Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

The Laughing Policeman - The Setup

  A plain-clothes cop thinks he is following a suspect unawares, in fact he is being set up.  The suspect makes a phone call as the cop on a bench in the background reads a newspaper, trying his best to look innocuous.  "It's workin' ...", says the man in the booth, "He's stayin' right with me".


Then ...  The man walks from the phone booth, one of those against the back wall, glancing back at the cop as he heads towards an exit.

... and Now,  this scene was filmed at the Transbay Transit Terminal on Mission Street south of Market.  The terminal was torn down in 2010 to make way for a new Transbay Transit Center, still under construction.  The photo below of the same spot was taken shortly before the terminal closed down.  In it we see that those phone booths had been replaced by wall-mounted telephones.

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... in 1965 ...  this vintage aerial photo of the 1939 Timothy L Pflueger designed terminal was taken a few years before the movie was filmed.  The entrance, approached by car via the crescent driveway in the lower left corner and by bus on the ramped roadway above it, was at 425 Mission Street between Fremont and 1st streets.

... in 2010 ...  per this photo of the Mission Street entrance the terminal had hardly changed as recently as a few years ago.

... by 2011 ...  just one year later it was gone, taking with it 71 years of memories but leaving for the moment traces of the crescent driveway.  Construction on the replacement is ongoing.


  To comprehend the scope of the planned redevelopment currently underway at this site just compare the two images below ...

Then ...  this 1965 photo captured the terminal as it used to look.  It also captured the ill-fated Embarcadero freeway; it was torn down following damage in the 1989 earthquake.

... coming soon ...  work is in progress on the futuristic new terminal, illustrated in this architectural rendering.  Scheduled to be completed by 2017 it will act as a hub for 11 Bay Area transit systems, boast a 5.4 acre park on its roof and will link underground to the current Caltrain terminus at King Street.  Surrounding it will be new residences, shops, parks and offices, including the Pelli Transbay Tower which will assume bragging rights as the tallest building west of the Rockies at 1070 feet.


Then ...  the suspect climbs one floor up the stairs to the bus level under the huge shed and boards a 14-Mission San Francisco bus.  He is closely followed by the cop who has to hammer on the door but he too gets in.  CitySleuth just loves those Art Deco city buses!  Such style, unlike today's tin cans.

... in 1973 ...  here's a vintage photo on a typical busy day taken in the same boarding area the year the filming took place.  That's the E-Claremont bus stop above, the F-Berkeley stop below, both lines serving the east bay.  Those pass-through roadways were originally train tracks for the Key System Bay Bridge rail system when the terminal opened.

... in 2008 ...  The F-Berkeley continued to operate from here right until the day the terminal closed down, two years after this photo was taken.  Note one change though - the steel pillars had been stiffened with an earthquake retrofit.


  The bus departs carrying suspect, cop and a few other passengers on what will be its last ride, a journey to hell.


The Conversation - Caul makes a Call

Then ...  Harry Caul, as befits a man of simple means, uses San Francisco's Muni buses to get around town.  Here, wearing his ubiquitous plastic raincoat, he gets off the 3-Jackson to make a phone call to 'The Director', the executive who hired him to snoop on his wife.

... and Now,  the modern version of the 3-Jackson still serves this stretch of Sutter Street.


Then ...  He crosses the street to a public phone booth.  There are several clues to this location - the red sign on the side of the building down the street belongs to the Hotel Carlton at 1075 Sutter; there's the Travelers tavern at 1176 Sutter, and at left alongside the phone booth is the yellow and maroon tiled Fosters Cafeteria.  This can only be the corner of Sutter and Polk. (map).

... and Now,  the Hotel Carlton is still there, the tavern too, currently the R Bar.  Fosters on the corner though has been replaced by another eatery, El Super Burrito.  The phone booth (which could have been a movie prop) is not there now.

