Open City

No, I’m not referring to Rossellini’s 1945 film ‘Open City’, which is undoubtedly a masterpiece of a movie, but I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never seen it. This post is about the gradual reopening of San Francisco, all but shut down one year ago by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The few times I’ve been able to get over to the City since the 2021 tax season began, and is still in progress, San Francisco has opened up more and more. Also, it’s no longer a depressing town, as it was so often when I visited in 2020. This isn’t to forget the 534 people from San Francisco who, as of this writing, will never get to see San Francisco come back to life because they lost theirs to COVID-19. I’ll dedicate this post to them. Last Monday, I had a chance to leave the office for awhile for a walk around some of Downtown San Francisco to appreciate the difference in the last week of April, 2021 to the last week of April, 2020. Updating a few vintage pictures from the photograph collection seemed a fitting way to enjoy the reopening of a city. (Thumbnail images)

I started out at California and Market Streets, looking toward Spear and Market and the old Southern Pacific Building. I have no idea what that lookout tower on the corner of Market and Spear Streets in the 1924 picture was for, but it must have been an interesting job.

I walked down Drumm Street to Sacramento Street. Before the 1970s, Sacramento Street cut all the way through to the Embarcadero before the Embarcadero Center and the Justin Herman Plaza stopped the street at Drumm. The 1957 photo is looking toward the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building in 1957. Construction on the soon to be opened Embarcadero Freeway was nearing completion.


Hopping on on the Muni #1 bus on Sacramento, I rode up Nob Hill and got off at the Powell Street intersection, seen in 1935 in the vintage photo.


I crossed over California Street along Powell and headed down the south side of Nob Hill to breakfast at Roxanne’s Café on the corner of Bush Street and Powell. It was great to see the café almost pre pandemic full with smiling and hungry people. After breakfast, I did a quick update from Anson Place Alley next to Roxanne’s looking toward Powell. The vintage picture is circa 1948. It would have been nice to catch a cable car passing by, but there not back running just yet.


From Anson Place I headed back to Bush Street and wandered down to the Stockton Tunnel. This is classic Maltese Falcon territory. Sam Spade looked down from where I’m at here to Stockton Street from the roof of the tunnel near the spot where his partner, Miles Archer was shot.

{Spade crossed the sidewalk between iron-railed hatchways that opened above bare ugly stairs, and resting his hands on the damp coping, looked down into Stockton Street. An automobile popped out of the tunnel beneath him with a roaring swish, as if it had been blown out, and ran away.}


Just yards from Stockton Tunnel is Burritt Street Alley, where Miles Archer was shot, and this plaque near the entrance to the alley


Two blocks south of the Stockton Tunnel will bring you to the friendly sight of Union Square, seen in the vintage picture in 1958. It was unsettling and almost haunting last May to walk through the empty Square and not hear the clanging of cable car bells, the tour bus barkers beckoning, cars honking, people talking, and music.


The little stretch between Kearny and Stockton Streets known as Maiden Lane will probably never be as popular as it once was with all of the quaint shops like Robinson’s House of Pets or the Union Square Lounge gone now, but it’s still a pretty alley, and fun to walk through during the Holidays. The vintage picture looking east is from 1953.


Stockton and Market Streets in 1938 and a rare picture of the Call Building’s dome being removed, and the building being remodeled into what is now the Central Tower: I headed back to the office on BART from here feeling all the better for the day from my visit.

3 thoughts on “Open City

  • Could that weird lookout tower be some sort of traffic signal? Those two dark circular objects facing toward traffic do not seem adequate to signal anything, and are diagonal to the flower of traffic. If there are others that are also diagonal to traffic, they would be out of view to the left. Otherwise, there is nothing there to signal traffic with. It is a weird contraption whatever it is.
    The Canary Island date palms in union square are weird too. I still can not figure out why they are not where they had always been. They seem to have been relocated, which would not have been a problem, but would have been too much work to move them just a few feet. Only the specimen to the right in the picture seems to be where it had always been. I can only guess that the original trees died of natural causes and were replaced with trees that are slightly askew.

    • Thanks for the plant insight, Tony, I don’t usually pay much attention to the natural life around me when I take my pictures and I should! I don’t know, maybe that thing was for a lifeguard, they could still use a lot of those on Market Street today! Lol! Actually, there was a lot of streetcar traffic on Market Street back then and I suspect it had something to do with streetcar safety.

      • Well, there is nothing ‘natural’ about the Canary Island date palms. They are from the Canary Islands, so are not naturally endemic to San Francisco. Nor are they as interesting as the ‘real’ changes to Union Square’. They just happen to be something that I notice.

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