More talking to celebrities around San Francisco (Thumbnail Images)

“Joan Crawford and Jack Palance up here on Russian Hill! What are you looking for with the binoculars, Ms. Crawford?”

“I’m looking for my daughter. She gives me more trouble.”

“I guess so, but after you’re gone, she’ll remember you fondly.”

“I hope so!”

(Vintage picture,

“Grouch Marx, here in front of the St. Francis Hotel! Are those your, mmmm, daughters?”

“No, they’re not my daughters, young man, and I’ll thank you to keep your innuendos to yourself. Speaking of innuendos, when I left my daughter in her hotel room earlier, I told her that when I went out through her door, I didn’t want any gentlemen visitors sneaking innuendo! Get it, innuendo, in your window?”

“I get it, but that might not be one of your funnier routines, Groucho.”

(SF Chronicle)


“Wow, Alfred Hitchcock and Herb Caen here in Union Square! Hello, you guys!”

“Good evening!”

“No, Mr. Hitchcock, it’s daytime. Say, you two look like you really have a struggle on your hands! You both must be pooped.”

“Puns like that aren’t going to make it into my column, fellow”

“Sorry, that wasn’t intentional, Mr. Caen.”


“Robert Vaughn! It looks like you’re filming a movie scene up here on Nob Hill in front of Grace Cathedral”

“Yes, and all of these extras and technicians are getting in my way. I’d rather go it Solo……. “Solo”, you’re not laughing!”

“Sorry, Mr. Vaughn, I didn’t get it at first.”



“Abbott and Costello, here on Powell Street across from Union Square! What are you guys up to?”

“We were thinking of checking into the St. Francis Hotel. Who’s the manager?”

“I don’t know!”

“No, he’s on third base.”

“Boy, I stepped right into that, didn’t I?”

(San Francisco Remembered Facebook page)


“Willie Mays! Welcome to San Francisco!”

“Say hey!”

“Hey! I hope that your baseball career will be as exciting in San Francisco as it was when you were in New York.”

“Say hey!”

“Hey! Why do you keep asking me to say that?”



“Mime artists, Lorene Yarnell and Robert Shields! Nice to see you two! How are you?”

“They’re doing fine!”

“Oh, well thank you, but I was talking to them. What are you two doing here in Union Square?”

“They’re getting married.”

“Thank you again, but I was talking to them! Congratulations! I hope you’ll both be very happy!”

“Thank you! They will be.”

“Excuse me, but can’t they speak for themselves?”

(SF Chronicle)








Want to see some watercolor paintings?

A gentleman named Thomas Little posted a series of terrific pictures on the San Francisco Remembered Facebook page of old watercolor paintings that are on the wall of the Fairmont Hotel lower lobby. When I went to the Fairmont last Saturday to check them out, a pretty receptionist at the door informed me that only people with reservations at the hotel were being allowed in at this time. I think I could have bribed my way past her, but she also said that there were no watercolor paintings in the Fairmont Hotel Lobby. One of us is goofy, Thomas, the pretty receptionist, or me; I’ll give the nod to the pretty receptionist who may be new on the job, and try again when things settle down. The artist identified in most of the watercolors is James March Phillips, but I don’t know if he painted all of them. James March Phillips died in 1981, and the paintings appear to be from the 1950s. Here are real life updates of some of the paintings that Mr. Little posted. (Thumbnail pictures)

Looking into the heart of Chinatown from the corner of Grant Avenue and Pine Street:

The view from Pioneer Park behind Coit Tower: Can’t see too much from here anymore.


San Francisco Bay looking toward Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands: My ship’s bigger!

I can’t leave out the Cliff House, seen from Sutro Heights. The view from the actual spot where the painting was made is blocked by trees now.

Looking down Hyde Street toward Alcatraz and Angel Islands:


Looking down Market Street from Stockton Street on the left, and 4th Street on the right: Many of the buildings in the painting are still around, the small white building on the corner of Stockton Street, the Phelan Building behind it, the old gothic looking Mutual Savings Bank Building, and across Market Street are the Call Building and the old Humboldt Building, just peeking out between two newer buildings.


Market Street at Powell Street: It’s a nice gesture, but flowers on crooked poles do not a cable car turnaround make without cable cars.

Looking down California Street from near Stockton Street: In fairness to me, and I’m all for that, I’m not always off-angle; sometimes the artist took an artistic license with the paintings; California Street does not veer to the right past Grant Avenue from here.


