‘The Crowded City’ (For Alison)

‘The Crowded City’; that sounds like the title of a film noir movie, huh?

“As night falls, on the crowded city, the dames, the drifters, the dopers, and the deadbeats shuffle off, each to their destinations. In his dimly lit office away from the crowd, a weary tax consultant takes another shot from the whisky bottle in his desk, and wonders what it’s all about”.

This isn’t going anywhere, is it?

CrowdedMaidenlaneuseI don’t know what was going on in Maiden Lane in the 1955 vintage picture, but I’ve never seen it that crowded. The Union Square Lounge was a popular watering hole during the 1940’s into the 1960’s. It was where the Optik Store is now.

CrowdedUnionLoungeuse Jack Lemmon, in the center, goes into the Union Square Lounge at the beginning of his descent into alcoholism in the 1962 film ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’.

CrowdedKearnyuse Kearny Street at Post in December of 1946, at 8:35 AM: My picture was taken at 1:35 PM, and I wasn’t as nervy as the 1946 photographer. I got my little…… camera out of the street before I was run over! (Vintage picture San Francisco Chronicle)

CrowdedEddyuseSan Francisco almost got less crowded by three in this old 1940’s picture! Eddy Street used to cut through to Market Street here. The old 31 Streetcar Line that ran down Eddy to Divisadero Street would turn onto Eddy from Market right here. Now, Eddy Street stops at Cyril Magnin Street. The smaller arched entrance to the old Emporium Building is across Market Street in both photos. (SF Chronicle)

CrowdedPostStreetuse In March of 1957 an earthquake centered near Daly City shook San Francisco. This image from OpenSFHistory.org on Post Street east of Grant Avenue shows some of the confusion and alarm by people in San Francisco. However, I don’t think that there were any reported injuries.

CrowdedClayuseThere was a lot more than confusion and alarm over one half of a century earlier on April 18th 1906; there was death and destruction. This terrific photo by Arnold Genthe looking down Clay Street just east of Powell captures it all. Personally, I think it ranks right up there with his more famous picture one block over looking down Sacramento Street from Powell.

Crowded5thuse“Well that does it for me, I’m heading for Oakland!”

The southwest corner of 5th and market Streets after April 18th 1906: San Francisco got a little less crowded in more ways than one after this day. Thousands poured through the Ferry Building and left for Oakland to find a new home.

crowdedAlioto'suseThis little stretch of outdoor seafood shops at the end of Taylor Street at Fisherman’s Wharf was even more crowded in the 1930’s than it was today. The vintage photo is on the wall of the stairs leading up to Alioto’s Restaurant. Speaking of film noir, a number of movie and television noir scenes were filmed in this half a block of Taylor Street. Probably the most famous was ‘Nora Prentiss’ with Ann Sheridan filmed in 1947. The 1950’s television show ‘The Lineup’ also called “San Francisco Beat’, in my opinion the best on location show filmed in San Francisco, has a “bad guy” take down scene here in one episode. Also, a lady who works for the Market Street Railway named Alison Cant introduced me to a 1946 movie entitled ‘That Brennan Girl’ that shows a scene featuring the outdoor crab pots on Taylor Street.

Crowdedlineupuse‘The Lineup’ television show ran from 1954 until 1960 on CBS and was very popular. It featured historically entertaining locations such as a bomb scare at Seals Stadium, a suicide attempt behind the Cliff House where police drive their patrol car down the walking path to behind the restaurant, and a scene filmed at Fleishhacker Pool with a great look at the swimming pool and the old Pool house. I’ve only been able to find a few poor quality DVDs of the show. In this episode, in the upper left image, police close in on a lunatic at Fisherman’s Wharf who has been shooting people and planting bombs around San Francisco. The bad guy is the man in the center of the lower left image. The man to his left is a police officer pretending to be a customer. At the upper right is the police officer’s partner hiding behind a rack of postcards. I would have spotted him. In the lower right the cops take him down before he can draw his gun. The scene was filmed in front of the entrance to #9 Fishermen’s Grotto.

