude - Sunflowers and Daisies

    They stroll alongside a pond, their images reflected in the water (to help find the location, CitySleuth has inverted the movie image).  The yellow flowers prompt Maude to declare she would like to change into a sunflower... "They're so tall and simple... what flower would you like to be?".


 Then ...  Harold isn't sure... as their voiceover continues they are seen, upper left, sitting amongst a sea of daisies planted row upon row... "One of these maybe... because they're all alike".  (That's the lower end of those rows behind them in the reflection above).

... and Now,  here's the pond, now overgrown, that captured their reflection; the daisy field was on the far slope but now lies fallow.  It was filmed at the Cozzolino Nursery farm at 11881 San Mateo road (Highway 92) on the outskirts of the coastal town of Half Moon Bay (map).  CitySleuth is grateful to the Cozzolinos for allowing him access to their property.

    Here's a detailed south-facing aerial view of the farm today.    The different parts of the property that appear during this movie scene are highlighted.


    But Maude disagrees with Harold, pointing out that no two daisies are alike... "some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals - all kinds of observable differences".  It's her way of saying that, in our own way, we are all unique.

 Then ...  In a poignant juxtaposition the director cuts to a military cemetery, presenting a stark contrast between life and death.  Unlike Maude's daisies, the headstones are identical and regimented.

... and Now,  this is the northwest view from the overlook at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno (map).  Another view of this cemetery is seen later in the movie.

   For those wanting to visit this spot, the overlook is shown on Circle Drive on the map below.


 Then ...  As Maude drives down from the daisy field the farmhouse at 11881 San Mateo Road (marked on the aerial map above) is seen in the foreground.  At the far left the light glints off a spillway leading down from the pond.

... and Now,  an exterior closet has since been added to the farmhouse. The arrow points to where the daisy field was planted.


 Then ...  They continue on over a bridge (marked on the aerial map above) .

... and Now,  the bridge links the farmhouse driveway over Pilarcitos Creek to the road.


Then ...  She screeches onto the road, by way of the opposite lane.  (Incidentally, actress Ruth Gordon could not drive so all of Maude's driving scenes used a stunt driver).

... and Now,  this corner is referred to by the locals as the 'House Of Doors' corner.  Read on for the reason why.


Then ...  She over-corrects and barrels by on this side of the power pole past two hitchhikers who can't quite take in what they just saw.

... and Now,  this spot is also pointed out on the aerial map above.  On the far right across the street is the pathway entrance to 11880 San Mateo Road, a funky old house known locally as the 'House Of Doors'.

    The house, seen below in an early 1980s photo, is so-named because it was literally built out of old wooden doors, reportedly by a German saloon-keeper who is said to have acquired the doors from dismantled buildings when San Francisco's 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition closed down.  A more recent photo is seen in this listing when, refurbished, it sold in 2013 for $345,000.


The Laughing Policeman - Cruising

    Tailing the suspect around town has convinced Larsen of one thing: "He's a classic fruiter", he tells Jake.  Meanwhile Camerero, possibly aware that he's being followed, gets bolder, leading them on a tour of some of the city's gay bars.

Then ... They catch up with him in the Tenderloin neighborhood across from the Minerva Cafe, a greek taverna at 136 Eddy Street (map), in the storefront of the Empress Hotel.

... and Now,  the 100 block of Eddy Street has hardly changed.  The Empress Hotel is still there but the cafe is long gone.

    The cafe, seen here in a 1974 photo, was owned and managed by restauranteur Vasilios Glimidakis and was one of three Greek eateries within the space of one block.  It seated 250, offered both dining and dancing and was a popular venue for social events and political dinners and luncheons.


Then ... Camerero's destination is The Ramrod, a pickup gay bar at 1225 Folsom Street in the SoMa district (map).

    Here's a 1970s photo of the bar, at far right, as it would have looked when the movie was filmed.  To say it was popular with the biker/leather crowd would be an understatement.

... and Now,  The Ramrod opened in the late 1960s and the bar is still in business but has cycled through many names over the years - My Place, Cip, Chaps, Kok (!); it's currently called Driftwood.  As can be seen, windows have since been added to the frontage.


Then ...  Inside The Ramrod, leather seems to be de rigueur.  But Camerero, suavely dapper in suit and sunglasses, doesn't seem to fit in and, not finding what he wants anyway, decides to try elsewhere.

... and Now,  the shape of the bar has been redone otherwise the feel of the place looks to be much the same.  Driftwood's clientele is more mixed than in the past but it continues to be popular with the gay community.


    His next stop, plusher and with entertainment and a canopied ceiling,  seems more his type of place. 

    When Larsen steps out we see where this was - the Frolic Room mid-block at 141 Mason Street at the edge of the Tenderloin (map)just around the corner from the Minerva Cafe where we saw Camerero at the beginning of this post.

Then ...  Larsen joins Jake in their unmarked car across the street to continue the surveillance.  They watch as Camerero, pickup in tow, exits the club.  Just past the small parking lot is another bar at 111 Mason, previously the Robin Hood Tavern before being renamed the Chez Paree.

... and Now,  a community affordable housing building now sits on the site of the Frolic Room and the parking lot.  But there's still a tavern at 111 Mason - the Union Square Sports Bar; its marquee awning has survived too.

    CitySleuth recognizes that sexy-leg Chez Paree sign in the Then image above.  He would bet you a dime to a dollar that this was the sign, below, that used to adorn the Barbary Coast club at 533 Pacific Avenue in the International Settlement during the 1950s (also seen here in Frank Sinatra's 1957 movie Pal Joey).  Same sign, different name.


   They follow the pair to a townhouse apartment where a little "love in the afternoon", as Larsen snidely puts it, prompts the closing of the drapes.

Then ...  The townhouse is the one seen across the way, beyond Larsen's shoulder.   By now the two cops are beginning to get frustrated at not being able to get Camerero to drop his guard.

... and Now,  this was filmed at Sydney G. Walton Square park by the footbridge that links the park across Jackson Street to the Davis Court Apartments.  Named after a San Francisco banker, the park was built in 1960 at the north end of  the city's former Produce Market (map).  Today's comparative view shows just how much the Financial District has proliferated over the years.


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