Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

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 ...


Born To Kill - Two meetings

Then ...  Helen wants to find out more about Marty and his relationship with Sam so she arranges to meet him in town.  Based on the window view looking east to the Bay Bridge they can only be at the Fairmont hotel atop Nob Hill.

  The same view was seen in the movie The Lady From Shanghai, below, released the same year.  From Nob Hill Sacramento Street runs down through the financial district just left of center towards the Ferry Building.

and Now ... in the Fairmont view today new highrise offices have replaced or hidden most of those buildings but the bridge is a constant and some of the foreground buildings are still there in Chinatown at bottom left.  The two tallest structures in the city are at far left (Transamerica Building) and far right (the formerly named Bank Of America Building at 555 California Street).


  Now this is interesting ...  Here's an earlier scene in the movie at the Mark Hopkins Hotel - in the window view the position of the Ferry Building tower relative to the bridge's central caisson is slightly different from the Fairmont's view (compare it to the top image), consistent with the one block separation of the two hotels.  But the waiters in each scene are wearing the same uniform (one waiter looks fatter than the other) and the potted plants are the same ones!  Clearly both scenes were filmed in the studio on the same soundstage but with different background projections setting their location.


Then ...  Helen next arranges a meeting with the detective Arnett.  She is torn; on the one hand she had tipped Arnett that Marty had visited Sam, on the other she wants to prevent Sam's arrest for murder.  They meet at a lonely spot near the Bay Bridge and once again Helen is wearing a stylish outfit (For a droll look at her wardrobe throughout this movie go here).

and Now ... This view of the bridge is from Yerba Buena Island to San Francisco glittering across the bay.  The scene took place in the studio using a background projection filmed from an access ramp alongside the bridge (map).


  Helen offers Arnett $5,000 if he drops his investigation.  Unscrupulous and wily, he first reminds her that convicted murderers in Nevada get the death penalty then demands $15,000.  She has no option but to agree.  As they part he leans over ...

"Has it occurred to you, neither of us looks like a scoundrel ... do we?"


The Exiles - Hill 'X'

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

  The bars have closed but the night is not over for the Indian community.  In a tradition known as a '49', they congregate at an out of the way spot to continue drinking, to meet old friends, to chant and to dance, to sing traditional tribal songs, to remember old times.

  A procession of cars makes its way up to the top of a hill they call Hill 'X'.  The carousers spill out and the party is on!


Then ...  In the glittering view across Los Angeles the City Hall tower, its upper portion illuminated, is the main feature at right of center and at far left is the dark outline of the downtown gasworks (click image to enlarge).

... in 1960 ...  this vintage photo shows us where they were (arrowed).  This is the Chavez Ravine hill (map) and even though this was taken only two years after the filming, the hill had already been transformed by the partially built Dodger Stadium with the Indians' former gathering spot now swallowed up by the stadium parking lot.  In the distance City Hall is dead center; the gasworks is to the left alongside the Los Angeles river.

... and Now,  in this recent aerial view the faintly visible City Hall is left of center but the gasworks is long gone.


  It doesn't take long for the music to begin.  For this shoot, director MacKenzie hired professional entertainer Eddie Sunrise, center, who was performing at Disneyland at the time.  As the night wears on everyone is drawn in by the drumming, becoming part of the singing and dancing.  Beer flows, skirmishes erupt, a good time is had by all.

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Then ...  Dawn finally breaks over the cool, grey city giving the worn-out celebrants a different, sobering view (click image to enlarge).

... and Now,  City Hall is still there but it's the towering downtown structures that now command attention from here.


  The party breaks up, people disperse and Homer and friends head for their cars to return to the real world.  Or is their real world the one they are about to leave?

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The Conversation - Harry Caul's Apartment

  Caul lived in the 3-story Sylvia Apartments at 700 Laguna Street, on the corner of Grove in the Hayes Valley section of the Western Addition (map).  Here's a recent photo of the front door.

Then ...  Caul lets himself into the apartment building.  No iron security front gate back then.

... and Now,  It's been 40 years but it's still the same old lobby.


Then ...  Upstairs on the second floor corridor he has just passed apartment 206 on his left, 208 is on our left and he is heading for his apartment at the end of the corridor, # 207, just off the right of this picture.

... and Now,  the same corridor no longer has a molding strip along the upper walls and the  light fixtures and doors and casings have been replaced.  It was a little classier then.


Then ...  CitySleuth composited several interior shots to come up with this overall panorama of Caul's apartment, created by combining apartments 206 and 207 into one unit (click image to enlarge).  The 207 entrance leads from the corridor into the apartment from the far right and the two bay windows on the left wall look out directly across Laguna.  The building seen across the street at far left was being torn down as this scene was filmed, coinciding with the tail end of the Western Addition 'urban renewal' program that saw the demolition of 2500 Victorian homes.


... and Now,  street views from interior scenes led CitySleuth to conclude that the apartment was on the second level, highlighted in red.    The building was built in 1928 and was mostly vacant when Coppola filmed the movie but it survived the demolition taking place all around it.  Birch Street intersects on the left.


Then ...  The kitchen is at the corner of the building and its west view looks across Laguna along Birch towards apartments on Buchanan Street.

... and Now,  Here's the same view today taken from street level; those same apartments in the distance are still there, the matching top story can be seen above a newer building.


Born To Kill - The Wedding

  Marty joins the other guests at Sam and Georgia's wedding, held at Georgia's home.   Helen is the Maid Of Honor but has a hard time maintaining her composure during that passionate kiss.


Then ...  While the reception is in full swing Arnett shows up.  He suspects Sam's involvement in the murder and needs evidence to back it up.

... and Now,  supposedly San Francisco but this was filmed in Southern California at the Villa Arden at 1145 Arden Road, Pasadena (map).  The house was also seen earlier in the movie.


Then ...  Arnett adopts his best hangdog expression and knocks on the door of the servant's quarters.  His plan is to feign hunger, offer to work for a meal, and find out as much as he can from the staff.

... and Now,  In this recent aerial view of the Villa Arden the arrow points to that side door.


  The housekeeper alerts Helen to the stranger asking lots of questions in the kitchen.  When she demands to see his I.D. and finds out he is a private eye checking up on Sam the audience wonders how she will react.  Will she tell her sister?  Don't hold your breath for too long, it is a film noir after all.


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