CrowdedtakedownuseThe spot where the police “take down” in the above  set of pictures from ‘The Lineup’ occurred:

CrowdedBrennanGirluse In ‘That Brennan Girl’, Mona Freeman portrays a rip-off artist named ‘Ziggy Brennan. (I like that name) Set during World War Two, Ziggy steals a watch from a sailor, but winds up going to lunch with him at Fisherman’s Wharf at a table overlooking the boat lagoon. Naturally, they fall in love, and naturally, they get married. Naturally, he dies in the war, and naturally, she has a baby.  Because of Ziggy’s past associates, society  judges her as an unfit mother. The top image from the film is how Taylor Street in front of Alioto’s looked in the 1940’s. This movie has some interesting on location San Francisco scenes for a B movie including a great tracking scene at the end along Market Street and the cable car turntable at Powell Street.

CrowdedBrennantwouseThe same stretch of Taylor Street seen in the top image from the above set from ‘That Brennan Girl’ and the Fisherman’s Wharf Lagoon from Alioto’s Restaurant:

Still more talking to the Stars around San Francisco

You never can tell who you might bump into on a sunny day journey around San Francisco.

Startalkingbullittuse“Steve McQueen! It was awesome the way you took after those bad guys in your Mustang! Why are you here on Broadway?”

“I have to get some money from my bank.”

“Which bank is that, Steve?”

“The Chase Bank.”

“Now, why did I not see that coming?”

(Bullitt – 1968)

StartalkingtheOrganizationuse“Sidney Poitier! What’s that contraption you’re going into here near Fisherman’s Wharf?”

“It’s called a telephone booth. You pick up this little gadget here, twirl this little number gizmo, and you can talk to anybody in the world!”

“Well, what will they think of next?”

(The Organization – 1971)  StartalkOrganizationtwouse The building behind Sidney in the top movie image is the Longshoremen’s Hall on North Point Street.

StartalkConversationuse “Cindy Williams! What are you looking deep in thought about here in Union Square?”

“I think this guy behind me is listening to me!”

“Why, it’s Gene Hackman! What did Cindy say, Gene?”

“Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated! I can’t interpret that.”

“I don’t think anybody can, Gene.”

(The Conversation – 1974)

StartalkingHudsonuse“Rock Hudson! What on earth are you doing here at the Powell Street cable car turnaround?”

“I like to show people that we movie stars are, on the whole, good-natured. We like to pitch in when we can. You know, like helping push this little trolley here!”

“It’s not a trolley, it’s a cable car.”

“Oh, sorry.” (1959 – OpenSFHistory.org)

StartalkingFerryBuildinguse “Barbara Lawrence! You look cross!”

“I am! The Ferry Building tower just “bonged” ten times, and this dumb lady next to me keeps asking if I know what time it is!”

“Well, we have that kind in San Francisco too, Barbara!”

(Thieves Highway – 1949)

Startalkingnightoutuse“Charlie Chaplin! Does your back hurt?”

“I fall down at least a dozen times in these silly movies, and this fellow asks me if my back hurts! Run along.”

(A Night Out – 1915. Filmed in Oakland)

StartalkingDPassageuse“Humphrey Bogart! What are you doing up here on Russian Hill?”

“I just accidentally killed Agnes Moorehead, and I have to get away fast or I’ll never clear myself!”

“I see. Well good luck! Wait, who’s this coming down behind you? Oh, it’s him!”

(Dark Passage – 1947)


Convenient ways to get around town

GetaroundlombardredoGetting around San Francisco by car can still be convenient on the occasional times when traffic is light, like the last time it was on Lombard Street in 1922. (OpenSFHistory.org)

BlockwashingtonuseAlthough, not as convenient of a way to travel as they once were now that there are only three lines, they’re still the best way of getting up and down San Francisco’s steep hills.

GetaroundmotorcoachuseThe bus, or in this case the “motor coach”, is still the most practical way around town. Once you could ride on a Muni bus for up to six hours sometimes on a single fare. Unfortunately, they recently cut their transfer allowed time down to no more than 90 minutes. Muni will never be as inexpensive again. What can you do? The Muni bus in the top photo is from circa 1935. The lower picture is a similar motor coach passing the old Southern Pacific Building at the foot of Market Street. (SFGate)

GetaroundescortuseA police escort is an easy way to get around town, like here on Post Street next to Union Square in 1952, but I usually turn those down when they offer them to me. (Shorpy Collection)

GetaroundMarketuse “The roar of the four” is how they referred to the four streetcar lines that ran along Market Street, and you can still ride old streetcars along Market today. I didn’t get a “roar of the four” but I did give a “Gee!” for the three on Market Street between Stockton and Powell Streets today; two streetcars and a bus.

