Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

I Remember Mama - Mama's House

Then ...  Uncle Chris drives up Mama's street towards her house, but where is this?  Differing from the book and the play, the movie has Mama living on 'the Larkin Street hill' so with Alcatraz Island and Angel Island prominent in the distance one may reasonably think that this is Larkin Street in Russian Hill looking north across the bay.  But one would be wrong.

... and Now,  this was in fact filmed on the 500 block of Liberty Street in the Eureka Valley sub-neighborhood of the Castro district (map), no doubt chosen because of its many modest, quaint turn-of-the-century Victorians, most of them still there today. The view looks west from Noe Street to Castro Street, with the slopes in the distance rising up to Twin Peaks.  For the movie scene Alcatraz was matte painted above the Castro Street houses to achieve the Larkin Street subterfuge.  Sneaky.

... on location ...  CitySleuth was delighted to come across an on-location photo of this very scene taken while it was being filmed - compare it to the movie version in the Then capture above.  Note the gawkers, locals clustered on the corner of Noe and Liberty at bottom right, next to the actors in their 1910 garb.

... the bay view now ...  the view of Alcatraz painted into the Then scene at the top of this post is very close to that enjoyed from the second floor of 1100 Union Street, corner of Leavenworth, just two blocks from Larkin Street atop Russian Hill. 


Then ...  But this shot as he continues on to the top of the hill was filmed on an enormous set built on an RKO Studios backlot in Southern California.  The set was used several times throughout the movie for scenes outside Mama's house.  In a later  interview Barbara Bel Geddes said...   "The set was extraordinary, we had a whole San Francisco street built on the lot".  Well, half a street certainly.

... and Now,  here's the real top-of-the-hill view looking east from Noe.  The steps leading up to the elevated 400 block of Liberty Street provided a convenient spot for the movie camera that filmed the preceding shot looking down Liberty Street.

    On the set, Uncle Chris does a 3-point turn at the top of the hill and pulls up in front of Mama's house. His automobile?  It's a 1910 Mitchell Model T touring car.


    In a night scene, also filmed on the set, Mama's sisters and nephew rush down the street after visiting her (the house can be seen behind them) ...

    ... they are in a hurry so as not to miss the cable car crossing the street down the hill.  The origin of this shot is a bit of a mystery.  It's certainly not Liberty Street; it could be a model.  Note that, inconsistent with the daytime scene that began this post,  that's not Alcatraz in the distance.  The coastline, no doubt a painting, looks like it's meant to be the Golden Gate pre-bridge, as befits the 1910 setting.  And what is that structure straddling the sidewalk down on the right?   CitySleuth would be intrigued to hear from any reader who can shed further light on this.  Oh and by the way, a San Francisco cable car is extremely dim at night, it would never glitter so brightly.

... and Now,   the only location around the bay whence, imagined without the bridge, the Golden Gate would resemble the above coastline would be from Angel Island, below.

    And just to confuse things further, later in the movie there's another look down the street, as viewed from Mama's porch.  This is different again and appears to be a painted backdrop at the end of the studio street set.  But this time the bay view reverted to Alcatraz and Angel Island. Go figure.


Harold And Maude - Faux Suicides

    Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) leads a lonely life in a palatial home with his controlling mother (Vivian Pickles), a haughty socialite whose relationship with her son favors formality over affection.  In the movie's opening scene we are all shocked when she walks into the music room and finds Harold swinging by the neck at the end of a rope.  She on the other hand doesn't bat an eyelid.  Her response?...  "I suppose you think that's very funny, Harold".

    Apparently she has seen this sort of thing before.  It seems that Harold, not your ordinary kid, has taken to staging elaborate fake suicides to gain his mother's attention.  She takes it in unflappable stride but when next she discovers his mutilated body in a blood-drenched bathroom even she is taken aback...  "This is too much... I can't stand much more of this... I can't take any more!!"  These interior scenes were filmed at the Rosecourt Mansion in Hillsborough, Ca, described in more detail here.

... but later she continues to maintain her savior faire by genteely breaststroking by his floating 'corpse' with hardly a glance.


Then ... Harold's obsession with Death next takes him to what then was San Carlos Auto Wreckers at 959 Sky Way Road, San Carlos, alongside Highway 101 next to San Carlos airport (map).  This view looks east towards Alameda County across the south bay.

... and Now,  the wreckers yard is gone, replaced by office buildings - this recent matching photo was taken from their parking lot.  The Kaiser Cement Silos at the Port of Redwood City, originally built in the 1920s by the Pacific Portland Cement Company, are at top right both Then and Now.


... in 1966 ...  here's a vintage aerial photo of San Carlos airport showing San Carlos Auto Wreckers alongside Highway 101, bottom left, as it still looked when the movie was filmed.

