Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

The Conversation - Snooping In Union Square

Then ...  As the opening credits roll the camera slowly zooms in from on high to a crowded city plaza below.  From the get-go we feel like voyeurs.

... and Now,  this is Union Square - it was filmed from a hotel room on the top floor of the St. Francis hotel (not the tower).  CitySleuth was not able to access the room itself but obtained permission to take this photo from immediately above it on the roof.  It shows changes since the movie was filmed; the formal gardens have been swept away creating a more open space but the Dewey 'Victory' monument in the center remains the focal point.


  Surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) has been hired by a tycoon known only as The Director to spy on his young wife Ann (Cindy Williams) and her lover Mark (Frederic Forrest).  Afraid of being overheard, they meet in noisy places.  In the busy square Caul watches them as they pass by.


  He has a tough assignment - he has to record their conversation in this difficult environment.  But he's a wizard at his craft and has three hi-tech listening stations set up around the square ...

Then ...   The first is on a store rooftop on the southeast corner -  Caul has a man stationed below the sign.

... circa 1970 ...  this vintage photo shows where the City Of Paris department store was, on the corner of Geary and Stockton (map) - the sign fronted an Eiffel Tower replica on the roof.  That's the I. Magnin store at far right.

... and Now,  the City Of Paris opened in 1850 and occupied two earlier sites before moving to this premier location from 1896 until it closed in 1976.  The building was razed in 1980 to make way for a new Neiman Marcus store, still there today.  I. Magnin didn't survive either but the building did, now owned by Macy's, with a Louis Vuitton store in the corner space.


Then ...   The City Of Paris rooftop vantage point is ideal for the telescopic listening device focused directly on the mouths of the unsuspecting couple.  Across the square is the original 1904 12-story St. Francis hotel and its 32-story 1972 addition towering above it.

... and Now,  CitySleuth was unable to gain access to the Neiman Marcus rooftop so instead took this matching photo from its 4th floor Rotunda restaurant.


Then ...   Here's the spy's birds-eye view of the square.  The entrance to the underground garage on Geary Street is on the left, Post Street is across the square on the right.

... and Now, the changes made since then are readily visible in today's view including extended access from the street.  Kitty-korner across the square the Fitzhugh Building on Post Street, above, has been replaced by a Saks Fifth Avenue store, below.


Then ...   The second listening station was set up on the northwest corner of the square at an upper window of the Fitzhugh Building.  It incorporated a powerful directional microphone with an amplifier of Caul's own design.

... in 1953 ...  the 1923 building is no longer there but here's a vintage photo of it, at 384 Post Street on the corner of Powell.  When this photo was taken the ground floor housed the Robert S. Atkins store; by the time the movie was filmed it had become Roos/Atkins.  The arrow indicates the window on the 8th floor used by the snooper (map).

... and Now,  the building was demolished in 1980, so too was the City Of Paris building, creating quite a furor.  A new building housing Saks Fifth Avenue replaced it, still there now.

... a 1960s image ...  not shown in the movie, but this is the view that the snooper would have seen from the Fitzhugh Building.  Kitty-korner across the square is the City Of Paris building where the other snooper was.

... and Now,  on a recent visit to Saks CitySleuth captured the Yuletide spirit in Union Square complete with ice skaters enjoying a balmy California winter's day.


Then ...   As added insurance Caul had a third listener trailing the couple carrying a brown paper bag stuffed with state-of -the-art audio sensors.  The signals from all three stations fed wirelessly to Caul's recording devices in this truck parked on Geary at Stockton (watch the snoopers at work here).

... and Now,  pure coincidence but snoopers of the modern kind (traffic wardens) have parked in the same spot.  Neiman Marcus retained the dramatic City Of Paris rotunda within its new building and each year they place a huge Christmas tree there, visible through the window on the left (click image to enlarge).


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