The Lady From Shanghai - On The Lam - Chinese Telephone Exchange
Just around the corner from Grant at Washington was the venerable Chinese Telephone Exchange at 743 Washington (map). It opened in 1901 at which time, pre dialling, the operators had to know all of the Chinatown customers by name and address because it was considered rude to refer to a person by number. Each operator also had to speak the many dialects of Chinese spoken by the residents. It was no surprise perhaps that the original male operators were soon replaced by women, on account of their "good temper".
Then ... The charming and compact pagoda-style exchange was briefly seen in the movie during O'Hara's desperate dash along Grant Avenue. Note the name on the shop to its right, on the corner of Grant - Dupont, a throwback to Grant Avenue's previous name.
and Now ... the exchange closed in 1949 two years after the movie was filmed and since then has housed banks, including Bank of Canton and, in this recent photo, United Commercial Bank. (Update: East-West Bank is the newest tenant but the building remains unchanged). It says a lot about San Francisco's mild climate that the painted sign on the brick side wall has aged so gracefully.
Then ... Later in the movie when Elsa makes a phone call we see inside the exchange as the call goes through.
... a vintage photo ... here's the pretty Harriot Ng at work in the exchange back in 1929. Check out her chair - it's obviously still in use almost 20 years later, in the movie scene above.
... another vintage photo ... this undated photo shows the exchange in its very early days with a small bank of equipment and a handful of operators.
... a later photo ... by the time this vintage postcard photo was taken the equipment takes up the full width of the room and more and there are many more operators.
and Now ... the room may have been refigured for a bank but the same two dragons partially visible above continue to face each other on the back wall.