‘Laughter on the Hill’

laughteropenuse In my August 1st 2016 post ‘Out in the Field’ I wrote about a book I had recently read called ‘Laughter on the Hill’ by Margaret Parton. In the book Margaret writes about a year she spent in San Francisco looking for a job just before Pearl Harbor. Although outdated, and the events of her social life and zany parties may seem dull at times compared to now or even the 1960’s life of Holly Golightly from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, her descriptions of, historical recaps about, and obvious affection for San Francisco makes the book an interesting story of the City in 1941. At times Margaret identifies her locations by name, but other times you have to use your knowledge of San Francisco to determine where she’s writing about. These are a few passages from her book pertaining to some of her adventures on Telegraph Hill.laughterwsquareuse Margaret’s search for a place to live in the second chapter ‘Gingerbread Versailles’ leads her to a run down house on Telegraph Hill. On the way, she passes what is obviously Washington Square in North Beach; I think the only fat old man with a red face in the park the day I took this picture was me!  laughterinion1use She crosses Union Street at Montgomery on the approach to Calhoun Terrace. Her description of the view from the cliff at Calhoun Terrace is still accurate today.

laughterunion2use Margaret moves into what she describes as a shack with a “pointed red roof outlined with white gingerbread carving” at this location. The building has a leaking roof, bad plumbing and is in overall poor shape. On the left is a cartoon from the book of where Margaret will spend her year in San Francisco, and in the middle of the picture on the right is the house today. The part about cutting down the level of the street and stranding the garages of the houses is amazing! Incidentally, the Michael Douglas character, Steve Keller from the television show ‘The Streets of San Francisco’ also lived in this house, and Lee Remick’s Kirsten Arnesen from ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’ lived just across the street.

laughterunion3use A photograph from the 1940’s of this location shows how accurate Margaret’s description was; the paint on the bay window of her “shack” didn’t match, and the garages here really were stranded from street work.


No detective work is necessary to find this location of one of Margaret’s adventures. After one of her late night drinking parties, her guests decide to walk down to Vanessis’s Restaurant on Broadway for a hamburger. One of the guests has an enormous St. Bernard dog that they don’t want to leave alone in Margaret’s house, so they take “Heidi” along. Big mistake! I’m not sure of the date of the top photograph, but it’s definitely Vanessis’s.

“Excuse me, miss, can you tell me if Vanessis’s is around here?”

Vanessis’s Restaurant closed in 1997.

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