Get aroundbicycleuseLong before automobiles were invented, bicycles were a great way to get around San Francisco. They still are…… although, that’s not the usual attire when bike riding around the city. I, kind of, felt sorry for that girl crossing the Embarcadero over to the Ferry Building.

“I’m just going to pretend that I don’t see this, and walk by.”

Sometimes, it’s not a good idea to always have your camera with you.


BlockbromouseThe 100 Block of the Embarcadero: Bromo-Seltzer, the famous hangover treatment; I logged a few doses of that myself. According to Wikipedia it was removed from the market in 1975 because of a toxic sedative in the ingredients. The vintage picture is from 1951.

BlockymcauseI didn’t have too hard a time finding where the previous picture was taken; I’ve seen the 1958 movie ‘The Lineup’ too many times. Here, hit man Eli Wallach walks across the Embarcadero to the old YMCA Building to knock off his first victim.

BlockPowelluseThe 800 Block of Market Street: The view is toward the Powell Street cable car turntable next to the Flood Building. Look how small the crowds were in the vintage 1950s picture from OpenSFHistory.org.

blockdrakeuseThe 400 Block of Sutter Street: A lonely looking Sergeant, it looks like, walks past the garage entrance to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel during World War Two.

blockbroadwayuseThe 500 Block of Broadway:  The sex and sin area of the International Settlement moved up one block to Broadway in the 1960s, probably due to Carol Doda, who died in 2015. Most of the strip clubs closed down by the 1980s, and this section of Broadway became something of a ghost town by the 1990s. This area has picked up again with new clubs to hang out at and the nighttime crowds are back.

BlockHammauseThe 1500 Block of Bryant Street: The old Hamm’s Brewery on Bryant Street, closed in 1972, will bring back a lot of memories to older baseball fans in San Francisco. Just across Bryant Street from the brewery was where home plate at Seals Stadium was. (SF Chronicle)

BlockSealsStadiumuseA Flickr Photo shows Seals Stadium from the air. The minor league stadium for the San Francisco Seals was built in 1931 and demolished in 1959. Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 61 straight games when he played here in the minors. The major league New York Giants played their 1958 and 1959 seasons here while they waited for Candlestick Park to be built. The street on the right is Bryant Street, the street at the top is 16th Street.

block16thuseThe 2300 Block of 16th Street: A bus stop on 16th Street is now where fans once entered Seals Stadium.

BlockPotreroCenterusePotrero Center now occupies where Seals Stadium was located. In a vintage FoundSF.org photo of Seals Stadium from the air, the Hamm’s Brewery can be seen at the top of the picture. I took my picture from about where deep center field close to the right field side was.

BlocktoberUnionuse BlockUniontwouseThe 400 Block of Union Street: A couple relaxes on Union Street at Genoa Place in the 1950s. Their little tree has grown quite a bit now and blocks the view of Russian Hill from this spot today. I had to go out in Union Street a ways to get Russian Hill into the picture in the lowest photo.


Fleet Week, 2017

Set sail with me as we cruise around the Bay on Blue Angels Day aboard the SS Jeremiah O’Brien.

FleetopeneruseThe top picture was a slide that I took of the Jeremiah O’Brien in 1985 when she was still tied up at Fort Mason. The bottom picture was of the visitors logging in for yesterday’s cruise. They served free beer all day long on the ship so we got pretty well logged when we got aboard too!

FleetKevinuseSelf appointed Quartermaster, Brother Kevin, near the forward gun, attempts to take charge.

“Clap him in irons!” he kept yelling.

I don’t think they do that anymore.

Fleetmeuse“Fire at will!”

“Which one is Will?”

That GEICO Insurance commercial cracks me up!

FleetpeopleonbridgeuseIt was so calm that when we went under the Golden Gate Bridge the people on the ship and the people on the bridge were yelling back and forth to each other! I was still at the gun, so I yelled, “Which one of you is Will?”