Also, one doesn’t leave the Ferry Building out. And you thought I was going to!

Updates, of lates, and can’t waits

This is a collection of some comparison pictures I’ve done in the past that I redid, some new ones that I’ve taken of late, and some wishful thinking. (Thumbnail images)


Geary Blvd. at Stockton Street in 1950: The crowds are starting to explore Downtown San Francisco again. I can’t wait for the “Black Friday” shopping crowds again! Wait, did I write that? (


It was a lot more crowded in Maiden Lane in 1955 than it was last weekend. I’m not sure what was going on in Maiden Lane when the vintage picture was taken, but I suspect it was a Godzilla alert. (SF Chronicle)

The above two vintage photos from the San Francisco Theaters Blog are looking down California Street from near Mason. I think the San Francisco Theaters blog may have gotten the one in color from On the left is the old Nob Hill Theater, not to be confused with the Nob Hill Theater on Bush Street that just closed in 2018. The Nob Hill Theater in the Fairmont Hotel opened in 1944 and closed in 1964. I never made it to this one, but I sure do miss going to the movies nowadays. There’s a movie theater in Castro Valley that I’ve been going to since I was 10! I sure hope it survives. I can’t wait to see the new James Bond movie.


Looking back up California Street toward the Nob Hill Theater in another vintage picture from the San Francisco Theaters Blog: ‘KATH HEPBURN’; they needed a bigger marquee, you don’t short-change a lady like that.

They’ve been parking cable cars at the end of some of the boarding locations recently for photo ops. It’s a step in the right direction, but I can’t wait until they start rolling again. It was nice of these two fellows to pose for me at the cable car turnaround at Powell and Market Streets last Saturday. (Vintage photo,

Speaking of cable cars, the above vintage photo is a wonderful picture by Andreas Feininger looking down Jones Street from California Street in 1942. Those are the tracks from the old Jones Street cable car line that was discontinued in the late 1950s.


A few years back, a friend of mine named Nora asked me if I could locate where this picture of her mom and dad in San Francisco in the 1940s had been taken. She remembered her mother telling her the photo was taken in San Francisco, but not where. Nora sent me the picture, and it wasn’t too difficult to identify where they were. The movie theater behind them probably placed them on Market Street, but the Weinstein Department Store sign in the back ground between the two of them nailed it down to Market Street between 6th and 7th Streets. I did a then and now comparison for Nora and she was delighted. Of course, I didn’t let on to her that my quest was easy; I rather intimated that my search to find the location took the skills of a combination of Albert Einstein and Sherlock Holmes to find the spot, but I don’t think I fooled Nora. I wasn’t happy with the original comparison picture I took for Nora a few years ago, so I did a redo for her last Saturday. Weinstocks was in the blue building left center in the modern picture.


The vintage picture above refers to safety slackers in front to the Ferry Building during the 1918/1919 Spanish Flu epidemic. The fellow on the left has a mask on, so there was probably more going on here than meets the eye. (Redditt)

“I have a mask on! Why am I under arrest?”

“Because you stole this other fellow’s mask!”

“Well, then why is he under arrest?”

“Because he doesn’t have a mask on!”

The Halloween that won’t be

I love San Francisco during Halloween time. Vampires prowl Nob Hill, witches turn up everywhere around town, and you can find yourself wondering if some of the old houses in San Francisco rumored to be haunted just might be! For many past October 31sts I’ve gone over to San Francisco to get into a Halloween feeling before heading home to deal with the little extortionists knocking on my door after dark. I learn what’s in with kids and what’s not anymore from the costumes they wear each year. Sadly, people who enjoy the Halloween routines in October, like me, will miss that this year. These are few Halloween time photos I’ve posted during past Halloween seasons, complete with ghosts, witches, and a few haunted houses. I’ll also include a few Halloween events I’ve attended, and a few I may not have enjoyed had I have gone. (Thumbnail images)

We’ll start out at the old Armory on Mission Street between 14th and 15th Streets. This “fortress” was constructed just before World War One as an arsenal. The October I did my comparison picture here, a fright show exhibit called ‘Inferno’ ran through October as a Halloween attraction. The young lady who was working for me at the time went to experience it and told that it was horrifying to the point of being repulsive! That was good enough for me to be glad I missed out on that.

Two Halloweens ago, what might have been a similar attraction to the previous one was on display in the old Mint Building on 5th and Mission Streets call the ‘Terror Vault’. I didn’t go to that either; not because I was afraid, I can face anything if I have enough Xanax, I just wasn’t in the mood, and that sounded like something you really had to be in the mood for.

