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.