‘Race Street’ – Who were the Dons?

Real dedicated football fans may know the answer to that, but I had to do some checking. More on this later. I really enjoy finding a film noir movie I’ve never seen with great San Francisco on location scenes. ‘Race Street’ from 1948 isn’t any movie masterpiece, I give it two and a half stars, but for terrific location shooting in the City it’s tops. The movie is about a mob syndicate extorting protection money from San Francisco business owners. When they tangle with George Raft’s bookie business they have a problem. It’s not the best DVD restoration and some of the movie scenes are grainy captures, but you can see the locations okay.

RaceRaftuseThe film stars George Raft. Raft originally made it on the map with his coin flipping gangster scenes in the 1932 movie ‘Scarface’ with Paul Muni. Check out Bugs Bunny’s George Raft impersonation on the link below.


Race Maxwell useRaft’s girlfriend is Marilyn Maxwell, who helped introduce the song ‘Silver Bells’ with Bob Hope in ‘The Lemon Drop Kid’ from 1951.

Race MorganuseThe film also co-stars Harry Morgan, probably most famous as Colonel Potter in the television show ‘M*A*S*H’.

RaceBendixuseBut to me the star of the movie is the character actor William Bendix. I like him in everything he was in. His best role was probably Gus in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 film ‘Lifeboat’. “Give us a kiss, toots.” Gus says to Tallulah Bankhead as she’s about to assist in amputating his leg. (She does) Bendix plays a nice guy cop trying to keep Raft out of trouble.

RaceopenuseRaceopen2useRaceopen3useThe movie shows a panoramic sweep of San Francisco from Twin Peaks behind the opening credits.

RaceTPeaksuseThe view from Twin Peaks now:

RaceTopMark1useThe movie opens up with a 1948 view from the Top of the Mark.

RaceEddyuseThe story starts out showing a number of San Francisco locations. This is the cable car turnaround at Powell and Market Streets looking toward Eddy Street. The building with the Gray’s Suits advertisement was demolished and Eddy no longer cuts through to Market Street. This is where Hallidie Plaza is now. You can see the old JC Penny’s Store building on the corner of 5th and Market Streets in both pictures.

RaceMontgomeryuseThis is Montgomery Street at Market Street looking north.

RacePostuse The action starts with a customer going into the clothes store front for Raft’s bookie business on Post Street across from Union Square. The building the clothes store was in was demolished in the 1980s and is now where the Saks Fifth Avenue Building is.

Racecourt1useRacecourt2useRaft’s squeeze, Marilyn Maxwell, lives in the Stanford Court Building on Nob Hill on California Street. Here, they’re leaving the courtyard, still there but not as fancy.

RaceStanforduseThey merge onto California Street across from the Fairmont Hotel.

RaceCalifPowelluseThey cross Powell Street at California Street, the only place where the three remaining cable car lines cross each other.

RaceCrestuseThe two head down California Street past the old Crest Garage, demolished in 2018.

RaceCrest2useThe view down California Street from here now:

RaceJonesuseRaft lives on Nob Hill as well at an apartment building on the southwest corner of Jones and California Streets. The tall building in the far background is the old Empire Hotel Building in the Civic Center area. You can just barely see it through the rainy mist in my picture.

RaceRaftsaptuseHe drives down the west side of Nob Hill and turns into his parking garage.

RaceRaftAptuseI’ll have to ask my arborist friend, Tony, if that could possibly be the same hedge that was growing there in 1948. He’ll probably think that’s a ridiculous question, but I have vines growing in the back yard of my house that go back to the 1960s.

RaceCHouseuseRaceSRocksuseThe movie even takes a trip out to the Cliff House where Raft has lunch with his sister who is worried about his prospects for bucking the mob. Seal Rocks are in the background of the lunch scene.

Racemob1useRacemobuseI’ll close with a few of the scenes filmed at night. Refusing to be intimidated by the mob, Raft is intercepted by one of “the boys” going into his apartment. I’ll bet he has a gun in his pocket! I’m bright about things like that.

RaftrideuseRaft gets taken for the proverbial “ride”. It’s never a good sign when one of the hoods gets in the back seat with you and not in the empty front seat.

RaftblindfolduseMr. Big, played by Frank Faylen, tells Raft he had better get in line. This would certainly persuade me! Raft plays along with him to bide time, although they rough him up pretty good.

GGateredouseIn one scene, Bendix tries to talk Raft out of taking the mob on without involving the police as they cross Market Street from 6th Street toward the Golden Gate Theater, at that time owned by Howard Hughes’ RKO Movie Studio.


Raft and Bendix cross Taylor Street toward Golden Gate Avenue. The newspaper box next to them is advertising a football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dons. These were the Los Angeles Dons, a pro football team that existed from 1946 until 1949. Looking close, it looks like the game was played on a Sunday with a two number day in the date; I can’t make it out on my DVD. The movie ‘Race Street’ was released on June 22nd 1948 before football season, so the football game had to have been played during a season prior to 1948. The only games the 49ers played the Dons at Kezar before 1948 were September 7th in 1947 and December 8th in 1946, unless it was an exhibition game. I wonder if it was just a movie prop, which doesn’t seem likely. The newspaper box would have been near where the walk signal is on this side of Taylor Street in front of the Golden Gate Theater.

RacecloseuseThe movie ends back where it began at the Top of the Mark for a nighttime view of the City, and closes out overlooking the Embarcadero and the Bay Bridge. The closing music even plays a little of ‘San Francisco’ from the 1936 movie.










4 thoughts on “‘Race Street’ – Who were the Dons?

  • It is not a ridiculous questions at all; and it is quite possible that the hedge is the same. I wrote about a boxwood hedge at my parents former home that was about as old as yours is. My first privet hedges were planted in the late 1950s. Embarrassingly, I do not know what the hedges are. I looked at them up close, and still not identify them. They are not privets, hollies or pittosporums. Pittosporums probably would not have lasted so long. I suspect that they might be Ternstroemia gymnanthera, which was somewhat common back then, and would have been relatively easy to maintain so splendidly for so long. (Most hedges eventually get overgrown, and must be rejuvenated, but never get restored to the same form. The hedge in the second picture is a bit lower, as if it has been pruned down at least once in the past, but not completely cut back.) However, Ternstroemia gymnanthera typically has some quantity of bronzed new foliage. It is only without such bronzed foliage right after getting shorn, or after new growth has matured in autumn and winter. The wet sidewalk suggests that the picture might have been taken in autumn or winter, but sidewalks can look like that in any season in San Francisco. The light green leaves look a bit suspicious, as if they are non-bronzed new foliage. Anyway, I still can not identify it. The young staked tree at the end of the hedge is a fern pin, Podocarpus gracilior.
    Incidentally, the less refined vegetation at the ends of the hedges flanking the main doorway (which is more visible in the later pictures) is English yew, Taxus baccata. It was a traditional evergreen for flanking main doorways, particularly of stately homes, as well as hotels. It is shabbier than it typically is if better exposed, probably because of the shade of the tall building in the neighborhood. It would not have interfered with the development of the hedge below, which is why there is no noticeable absence now. The hydrangeas hanging over the hedge from above are old cultivars that could have been there long ago, but would have likely been pruned down lower, as was the style back then.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.