The top comparison pictures are on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Hornet, docked in Alameda,  in April of 1945 and several Octobers ago during Fleet Week. (Fleet Week is another October tradition cancelled this year)

One of the best Halloween parties that I have attended several times is the “Monster’s Ball” on board the Hornet, one of the best public Halloween gatherings in the Bay Area.

Now we’ll get to the witches, and there are plenty of them casting spells around San Francisco during October, like these two at the Embarcadero Center in October of 1989. My comparison picture was in October of 2018.

Also in October of 2018 was a comparison photo I did of a witch with a very long….. something, hanging out on the building where the old San Francisco Academy of Art University on Sutter Street used to be. I couldn’t get a date on the old SF Chronicle picture.

You’ll see plenty of ghosts around town too. This was a picture I took looking through the Pier 43 Arch in 2015. I still can’t figure out why I didn’t see her when I took the picture.

Let’s move on to a few old houses rumored to be haunted. Like this house on the corner of Fulton and Scott Streets at the northwest corner of Alamo Square. I don’t know if it’s haunted or not, but it should be.

The old mansion On California Street once owned by Gertrude Atherton is supposed to be haunted, as well. Hmm, there she is again!


If the old Laguna Mansion at Laguna and Jackson Streets in Pacific Heights is haunted, as is said to be, It would be haunted by the ghosts of old spies. There were many of them lurking around this house when it was the German Consulate just before World War Two broke out.


A spooky looking orange Ferry Building just before Halloween in 2010: The orange fits in good for the occasion, but it was for the San Francisco Giants who were only a few days away from winning their first World Series championship.

The San Francisco Kinetoscope Parlor near 8th and Market St. circa 1900. The kinetoscope arcade attraction invented by either Thomas Edison or Louis Le Prince, depending on which country you’re from, is a one person attraction where the viewer looks down into a glass scope to watch a moving picture. There are still several working kinetoscopes on display at the Musée Mécanique Arcade in Pier 45 at Fisherman’s Wharf, closed at this time because of the COVID 19 Pandemic. However, what I like best when I go there, especially at Halloween, is taking on Uncle Fester from the Addams Family in the 3000 volt challenge, which isn’t as easy as it seems when this thing is operating correctly. (Museum of Modern Art Film Library)

The haunts of a white-collar worker (Thumbnail images)

I’ve been staying in the East Bay Area for the past week or so, and haven’t been able to get over to San Francisco for awhile. Mostly, this is because the October 15th income tax deadline for those who filed an extension in July and who told me that they wouldn’t wait until October to file, are waiting until October to file! There’s nothing wrong with that; I haven’t filed my tax return yet, either. These are comparison photos taken in the two cities that I’ve worked in the most during my life, Oakland and Hayward, California. I’ll start in Oakland.


The following vintage pictures of Downtown Oakland are from the Downtown Oakland Property Collection: I spent most of my twenties in life working at this building on the corner of 12th Street and Broadway; the Bank of America Oakland Main Office, ‘OMO’ as it was referred to back then. Although Oakland had its issues then as it does today, I remember this area as being a fun place to be young in, and some of the happiest and romantic days of my life were spent in and around this building. It’s still a bank building today, Comerica Bank, which didn’t have any branches in the area back when I worked there. When I was employed there the building was owned by Robert Lurie, who was at that time the owner of the San Francisco Giants.


This is one block up at 13th and Broadway. The blue building in the center, which was on the corner of 14th and Broadway, was the Bank of California Building once. On the ground floor of the Bank of California Building was Smith’s Men’s Store. I remember buying a stylish suit at Smith’s about the third year after I started working for Bank of America that looked like something Rhett Butler would have worn if he would have around in the 1970s. Shortly after buying the suit, I was passing by Smith’s again while wearing it, and there was a panhandler on the corner who I ignored, as most people did back then. As I walked past him he yelled to me loudly, “Damn! Where’d you cop that bad-ass suit?” That was one the best compliments I’ve ever had in my life! I think I gave him five bucks!


This one is kind of special to me. I bought my very first suit the second year after I started working for the bank here at Bond Clothes. I was dating a teller named Melodie at the time who helped me pick the suit out. In fact, the little rascal insisted on going into the dressing room with me while I tried it on. Hey, I was young once too. After the renovation to the area, I wasn’t able to locate exactly where Bond Clothes used to be until I found this picture. Also, I still have that suit and can still get into it if I hold my breath deep enough. I’ll keep it for the rest of my life.


