Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

Filtering by Tag: Castro

I Remember Mama - Aunt Trina Gets Engaged

    Aunt Trina, Mama's youngest sister and as meek as they come, surprises the family by announcing she wants to marry and has found her man, Mr. Thorkelson.  He is as timid as she and the fact that he is the local undertaker causes no small amount of mirth amongst some in the family.  But first in accordance with Norwegian tradition Aunt Trina needs the approval of the head of the family, Uncle Chris.

Then ...  Trina and her two other sisters take a cable car to Mama's house to meet Uncle Chris.  On the way they are joined by Mr. Thorkelson.

... and Now,  this is Hyde Street looking north from Chestnut with Alcatraz and Angel Island in the distance (map).  In 1950, two years after the movie was released, half of the city's cable car lines were discontinued but this one survived, albeit with a revised route.  Then in the 1980s all tracks and cables citywide were dug up and replaced but that manhole cover in the foreground is still there.  Other than changes at Hyde Street Pier on the waterfront this cable car cresting the hill creates a deja vu moment almost 70 years later.


    On the cable car Aunt Sigrid (Edith Evanson), on the left, and Aunt Jenny (Hope Landin)  urge Mr. Thorkelson (Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, the father of Candice Bergen) to be firm and ask Uncle Chris for a dowry for Aunt Trina (Ellen Corby) , far right.  This closeup and others in the movie were filmed at RKO's studio using a cable car leased from San Francisco's California Street Cable Railroad.

... on the set ...    The car that Cal Cable sent to RKO Studios was a short Jones Street shuttle car, number 61.  RKO repainted it and retained its destination sign "O'Farrell, Jones & Hyde Streets" but renumbered it 62 to match the real cable car in the movie (the one in the Then image above).  Here's a promo still of Irene Dunne (Mama) on the cable car speaking with director George Stevens during a break in filming.

... and Now,  after San Francisco's Muni took over Cal Cable in 1954 they motorized this car, retained the number 62 and re-signed it "Van Ness Ave, California & Market Streets".  It's used for special events and bell-ringing competitions and so is still occasionally seen roaming the city streets; here it is on Mason crossing Green.

    Trivia time - what happened to Muni's original car number 62?  In 1959 it was renumbered 61, motorized and shipped to Osaka, Japan where it has been on display ever since in its Transportation Museum (below, with a photo behind it of San Francisco with Alcatraz and Angel Island in the distance).


Then ...  They all march up Mama's street with the oldest, Aunt Jenny, setting the pace.  Note the hitching post, a common sidewalk sight in 1910 when horse-drawn carts shared the streets with early automobiles.

... and Now,  this location shot was filmed on Liberty Street, also seen earlier in the movie.  These three houses are, from left to right, numbers 521, 525 and 529.  All three homes were built in 1900 but 529, on the right, has remained closest to the original.


    When they arrive at Mama's house (filmed on the RKO studio backlot) they are shocked to see that Uncle Chris has brought along his 'housekeeper', who everyone knows he has been living with for years.


    It's good news, bad news for Aunt Trina when Uncle Chris (Oscar Homolka, the only cast member of the earlier Broadway play to appear in the movie) consents to the marriage but loudly assails the hapless suitor at the very mention of a dowry. 


I Remember Mama - Mama's House

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 up Liberty Street from Noe.  The steps leading up to the elevated 400 block of Liberty Street provided a convenient spot for the camera that filmed the movie 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.


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