Fleetunder the bridgeuseThere was much more of a navy presence when I took the top picture from Fort Point on Fleet Day, 1985. The crew of the ships would stand at attention for San Francisco, and it was really something to see! I’ll have to look the number up and see what carrier that was.

FleetDay1986useThese two pictures I took from Telegraph Hill on Fleet Day in 1986, in the top photo, and 1983 in the lower picture. Remember, this was still during the Cold War and there were a lot more active navy vessels in the fleet back then.

fleetbridgetobridgeuseThe price of the ticket included a stunning bridge to bridge tour, all of the coffee, donuts, hamburgers, hot dogs, sodas, and beer you can hold for free, and a sunburn on your face if you’re like some dummy whose name we won’t mention who didn’t bring sunscreen! You can see one of the navy ships that came in for Fleet Week docked on the left of the Bay Bridge picture.

FleetshowtimeuseThe ships begin to gather near “The Rock” for the air show:

Fleet747useWe had a fly over from a 747 as part of the show.

FleetcloseruseThe Blue Angels are awesome, but to me, the best part of the show is always San Francisco Bay. The video below is a little bit of both.



‘The Sister of Cain’

CainpaperbackuseIn my September 2, 2017 post I wrote about one of Gertrude Atherton’s last books entitled ‘My San Francisco – A Wayward Biography’. In one of the chapters, Atherton wrote about a mystery story by Mary Collins called ‘The Sister of Cain’ explaining that it’s set in “the weird old Humphrey-Giffen house on Chestnut Street.” Her review of the book was so enticing that I ordered a copy from the internet. It took three weeks to arrive but it was worth it; it’s a neat little mystery written and set in San Francisco during World War Two that captures the war time atmosphere of San Francisco deliciously! Spooky locations that the heroine visits to try to solve the mystery, usually during the middle of the night, are well described. I followed the adventures of Mrs. Collins main character around San Francisco visiting many of the locations as I read the book. It was a delightful mystery to read and from Mary Collin’s descriptions of areas in the book she writes about it’s clear that she went to these locations as she wrote the book, and leaves a descriptive map of the eerie and dangerous adventures of the book’s main character, Hilda Moreau. The book was published in 1943 and is set in September of 1942, exactly 75 years to the month before I first heard of it. Mrs. Collins at the time, like Hilda, was in the early stages of pregnancy, but I couldn’t find a lot of information about her except that she was born in St. Louis in 1908 and attended Miss Burke’s School for girls when she came to San Francisco. (What is it about that school that inspires such talented ladies?) Well, let’s get on with the mystery. I’ll try not to give anything too important away if anyone is interested in reading the story.

CaincastuseAbove are the cast of characters and the Moreau sisters are deserving of a little background information.  Pauline, the oldest sister, is wicked and controlling who continually interferes and ruins her other sisters chance to find love and happiness. It comes as no surprise that she’ll be the first one murdered. Sophie is the most pathetic of the girls. Because of Pauline’s control over her she no longer takes care of her looks and is the one the reader will feel the most sorry for. Anne is the most successful of the Moreau sisters and the strongest. She lives next door to the old Humphrey House and is not afraid to challenge Pauline. Elise is the most attractive of the girls, but she has one problem she’s a falling down drunk. She makes W. C. Fields look like a beautified candidate for sainthood! Marthe, pronounced “Mart”, I think she was my favorite. She’s pretty, a close tie with Elise as the prettiest, feisty, fun loving, and she likes to get plastered occasionally herself. That’s always a good sign. The baby of the family is Rose, easily frightened and often childlike, she has no will whatsoever to oppose Pauline. There was also a sister named Berthe, Collins doesn’t say if her name is pronounced “Bert”. Berthe is only referred to in flashbacks, or in a book I guess they’re called writebacks. Berthe fell, jumped or was pushed from the three stories back of the house many years before the current story takes place, and, obviously, this is something to keep in mind. Hilda Moreau has arrived by train from Cleveland, Ohio. She is married to David Moreau, the only Moreau brother in the family. Hilda has arrived in San Francisco to clear some legal matters up and she is recently pregnant with David’s child. David is in the North Atlantic on World War Two duty. The story takes place during the first few weeks of September in 1942 and Hilda’s baby is due in February.