This is looking back toward 14th Street across Broadway from Bond Clothes at 15th Street. Downtown Oakland didn’t really look a lot different from these vintage pictures two decades later when I started working in the area.


This is looking back toward the Bank of America Building along 12th from Franklin Street. ‘OMO’ was really a fun building to work in. It had a rickety old elevator that ran four floors from the basement to the third floor. You could stop the elevator between floors by sliding open the crisscross metal door to catch a few kisses, if you were riding with the right company, before heading on to your floor.


About ten miles south of Oakland is Hayward. My father started his income tax practice in Downtown Hayward in 1960, and I continued running the business after his death in 1993. Hayward is where I do all of my income tax and bookkeeping work, edit the posts for my San Francisco photography website, and occasionally sleep with my feet up on the desk. The top vintage picture is Foothill Blvd near A Street looking north in the 1950s. This is about two blocks from where my dad’s income tax practice originally opened. This was once a bustling shopping area before the opening of the Southland Mall in the early 1960s, which eventually put all of the department stores in the vintage picture out of business.


This is Foothill Blvd., looking south from the previous picture around the same time. Joseph Magnin, Milens Jewelers, Lewis Carpets, Bond Clothes, Smith’s, and all the rest, were doomed when the Southland Mall opened. (Hayward Area Historical Society)


‘Bullitt’ showing at the old Ritz Theater on Mission Blvd: I’ll bet that that’s where I saw ‘Bullitt’ for the first time. The Ritz Theater would eventually become a porn theater before it was demolished. (


The southeast corner of B Street and Mission Blvd long ago: Scenes were filmed at this corner in 1972 for the 1973 film ‘Steelyard Blues’, starring Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. (Pinterest / T.J. Soares)


Donald Sutherland chases Jane Fonda along Mission Blvd. to the corner of B Street, seen in the previous picture, past what is now called the Eden Loan Company in 1973’s ‘Steelyard Blues’.


The old City Hall on Mission Blvd. empty for over 40 years:  Too bad they can’t find a way to reuse this fine old building. It’s sitting right on the Hayward Fault and isn’t worth renovating, I guess. One of my older brothers got tossed into jail here overnight for too much partying. He told me that the cell they had in the basement wasn’t any bigger than the one Andy and Barney used to always toss Otis into in ‘Andy of Mayberry’. (Hayward Area Historical Society)


A Hayward landmark, “Big Mike” stood at this location on Mission Blvd. where a car wash used to operate for years. (Wikimedia Commons)














“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes” (Thumbnail images)

San Francisco has changed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic more than it has since the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, unless you count the 1960s skyscraper boom, and I’ll try to ignore that. When I write about changes in San Francisco, it’s actually worldwide, but since I haven’t been out of the Bay Area since the shelter-in-place order was issued in March, I’ll keep it local and respect the fact that this is only a small portion of the impact and problems effecting the whole world. This collection concerns some of the changes in San Francisco since the pandemic and some of the city’s prospects. Also, I’ll cover some of the places and things that will survive, and others that haven’t or may not.


The southern side of Union Square in 1943, and one of two entrance and exits today to the parking garage: Although things are picking up, you’re still not going to have much trouble finding parking space in San Francisco’s most famous parking garage. Herb Caen once referred to people who had hopes of finding a parking space here during a busy day downtown as a “Sorry, full lot.” (, lobsterclaws)


Across Powell Street from Union Square and the northern side of the St. Francis Hotel in 1955: The hotel industry in San Francisco has been devastated by COVID-19, and some projections for a full recovery extend as far as 2025, and beyond. My picture is a little more wide angled than the vintage picture, but it’s probably for the best. (


One of the things I miss the most is the F Line of vintage streetcars that run along Market Street and the Embarcadero; seen here in front of the Ferry Building, and compared to a vintage picture in the 1930s from the Charles Smallwood collection. Like the cable cars, they still run these streetcars in practice occasionally, so they’ll be back some day.


There’s even talk of the Cliff House closing forever, which I do not for one minute believe! This vintage picture of the Cliff House is one of the earliest I’ve seen and probably goes back to the 1860s. (SF Chronicle / SF Gate)


One thing that didn’t survive, and I’ll always miss it, is the Louis Restaurant, just up from the Cliff House. Louis’s had been around since 1937, and was standard routine for me when showing out-of-town visitors around San Francisco. The vintage picture was taken in 1966 during the fire that destroyed the Sutro Bathhouse next to Louis Restaurant.