... a vintage photo ...  this 1940s photo looking north up Polk Street from Sutter captures the Polk Street side of the Fosters restaurant.  Back then the trams ran on tracks along both Polk and Sutter.  Check out that public clock on the left - not everyone could afford a watch in those days.  Note too how well folks dressed back then when they stepped outside, especially the lady crossing, with heels, purse, fur coat and hat.

... and Now,  the same view except that today's street fashion, sadly, has become slob casual.


  In this carefully composed shot he arranges a meeting with the Director.  "Is that ... payment in full?", he asks, anxiously.


Born To Kill - Two visitors - Felton Hotel

  Mrs Kraft has checked into the Felton Hotel in San Francisco to find out how Arnett is doing in his search for Laury Palmer's killer.  When Arnett stops by to see her, he doesn't notice he is being followed by Sam's friend Marty; with revenge in mind they want to know who hired him.


Then ...  Once Arnett (and Marty) head up to Mrs Kraft's room the clear view outside gives us clues to the hotel's location.  The key one is the barely visible roadway and tower of the Bay Bridge way in the distance so this must look east down Broadway, the block across the street being the 700 block between Stockton and Powell.  The hotel though is a virtual location, shot in a studio using a projected background filmed from the northwest corner of Powell and Broadway (map).

... and Now,  in the same view today we can still see, in addition to the bridge, 705 Broadway (at left within the open doorway above) and 781 Broadway (at far right with the same exterior fire escape ladder).  Everything between them was replaced in 1961 by the second phase of Chinatown's Ping Yuen low income housing project.  In the center of the open doorway there's a cafe sign - not quite legible but it was the Jai-Alai Cafe at 761 Broadway.

... a vintage photo ...  in this 1940s photo there's a clear view of the Jai-Alai cafe sign at left on the 700 block  of Broadway.  Compare it to the distant view in the Now image above.

... and Now,  the real business currently at the virtual site of the Felton Hotel is Souffle's Cafe at 1401 Powell.  Note that it too has an entrance set at 45 degrees on the corner.


Then ...  Arnett's visit is short; he leaves after telling Mrs Kraft that he is getting close to identifying the killer.  Marty then knocks on her door, telling her he has information about Laury  which he will reveal if she meets him later that night.  She naively agrees ... (bad idea).  The view through the window is obviously a pier on the Embarcadero, but which one?  The building in front of it with the sloping roofline corner provides the answer ...

... a vintage photo ...  because this is the old Ferry Station Post Office on the corner of Washington, seen here at far left in a 1965 image of the ill-fated double-decker Embarcadero freeway.  So Pier 1 is the pier seen above, it is just off the left of the picture.

... a vintage photo ...  the arrow in this 1947 image taken from the Mark Hopkins hotel points to the Post Office and Pier 1 but Mrs Kraft's window view appears to have been taken from a lower, closer vantage point, perhaps from one of those buildings on the left.  In the real world this same view would not be seen from the virtual location of the Felton Hotel, several blocks to the north.

... and Now,  the Post Office is no longer there, it used to sit within what is now Sue Bierman Park.  But Pier 1 is still there, facing Washington Street (map).


The Exiles - The Morning After

(A Bunker Hill movie in a San Francisco blog?  CitySleuth explains why).

  As the early morning light heralds a new day Homer and friends return from their all-nighter on Hill 'X' to his place on Clay Street, described here in an earlier post.

Then ...  They enter Clay from 2nd Street (crossing behind them), the men still sharing a bottle.

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... a vintage photo ...    in this 1950s photo taken from Hill Street we see where Clay began, tee-ing in at the far left above the 2nd Street tunnel.

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and Now ...  the Bunker Hill redevelopment project wiped Clay Street and all of those buildings above from the map.  Below, the upper section of the parking structure at left and the open space in front of the residential highrise encroach on where Clay used to be but the tunnel was spared, albeit without the fine masonry balustrade - it was replaced by nondescript chain link.

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Then ...  They walk along Clay towards 3rd Street passing the Sunshine Apartments perched on the retaining wall on the right.  Homer spreads his Indian blanket while Tommy, always the ladies man, needs a little support to aid his equilibrium.  In front of them they cross over the 3rd street tunnel where the tracks of the Angel's Flight funicular pass overhead.

