Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

Walk A Crooked Mile - Expendable

Then … The FBI agents follow communist sympathizer Radchek to a house in the Hayes Valley/Lower Haight district where he has rented a room in a Victorian Italianate building with three identical side-by-side units - 151, 153 and 155 Octavia Street bordering Rose Street (map).

and Now, that building has been torn down, replaced as has so often happened with a contemporary structure, 200 Rose Street, contributing no architectural interest whatsoever. Because of its ground floor garages this is one of the thousands of so-called ‘soft’ structures in San Francisco that are vulnerable to the next big earthquake unlike the extant solidly magnificent Victorians next to it across Rose Street.


Radchek climbs the middle set of stairs. Later he tells a contact that he is staying at “153 Octavia Street, 2nd floor front” which is the correct and precise address; most unusual for a film script not to use a fictitious address, even back then.

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Then … Ahead, Page street crosses in this view down Octavia from the newel post of the staircase above and that’s the Page Street Market on the corner at 198 Page.

Later … this 1991 view across Page and down Octavia shows dramatic changes. By 1959 the double-decker Central Freeway had been built after widening Octavia by razing several blocks of houses on its east side. The Page Mill Market would have been under the freeway at the right edge of this photo.

and Now, another dramatic change! The freeway, damaged in the 1989 earthquake, was closed in 1996 and torn down in the early 2000’s, transforming Octavia into a wide, tree-lined road free of concrete blight.


O’Hara wiretaps Radchek’s phone and hears him speak to a contact - ‘Igor’. Not much to go on, but a definite lead.

Shortly afterwards they find, apparently deemed expendable by his contacts, Radchek’s murdered body in his room. The search for the FBI agent’s killer goes on.


The Midnight Story - Opening Credits

The movie opens with a murder scene in a dark alley, most likely filmed on a Universal Studios back lot. A catholic priest, Father Tomasino, is walking along a dark lane; he hears his name called then is collared from behind and summarily dispatched with a knife.

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Then … While the opening credits roll a responding police car is shown driving through different parts of the city. Here, the camera pans down from a church spire.

… and Now, this is All-Hallows Chapel at 1440 Newhall Street in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood looking just as the movie showed it over 60 years ago (map).


Then … the camera pans away from the spire until it points down the street.

and Now, this view looks north along Newhall Street from Palou Avenue. The large structures that dominate in the distance are the Port of San Francisco’s Pier 92 grain silos, erected in 1918 alongside Islais Creek but shut down after the 1989 earthquake.

As an interesting aside, the tall circulation tower attached to the silos was beautified in 2014 by the Port by way of a public arts project representing the neighborhood’s economy, ecology, and community. The eye-catching installation, prominently visible to all entering and leaving the city on the nearby elevated 280 freeway, continues to be a colorful gateway to the struggling Bayview neighborhood.


Then … the credits continue, now with a view of the Bay Bridge, making it clear the story is set in San Francisco.

and Now, looking east across Fremont along Harrison Street (map). The rapid modernization of this SOMA/Rincon Hill area has yet to swallow up the building at left on the Fremont corner.


Then … In this shot we see, on the right, the sign of the upscale Blue Fox Cafe, one of the city’s most famous restaurants spanning a 51 year period from 1942 to 1993. Many celebrities dined there including Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. Joan Crawford kept her own case of vodka there (perhaps inspired by Alfred Hitchcock who kept a private stash of wine at Ernie’s Restaurant, or was it the other way around?).

and Now, this is Merchant Street between Montgomery and Kearny at Portsmouth Square (map), where a Hilton hotel has long since replaced the old Hall of Justice that was on the left side, above. There is no longer a view down to the Bay from here unlike in the movie image: it’s blocked by the Transamerica Pyramid at Kearny and if that wasn’t there, by the Embarcadero Center farther down. The Blue Fox was at 359 Merchant; Alfred’s Steak House is the current occupant.

Citysleuth found this image in a 1956 travelogue. It’s the same sign as the one seen in the Then image above, positioned at the same spot where the vertical Alfred’s sign is now, next to the protruding iron balcony.

Walk A Crooked Mile - Bus Ride

The search for the FBI agent’s killer is on. When O’Hara hears that Anton Radchek, a communist sympathizer seen hanging around Lakeview, has bought a bus ticket to San Francisco, he decides to tail him there hoping he might lead him to bigger fish.

Then … The bus approaches San Francisco, interestingly seen here on Yerba Buena Island looking down on the western span of the Bay Bridge (map). Was there a bus service back in the 1940s from Southern California to San Francisco that traveled via Oakland with a stop on Yerba Buena Island? Or was this simply directorial artifice to include a scenic city approach in the movie?