CainendorseuseI wondered why Gertrude Atherton was so keen on the book until I saw Mary Collins’ dedication.

Cain986chestnutuseMost of the story takes place inside an old house on the northeast corner of Chestnut Street at Hyde. At the time it was the oldest house in San Francisco, built in 1852. Efforts to save it failed and it was demolished in 1948, five years after ‘The Sister of Cain’ was published. Above is an old photo of the house and the apartment building that’s there today.

{“This is it lady.” The cab driver said over his shoulder. He swung his yellow taxi at right angles to the sidewalk. I can’t see no number, but the place next door is 980 so this must be 986 here on the corner.”} he tells Hilda. (Vintage picture from the San Francisco Library)

Cainporchuse{“We went up a flight of seven or eight crooked wooden stairs which led to a veranda that ran across the front of the house.”}

{“Old house, ain’t it lady?”} the cab driver remarks. Hilda makes it clear from the beginning that she does not like San Francisco. This is something to keep in mind when you reach the end of the book. Here are some of her thoughts.

{“It was bad enough to have my charming, affectionate, intelligent husband gone to the wars, but to have to come clear across the country to this steep, cold, grey, alien town and into this horrible house,”} or later on, {“I wanted to go home to Cleveland and never see the Moreau house or the city of San Francisco again!”}

I know what you’re thinking, “Well, that’s all we need to know about her.” but I’ve never been to Cleveland, and you can’t expect everyone to fall in love with San Francisco. Besides, as I hinted earlier, San Francisco has a way of winning visitors over.

CaincoveruseThe above picture is the jacket cover for the hardback edition of the novel with the Humphrey house on the cover.

CainhunphrethousecorneruseThe vintage photo from OpenSFHistory.org shows a cable car approaching Chestnut Street at Hyde in 1938. The Humphrey house is clearly seen on the right.

CainhydedownfromchestnutuseA little farther down Hyde in the 1920’s shows part of the back yard of the Humphrey house on the right. (OpenSFHistory.org)

CainhunphreyhousebackuseThe top photo is the side of the old house that faced San Francisco Bay. This is where Berthe, fell, jumped or was pushed to her death. This is also where Hilda sneaks out of the house several times in the middle of the night looking for clues. Oh, yes, you guessed it, Mary Collins novel isn’t going to be overlooking this part of the house. The lower picture is my photo from the same spot looking up at the back of the apartment building that’s there now.

cainupfromchestnutuseA picture taken during the 1950’s a little up Hyde Street from Chestnut shows the apartment building on the northeast corner of Hyde and Chestnut that replaced the Humphrey house when it was demolished.

CainsophiecablecaruseSophie Moreau is in love with a gentleman who works in a pharmacy at Union and Hyde Streets. Pauline through meanness has forbidden her to see him. In a rare moment of courage, Sophie sneaks out of the house to go to him while Pauline is away. Hilda narrates,

{“I was just in time to see Sophie scrambling nervously onto a Hyde Street cable car and disappear up the hill. Poor Sophie, when she got home there would be hell to pay.”}

This would be where Hilda watched Sophie make her dash. After Pauline is murdered, the first of three in the book, Hilda, herself, isn’t above sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night looking for clues. Both times she nearly gets herself killed.

CainstocktontunneluseIn the first of Hilda’s clandestine capers she sneaks out of the house through the back way at two o’clock in the morning to break into a house in the 200 block of Leavenworth Street. Hilda has learned that Pauline herself used to visit this house in the middle of the night. She goes down the corner of Chestnut Street and Columbus Avenue.

{“I found a taxi in front of a nightclub and told the driver to take me to the 400 block of Leavenworth.”}

Hilda is being clever here; she doesn’t want the cab driver to know the exact block in case he’s questioned later. Or maybe Mary Collins just forgot that she referred to the house as being on the 200 block of Leavenworth earlier. That may not be classified as a night club on the corner of Columbus and Chestnut in the top picture today, but it’ll fit. That looks like a fun place; I’ll have to get back there!

{“We bumped around past stores and bars and apartment buildings that looked remote and dismal in the dimmed-out city, and then we went through a long, noisy, white-tiled tunnel, and after a while we swung back to the right.”}

No guess work here what tunnel they entered at two in the morning. From Hilda’s route description they would have traveled south through the Stockton Tunnel, seen in the bottom picture. The white tiles are still there, although that paint job, kind of, worries me.