The World War Two Liberty Ship, the Jeremiah O’Brien, was moved from Pier 45 to Pier 35 last May after the fire that destroyed part of Pier 45. Lonely and mostly empty today, there’s talk that she may move back to Pier 45 as early as September, and like the F Line of Streetcars, I’m rooting for that too.


And what about Chinatown? The 1906 Earthquake and Fire destroyed every single building in Chinatown. Chinese were not particularly popular at the time, and there was talk of relocating the district down to today’s Bayview Area. Chinatown quickly built two pagoda style buildings at the intersection of California Street and Grant Avenue, (then called Dupont Street) the Sing Fat Building, seen here in the 1920s, and the Trademark Building across California Street. The Chinese citizens made it clear that they weren’t going anywhere. (, girlcat)


Unless it’s eaten again by a giant octopus, the Ferry Building, San Francisco’s “grande dame” will survive COVID-19. The Farmers’ Market is thriving on weekends, and people are shopping in the building once again. (



Baseball is back in San Francisco, but “far from the maddening crowd” and the Giants aren’t doing much better than they did last year. The first two photos  I took looking across McCovey Cove on October 26th 2014 before the 5th game of the World Series. The Giants won that game and went on to win the 2014 World Series, one of the most exciting ‘Fall Classic’ ever played. The second two pictures  were taken last week, September 16th just before the start of a night game against Seattle that was moved to San Francisco because of bad air quality around Seattle. The Giants won that game too.


So, I guess if it can come back from Godzilla, San Francisco will be back to normal someday after COVID-19. The crowned building in the center of the vintage picture was the Call Building in 1900; at that time the tallest building in San Francisco. The Call Building survived the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. In the late 1930s, the crown was removed and the building was remodeled. It’s the white and brown striped building in the center of my picture. (, cat’s paw prints)










Noir Sunday (Thumbnail images)

One of the television channels I’m able to get at home shows film noir movies Sunday nights under the title ‘Sunday Night Noir’. In fact, there’ll probably be a couple for me to screen tonight. To get in the mood, I’ll post  a collection of film noir movies set in San Francisco that I’ve done comparisons on. So, wait until it’s dark, grab a bottle of hooch, keep a “roscoe” handy, be wary of any femme fatales, and check out my post. Some of the DVDs I used haven’t been fully restored, but they’re clear enough, and they may spark your interest in the movies if you haven’t seen any of them yet. (Movie posters, Wikipedia,,



‘Red Light’, from 1949 starring George Raft and Virginia Mayo, was a movie I just recently saw on ‘Sunday Night Noir’. Any movie that opens up driving out of the Yerba Buena Tunnel onto the Bay Bridge can’t be all bad, and this one isn’t, although the religious motif is seldom used in movies today.


Elisha Cook Jr. arrives at the Ferry Building on a mission to kill in the 1947 film ‘Born to Kill’, also starring Laurence Tierney and Claire Trevor. Ferry service to the Ferry Building has been considerably reduced since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.

Shady detective Walter Slezak crosses the Embarcadero from Market Street to leave San Francisco by ferryboat after reading in the paper of the violent deaths of the people he was investigating at the end of ‘Born to Kill’. “The way of the transgressor is hard.” he quotes from the bible as he leaves. My picture may have been better without the F Line streetcar in it, but now that they aren’t running I miss them and it’s okay.


The opening scenes from the 1950 movie ‘Experiment Alcatraz start with a view of the skyline and piers south of the Ferry Building from under the Bay Bridge. All of these piers have been demolished now. This is an interesting oddity about an experiment by the army with convicts from Alcatraz Prison that goes wrong.


“Speedy’s” Market, just visible on the left, on Union and Montgomery Streets in the 1951 film ‘The House on Telegraph Hill’ starring Richard Basehart, Valentina Cortese, and William Lundigan: I’ve posted this before, but I’m reading another one of Herb Caen’s wonderful books, ‘One Man’s San Francisco’ from 1976, and he has an interesting passage about Speedy’s, that made me miss the tiny market, which closed in 2007 after ninety years. I’ll include his passage below.