... and Now,  the same view courtesy of Google Earth.  The 240,000 square foot Skyway Landing office complex was built on this site in 2001.


    At the wreckers yard Harold finds what he's looking for...  a hearse!

    After he runs it through a car wash any funeral parlor would be more than happy to add it to its fleet.

    ... as an identifier, here's the same model - a 1959 Superior Cadillac Sovereign Royale Landaulet 3-way hearse.


The Laughing Policeman - Shootout

    The police get a call from somebody claiming to be the bus murderer.  What's more he has hostages holed up in an old house ...

Then ...  The cops converge on the house, in the heart of Japantown in the Western Addition.  This is the view west from Laguna down Bush Street towards St. Dominic's Catholic Church at Steiner, top left.

... and Now,  more trees certainly, but the main difference here is the tower of St. Dominic's, redesigned and rebuilt following serious damage from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.


Then ...  A heavily armed response team takes up position at the southwest corner of Laguna and Bush outside the K & F Drayage Trucking Co. building at 1899 Bush.

... and Now,  another structure has since taken its place.


Then ...  The suspect's house is at 1727 Laguna Street (map).  As Jake and Larsen observe it one of the hostages seeks escape by unwisely clambering out of a 3rd floor window ... "Don't do that, lady ..."

... and Now,  the house has long since been demolished, one of the many victims of the Western Addition's ethnic cleansing program.  The building on the right, next to it and under construction during the filming, is still there today, the Konko-Kyo Church of San Francisco.


Then ...  The unfortunate hostage slips and falls.  Across the street is another view of the Drayage Trucking building on the corner of Bush and next to it one of the twin towers of the Bush Street Temple, built in 1895.  In 2003 the temple became the Kokoro Assisted Living Center.

... and Now,  the new building on the corner was built as an extension of the Kokoro Center.


Then ...  Apparently hostage negotiation was not part of the Police Department's job description in the 1970s - a fierce firefight ensues with multiple fatalities on both sides ending only when the suspect is shot.  Across the street an ambulance pulls up to 1727 Laguna where we see that it had a store, Coast Camera & Radio, on its first floor.

... and Now,  there's a church parking lot with a gated entrance where the house used to sit.


    It turns out the suspect was a deranged vet with a prosthetic leg; he couldn't have been the bus murderer who was witnessed climbing off the bus and walking briskly away.  Another lead bites the dust.


I Remember Mama - Uncle Chris Comes To Town

   Uncle Chris, The de facto head of the family,  drives down from his ranch a couple of times a year to visit Mama and family.

Then ...  A closeup of the Ferry Building clock tower announces his arrival in the city.

... and Now,  a sense of survival prompted CitySleuth not to stand in the identical spot to duplicate this shot;  the docking slip from whence it was filmed has been demolished.  From the nearest dry spot behind the Ferry Building this is close enough (map).  Note that in the movie there's some sort of temporary cover shrouding the topmost cupola.


Then ...  The camera makes a rapid pan from the tower to the incoming ferry where we see Uncle Chris's car at the head of the line.  But note the dreadful lack of historical accuracy - no effort has been made to hide the Bay Bridge, completed in 1936, even though the story is set in 1910.  There are more accuracy faux pas here; the ferryboat is the Sierra Nevada, not built until 1913; what's more it wasn't converted to an auto ferry until 1947.

... and Now,  the docking slip above has been demolished since the bridge opened.  In this recent photo the ferry Mendocino is berthed at the adjacent Golden Gate Ferry Terminal.


Then ...  Uncle Chris and his traveling companion roll off the ferry in his horseless carriage ahead of the horse-drawn cart, already a dying breed.

... a vintage photo ...  here's the Sierra Nevada at the Ports Of Call Village in San Pedro where it spent its final years as a tourist attraction before succumbing to its worst fear, sinking in a 1978 storm.


Then ...  The Embarcadero bustles with activity as Uncle Chris drives past the Ferry Building and through the throng .  This time history is respected - either the Bay Bridge has been painted out in the center background, replaced by ships' masts, or a pre-bridge skyline was used.

... and Now,  the bridge's roadway span can clearly be seen in the background from here.  The building with the gabled red roof structure sitting atop it is the Embarcadero YMCA.  It's visible in the movie view above but the gabled part is missing. 


Then ...  But in the next shot where Uncle Chris spooks a passing horse we do see the gabled structure on the Y. This time the moviemakers used a contemporaneous 1940s skyline but, in deference to the story, painted out the bridge. 

... in 1945 ... and in case you were wondering what the unretouched skyline looked like when the movie was filmed, here it is - bridge, YMCA, and all - brought closer by telephoto lens in a scene from the 1945 movie The Falcon In San Francisco.


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