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... in 1948 ...  a vintage photo captured the same view ten years earlier as Angel Flight's two rail cars change places on their short one block trip between Hill and Olive.

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  ... and here's another look in a scene from the 1955 film noir movie Kiss Me Deadly as Mickey Spillane's hard-boiled Mike Hammer approaches the Sunshine Apartments in his 1954 Corvette.

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  Homer's wife Yvonne has spent the night with a friend at the Sunshine Apartments; awakened by the noisy shouts of the group, she watches impassively from the bedroom window as they stumble on by.

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Then ...  Down towards the far end of Clay near 4th Street she sees them entering her place on the left at 334 Clay.

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... a vintage photo ...  this 1960s image offers a closer look at 334 Clay (on the left) as it was shortly before the houses were demolished.

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  And so the movie ends ... we have witnessed a typical day, and night, in the lives of the transplanted Indians and are left thinking that their next day likely will be the same, and the day after that, and ...


The Conversation - Harry Caul's Workshop

Then ...  Caul crosses a set of Western Pacific railroad tracks in what is now the Showplace Square (aka Design) District on the north edge of the Potrero Hill neighborhood.  He is on his way to his workshop in the old brick warehouse on the right (map).  In this south-facing view 16th Street crosses ahead of him at the stop sign and the tracks ahead end at 18th Street at the base of Potrero Hill.  In 1962 a tunnel that originally took the trains under the hill was filled in after catching fire and causing sinkholes above it.

... and Now,  quite a few changes.  The railway line has been discontinued; the tracks are gone and this section has become a parking lot reserved for the surrounding business tenants.  In the next block a modern building straddles the old line and the huge storage tank on top of Potrero Hill has been removed.


  Fortunately for us the warehouse lives on at 1616 16th Street - built in 1912, it remains unchanged from the outside.  It was designed by G Albert Landsburgh, best known for his luxury cinemas and theaters up and down the west coast, and the early occupant was the Schlesinger and Bender winery and distillery.  The arrow shows us where Caul's workshop was, tucked into the corner of the top (3rd) floor.  The arrow also points to a window which was bricked up when the movie was filmed - it still is today.  (Click the images for a closer look).  Note too the gable-shaped windows on the 16th Street side - we will see them later from the inside.


Then ...  A documentary on the filming of the movie provided this image of Caul emerging from a freight elevator at the top floor.

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... and Now,  that elevator has since been walled off but the same call button is still there.

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Then ...  He steps out of the elevator into a wide open, unpartitioned space.  Note the dividing brick wall on the right with door-suspension hardware bolted to it at a filled-in doorway ...

... and Now,  this space has since been partitioned into offices and corridors.  On that brick wall the hardware now supports a sliding door and the doorway has been opened up to allow access to the other side.  The overhead lamps on the other hand seem to be the same ones.  The added steelwork was installed for seismic protection.

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  As Caul walks towards the far corner where his workshop is set up we can't help but admire director Coppola's location choice.   The array of floor-to-ceiling posts casts radial shadows across the dramatic side-lit space, the whole effect enhanced further by the sunlit gable-shaped windows along the 16th street wall.  It's a great shot which cannot be duplicated now that the floor has been subdivided into offices.


Then ...  The workshop is where Caul creates state-of-the-art electronic gear custom designed for his nefarious work - back then and perhaps even now this type of sophisticated equipment was not commercially available.  The bricked-in window seen earlier from the exterior is right of center next to the picture on the wall.

... and Now,  the studios of Dara Rosenfeld Design and Weisbach Architectural Design now share this space at 1616 16th Street, Suite 360. Here too, added steelwork reassures the occupants.

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  The bricked-in window is clearly visible in this shot as Caul and his assistant Stan (John Cazale) repeatedly play back the recording, constantly tweaking the equipment to boost the garbled voices over the background noise.  Slowly but surely the conversation begins to emerge ...


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