{Also that day, playwright Lillian Hellman, who wrote The Little Foxes among other classics, walked into Speedy’s old grocery on Telegraph Hill, another timeless landmark on the Saroyan map. She had just moved into a nearby penthouse (she was lecturing at UC-Berkeley at that time) and wanted to establish credit. “You’ll have to fill out the usual form.” said George Atashkarian, the Armenian who owns Speedy’s. “But I’m Lillian Hellman,” protested the playwright. “That doesn’t mean too much to me,” said George. “Look, I’m George Atashkarian, does that mean anything to you? “No,” said Miss Hellman. “I see what you mean.” She trudged back to her digs and returned with a clipping of a newspaper interview with her picture. She got the credit. And the clipping is now tacked to the wall of Speedy’s.}


Edmond O’Brien crosses the intersection of Jones and Sacramento Streets on Nob Hill and stumbles into a medical clinic after learning that he’s been poisoned in the 1950 film ‘D.O.A.’. Grace Cathedral is in the background.


 The view down California Street past the Fairmont Hotel in the 1949 film ‘Impact’ starring Brian Donlevy and Ella Raines:


 The same view as the previous picture but in the middle of California Street (you get a clearer view of the Cirque Room at the Fairmont Hotel, as well) from the 1958 movie ‘The Lineup’ starring Eli Wallach:

Also from ‘The Lineup’, the entrance to Sutro’s Museum, and the best look on film of the old Sutro Bathhouse: The car parking in front of the bus contains killer Eli Wallach, his partner Robert Keith, and a woman and child that they’ve kidnapped.


Glenn Ford, being chased by the police, turns into Genoa Place from Union Street in the 1949 film ‘Mr. Soft Touch’. You get a better view of Russian Hill in the background from out in the street here today.


An auto containing lovely Joan Bennett races to the end of Pier 4 in the 1940 movie ‘The House Across the Bay’. This was not the same Pier 4 that was south of the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. In the background are the Maritime Museum, Ghirardelli Square, and Aquatic Park. You can see the curve of the Van Ness Municipal Pier behind Pier 4 in the background of the film shot. Pier 4 has been deemed unsafe and is off limits now. I took my photo from the Van Ness Pier.

In the previous picture, Joan Bennett was hurrying to say goodbye to her lover George Raft on Pier 4, who was being taken by boat to Alcatraz Prison. She was late and missed to boat. Because the pier is closed, I took my picture at the beginning of the pier, looking out to where Joan was standing. This was the pier where convicts and visitors were taken by boat out to Alcatraz Island. The building on the left was where prisoners waited under armed guard for the boat that would take them out for their stretch. It’s an historic area of San Francisco and I hope the old pier can be saved.














Nineteenth Century views from “Nabob” Hill (Thumbnail images)

The origin of the word nabob come from the early 17th Century and refers to individuals who returned to England from India after acquiring a fortune from there. In San Francisco, the word had a slightly derogatory usage referring to the “snobbish” upper class citizens living in opulence up on “Nabob” Hill. By the mid 19th Century, the hill official became Nob Hill, which is probably better than Nabob Hill. Today, it still has the aura of the well-to-do, but unlike Pacific Heights, much of the hill is open to the public. These are a collection of pictures from the mid to late 19th Century showing different views from “Nabob” Hill, most of which are still breathtaking today. We’ll start at Jones Street and end up on Stockton Street

Clay Street, looking east from Jones Street in 1875: Yerba Buena Island can be seen on the left in the vintage picture. (

Mason Street, up from Clay Street, in 1865: Angel Island is in the distance, Russian Hill is on the left. I wonder what that structure on top of Russian Hill was. Maybe that’s where they got the idea for Lombard Street. (

The Mark Hopkins mansion on the corner of Mason and California Streets: By nature, I’m inclined to think that nobody ever needed a house that big. (SF Chronicle)

“Hey, kids! Why don’t you go play in some other room of the house, huh?”

“Which one? We have 75 of them!”

The view past the Hopkins mansion, south down Mason Street, circa 1888: (

Looking east down Sacramento Street from Powell Street in 1865: Arnold Genthe would later take one of the greatest pictures in photographic history from this spot in 1906 during the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. (

Looking southeast down California Street from Mason Street in 1870: The church at the bottom of the hill was named Grace Church. It was destroyed during the 1906 earthquake and rebuild as Grace Cathedral further up Nob Hill.

Looking east on California Street approaching Stockton Street in 1891: Grace Church is on the right.