Cainrose'sroomusePhotographs from the San Francisco Library on the Calisphere website from the University of California have some old pictures taken inside the Humphrey House. Incidents from parts of the book take place where some of these photos were taken.

{“I got up and put on a robe and followed Marthe into Rose’s room, whose windows overlooked the bay. The wind had blown the fog away, and the view was superb. Alcatraz, the famous “Rock” stood out like something on a picture post card, and an enormous blue-grey battleship was just passing it.”}

CainnorthpointuseThe girls watch as a parade of ships head past North Point to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Ghirardelli Tower can be seen. Cry-baby Rose had a nice view indeed!

CaincopolauseOn the roof of the house was a cupola. The girls go up there a number of times and you just know that this little room is going to play an important part in this book before the story is over. In one chapter of the book Hilda is watching war time searchlights on San Francisco Bay at night from the cupola. These were some of her thoughts from here.

{“From every corner of the Bay the great long shafts of light stabbed the clear night sky.”

“I thought almost guiltily that here was one phase of war that was wonderful to watch, not ugly or grey or deadly.”

“My eyes swept the sky all around me. I must remember this I kept saying to myself. I must remember this to tell my grandchildren. The big searchlights on San Francisco Bay a few months after Pearl Harbor.”}

caincoituseWhen Coit Tower was erected in 1933 it was not well received by many at first. Gertrude Atherton herself wrote that the “harmonious skyline is now distorted by Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill,” and “Today there is a small park on the crest of the hill where tourists may enjoy the view and that eyesore the Coit Tower which looks more like a lighthouse  or an incinerator.” or “So there it stands, insulting the landscape. Lily Hitchcock deserved a better memorial.” When Inspector Cassidy is taking Hilda down to the Russ Building to meet with an attorney he tells her a little bit about North Beach.

{“He was being awfully nice to me in a sort of social way, so I thought I’d do him a good turn when he finished telling me about the North Beach District and a dreadful-looking thing sticking up on a hill which he said was Coit Tower. A long time afterward David told me the colloquial name for the tower which was obscene and funny.”}

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what naughty little nickname for the tower her husband told Hilda that she got such a kick out of.

CainpalacehoteluseHilda has lunch with Mr. Pearson at the Palace Hotel.

{“Mr. Pearson took me to the Palace Hotel for luncheon and recommended that I eat a delicious concoction called Palm Court Salad. I was suitable impressed with the great Palm Court and promised to read a book called Bonanza Inn which would tell me the history of the hotel before the fire, as Californians are pleased to call the 1906 Earthquake.”}

cainsterlingparkuseI’ll finish up with the location of one of the key scenes in the book, and then you’re on your own. Janet Holmes, one of the suspects at this point along with Hilda, and a fugitive, sends a note to Hilda to meet her at a park near where the Moreau House is at midnight. Hilda, three months pregnant, decides to go, not because she’s a fool, but because she couldn’t reach a police officer to accompany her. Hilda’s in this pretty thick and she’s looking for any information she can find to clear herself.

{“I pulled out Janet’s note and looked at it carefully. According to the map, I was supposed to walk one block west, then one block south, go up some steps, wander down a path in the park, and meet Janet at a bench. All of this was to be accomplished at the witching hour of midnight.”}

I retraced the route from where the Humphrey house once stood. One block west and one block south took me to the steps that lead up to what is now called George Sterling Park, named after the poet who wrote of San Francisco as, “The cool, grey city of love.” When Hilda arrives at the park she comments on a memorial erected to George Sterling near the bench where she waits for Janet. I walked down a path to a bench where a girl was sitting and thought to myself that this may have been where Hilda was supposed to meet Janet Holmes. George Sterling Park is much better lit with tennis courts and a baseball diamond on top today than the dark, spooky park Hilda Moreau describes. Hilda has a knife thrown at her and stumbles on to another murdered body in the park on this night and becomes the number one suspect now, intensely disliked by the rest of the Moreau sisters. I’ll leave my readers in the dark here like Hilda was at midnight up on George Sterling Park or I’ll reveal too much of the book.