… and Now, viewed from that same stretch of road. The new Salesforce Tower at far right, over 1000 feet tall, now dominates the San Francisco skyline.


Then … They take the access road onto the bridge towards San Francisco. Just 12 years old when this was filmed, the bridge at that time had two-way auto traffic on the upper deck while autos and trains shared the lower deck.

… and Now, the bridge today is auto only: the upper deck is one-way west and the lower deck one-way east.

Here’s a vintage photo of the one of the trains on the lower deck. They were part of the Key System, a privately owned company. The rail service was discontinued in 1958.

In this 1946 photo of a State Belt Railroad diesel train, one of many used to shuttle goods along the Embarcadero, a lower deck train is seen passing by on the bridge.


Then … Back to the story - looking out from the bus we see part of Yerba Buena and Treasure Island on the right with Angel Island on the left.

… and Now, it’s just the same 70 years later.


Then … As they approach the city shoreline O’Hara has a view of piers aligned along the Embarcadero as well as Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill. The Ferry Building is just out of view beyond the left side of the image.

… and Now, these piers to the north of the Ferry Building, the odd-numbered ones, are mostly still there - unlike their even-numbered counterparts to the south, many of which have not survived.

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Then … The bus heads to the terminal via the first San Francisco exit, signposted to Fifth and First Streets. (CitySleuth is curious as to the purpose of that kiosk).

… and Now, the same exit today has been rebuilt and widened and is now signposted to Fremont and Folsom Streets.


From the bus terminal the suspect takes a cab to a rooming house in an older section of the city (to be revealed in the next post).


Walk A Crooked Mile - Red Scare

Walk A Crooked Mile is a communist-spy-hunt thriller filmed during the post-war red scare era. It is mostly set in San Francisco but it begins in Southern California …

Then … As the movie opens, a narrator (Reed Hadley) intones in a stern authoritarian delivery meant to deter all of us from ever breaking the law. His stentorian cadence informs us that this is Lakeview, California. (Note the Thomas College sign across the street which threw CitySleuth off in hunting down this place until fellow location sleuth John Bengtson I.D.’d it for him).

… and Now, Lakeview was a fictitious name; this was actually filmed looking north on Brand Boulevard between Broadway and Wilson Avenue in the central business district of Glendale, California (map). In this shot only the end building down the block on the right on the Wilson Avenue corner has survived as it was.

… a vintage photo … here’s a photo of the same block taken in the same decade. It reveals that the Thomas College sign in the movie view referred to a beauty college, not to an establishment of higher education. The wide thoroughfare accommodated the Pacific Electric Red Car trolley lines that passed through town since 1902. Here, car number 667 is seen heading toward its subway terminal destination in downtown Los Angeles.

Sadly the rapid growth of automobiles and freeways brought about a decision to close down this efficient mass transportation system. Dumb, in retrospect. The iconic cars ended up on the scrap heap, literally so in this 1961 image.


The narrator next introduces us to the Lakeview Research Laboratory of Nuclear Physics , a top-secret government facility where each worker “must be first an American of proven loyalty”. A view of the entrance and another in the opposite direction are seen, shown below.

CitySleuth is still searching for this location. It looks like an energy plant of some kind. So far he has drawn blanks with the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power and with Southern California Edison, both of whom ran many energy plants in the 1940s. Any suggestions, dear readers?


Then … The voiceover continues over a shot of the recently built (1940) Los Angeles Federal Courthouse and Post Office, telling us that the task of guarding projects at such top-secret facilities is entrusted to the FBI. In an timely coincidence, shortly after this movie was filmed, the House Un-American Activities Committee met here to gather information on Hollywood personalities suspected of Communist involvement.

… and Now, the building is still there, at at 312 N. Spring Street (map), now used as a County Superior Courthouse. Farther south down the road is the Art Deco styled City Hall .


And finally we are introduced to the special agent in charge of the Lakeview security detail, Daniel F. O’Hara (Dennis O’Keefe). We are assured that he works long after regular hours, night after night, vetting anyone connected to the LakeView Research Laboratory, especially those with a suspicious past.


Then … During a call from one of his agents tailing a known communist party member he hears shots fired, and races through the city, here passing an auto dealer, only to find the agent has been shot point blank in the telephone booth. Killing an FBI agent? This is serious stuff.

The 1940 Los Angeles city directory provided two locations for this auto dealer of which the 1220 - 1234 S. Figueroa address is the one seen in the movie.

… and Now, the auto dealer is long gone and a modern building with a parking garage sits on the site. On the other hand the building farther down the block appears to be the original. Note too the absence of the tram tracks. All too familiar in many cities today, what once was a bustling downtown street is now a lonely shadow of its former self.


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