An undated picture, probably taken after the 1860s, looking north along Stockton Street: Alcatraz Island can be seen in the vintage picture. My comparison photo was taken on top of the Stockton Tunnel.









Niles, 2020 (Thumbnail pictures)

Margot Patterson Doss was a columnist who wrote wonderful articles for the San Francisco Chronicle under the title of ‘San Francisco at Your Feet’ and later in her career ‘The Bay Area at Your Feet’. In 1978 she wrote about the history of movies in Niles in her column entitled ‘The Movies’ One-Horse Town’. There wasn’t a lot of information available at that time about the history of Niles, and the article was a real treat for me. Margot’s articles were always a walking tour, complete with map, and I took her walking tour long ago and kept the article. I retook her Niles walk again this week. Some of this chapter of hers is outdated now, but it’s still the best single article I’ve seen concerning the film history of Niles. Margot Patterson Doss died in 2003; let’s take an internet walk with her around Niles and I’ll post some of her comments in brackets.

Much of the historic buildings in Niles are temporarily closed now due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, and a lot of the places I love to visit can only be seen from outside right now. Like Margot did forty two years ago, we’ll start at the train station.

{Park by the boarded up depot, ideal for a community center or railroad museum, and take a look at that train station and its palm trees. The bow at the ticket-wicket and the columns topped by window pilasters are such perfect architectural details, it should be nominated for the National Historic Register, an idea which has appealed to many townsfolk here}

The Train Station, which was moved to Mission Blvd. in 1982 and in 2009, back to the spot where it originally stood when it was built in 1911, is a railroad museum now.

My older brother David and I posed in front of the train station when it was boarded up before Margot wrote her article. You can tell the vintage picture was long ago because of my brother’s hair.


{Walk another block along Niles Boulevard, noting Don’s Antique Autoparts and the cigar store Indian in front of the Devil’s Workshop Mercantile, as you pass.}

I think Don’s Antique Autoparts is still there, but the cigar store Indian is gone. Two things Margot doesn’t comment on along this stretch because they may not have been known to her then, are the old movie theater where Charlie Chaplin premiered the five movies he shot in Niles and the house where Edna Purviance, Chaplin’s leading lady in the films he shot during his stay in Niles, used to live in. They’ve replaced the old fence now that was in front of Edna’s house when I took the top comparison in 2016.

{At Niles and G, Holland Gas, a suitably simple service station, stands on the site of the old Essanay building. All told, Essanay produced 450 Pictures in and around Niles, using Bronhco Billy, Ben Turpin, Wallace Beery, Jimmy Gleason, Zasu Pitts, Ethel Clayton, Marie Dressler, and nearly 50 lesser known talents.}

Holland Gas is gone now, and a fire station is now on the corner where the Essanay Movie Studio once was. The vintage photo of the studio taken in the late 1920s after the studio closed is from John Bengtson’s book ‘Silent Traces’.

{Bear left on G half a block to number 153-5, which was Broncho Billy’s office and cottage.}

This is where Broncho Billy stayed in Niles today. You’ll read more about him shortly.

{At Second Street, bear left along the lane of California sycamore trees. In 1912 this row of cottages was built to house performers on location. Many of the homes in this block are modifications and alterations of those early “dressings rooms.”}

This is the row of cottages today.

{At G Street bear right, crossing Second. Sidewalks, installed in 1930, have yet to be extended here.}

42 years after Margot’s article, and they still haven’t extended sidewalks here.

{At the Alley, cross G Street and bear left. The ramshackled, shake-roof barn is where Broncho Billy stabled his horse.}

Broncho Billy was the movies first major cowboy star.  Demolished in the 1980s, I remember looking at that barn when I first traced Margot’s map, fascinated by its history, but alas, alack, and Alaska, I didn’t have a camera to take a picture of it. “It is to weep.” Billy’s barn was right here behind the fence with the blue dawn flowers.

The rest of my visit was not on Margot Patterson Doss’s route. The old Niles Jail here now houses an insurance company. I’d like to think that Broncho Billy threw a bad hombre or two in here during his stay in Niles, but the building may have been built after his films were made in Niles.


East of the city of Niles is Niles Canyon, where Broncho Billy filmed most of his outdoor action scenes. It was also out in Niles Canyon, before the main highway ran through it, where Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp wandered off into folklore. Above, is a vintage picture posted on Pinterest of a train on the old Sunol-Niles Railroad route crossing the highway. You’re not allowed to stop on the highway here, so I had to take my picture as quick as I could. I didn’t get a train in my shot either.

Margot also wrote, {It was also down one of the tree-lined country lanes around Niles Canyon that a winsome little comedian named Charlie Chaplin waddled his way into the sunset and the hearts of filmgoers as “The Tramp.” The final fadeout in which the rejected tramp with the expressive cane walks off down the lane toward a brighter tomorrow became the signature as well as signoff of later Chaplin films. Which was the tree-lined lane of the little tramp? Today, only Chaplin knows.}

Not anymore, thanks to the historians at the Niles Museum who located the spot and directed me to it to get this comparison picture back in 2018. Also, Margot writes of the tree-lined lane, “Today, only Chaplin knows.” Charlie Chaplin died on Christmas Day, 1977, so Margot may have taken her walk before the article was published in 1978, or my recollection of the 1978 date of the column may not be accurate; “only Chaplin knows.”

It will need some editing (All in fun)

The next novel I write, which will actually be the first novel I write, which will probably never get written, will be a crime thriller set in San Francisco during 1937. It will be inspired by the photographs of Ken Cathcart, whom I wrote about in the previous post, and will be in first person format. The protagonist will be on the run, either hiding from the police, the mob, or the United States Treasury. The novel will open up in Chinatown, just the place for my hero to hide who’s being pursued by the police for a murder he didn’t commit, or the mob for skimming money, or the United States Treasury for absolutely nothing; I haven’t worked that out yet. The following is a working draft of my novel.

Cathcartkiduse{I headed for Chinatown. I had friends there and was certain that I could lay low until the heat was off. As I headed up Grant Avenue to California Street, I approached a young lad holding a shoe shine box.

“Hey, mister, let me shine your shoes or I’ll shoot you!”

I began to wonder if I may have come to the wrong place.}

CathcartWaverlyuse{My destination was the Lee Building at 109 Waverly Place. When I approached the temple I spotted the lookout on the second floor. He was called a “lookout” because if you didn’t look out when you were around him, you could vanish! It might be a good place to hide, but it also may be more trouble than it was worth. I decided to move on.}

CathcartSixCouse{My next stop was the Six Families Building on Stockton Street. The families associated with this building had a history of assisting people in need. When I asked them if I could find temporary shelter in the building they asked me which of the six families who owned the building was I a member of. When I asked them who the names of the six families associated with the Six Companies Building were, they replied, “Kong Chow, Ning Yeung, Sam Yup, Yeong Wo, Hop Wo, and Yan Wo.” Being Irish, I wanted to be very careful about which family name I selected. While I was trying to decide which one to pick, they quietly closed the door.}

CathcartSpofforduse{The Free Mason Building in Spofford Place; just the place to hide! After all, they hid Sun Yat-sen from assassins at 36 Spofford Alley while he was in exile trying to raise money for his revolution; although the current tenants here probably aren’t aware of that. I knocked on the door and a man answered. I told him I was in danger, and asked him if I could hide out here for awhile.

“Who do you think you are, Sun Yat-sen?” he replied, and slammed the door in my face.}

CathcartColumbususe{I stopped to rest at the corner of Columbus and Kearny. I wondered if I’d shaken the people who were after me, I wondered if I could find a place to sleep, I wondered how much money I had, and I wondered if those really were female impersonators at Finocchio’s up the hill.}

CathcartInternationaluse{Ah, the International Settlement on “Terrific Street”, a “terrific” place to hide out! Why, even “Baby Face” Nelson came here to hide out in July of 1934; except he died four months after that. That’s not encouraging.}

CathcartDianause{Well, at least I can get a meal at Diana’s Café; the food stinks, but she doesn’t charge much. She said to me when I left, “Don’t complain about my coffee, you’ll be old and weak someday too.”} *

* I swiped that one from Mad Magazine: Author

Cathcartexplosionuse{Diana had told me that there was a place on the corner of Sansome and Jackson Streets  where they would put me up for the night, no questions asked. However, shortly before I arrived there, the building was blown up in a terrific explosion! I knew that the bomb was meant for me. I was frightened thinking about the violent type of people who would go this far to get me. I was filled with rage over thoughts about innocent people who may have been hurt because of me. But most of all, I was absolutely delighted that I wasn’t in the building when it exploded.}

Well, this is as far as I’ve gotten with the outline of my novel. Maybe it’s best that I stick with taking pictures instead. (Photograph source, ‘Gold Mountain, Big City’ by Jim Schein)