Don Herron has been conducting his walking tour of Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco for over four decades. He knows his stuff up one hill and down the next. When we scheduled our long weekend in the middle of August I knew it was a must.
The tour begins here, at 870 Flood, where the Pinkerton Detective Agency had it’s San Francisco office. Dashiell Hammett worked there in office #314. From here he got so much of the color and characters that he then used in his stories.
No dummies, the building pays homage to Hammett and The Black Bird in one of the large, glass cases that line the entry foyer. If you can read the writing here, it tells you that the statuette is owned by John’s Grill.
Go straight through the foyer and you end up on Ellis Street. Turn right and there it is. Hammett ate lunch there and so did Spade.
The above photo shows that Sam Spade Lamb Chops are still on the menu.
The walking tour took nearly 3.5 hours. It was a very warm afternoon. There was lots of shade but I still fried my nose. It was worth it.
In the top right corner of this building, Hammett wrote Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, and The Maltese Falcon. Herron said it’s a very small apartment. When the Murphy bed is down it’d be hard to move around the room.
[Pardon my thumb in the corner.] This is a plaque by the entrance of that white building on Post. The Maltese Falcon doesn’t specify the building in which Spade lived but there are clues in the text that lead Herron to say this is Spade’s building as well as Hammett’s.
Mystery writer Mark Coggins has a page about the apartment. It includes photos and a floor plan. Take the embedded link to the story about the guy who lived in it.
Much of the tour relates how much of the city was destroyed in the 1906 quake and what had been rebuilt by the time of Hammett’s residency. One of the buildings that did survive is in the center of the photo (admittedly not great but one must dodge oncoming vehicles). Look to the left of the street light, and then the long, red sign, and you can see a tall, tan building that has a reddish roof that’s then topped with light green fencing. That’s the building that Herron points toward as the likely location of the Space & Archer office.
Herron explained that the tour was originally 4 hours be he cut back on the hills as he aged. Don’t know if the tour used to range as far as this building.
The tour pointed out more than just Hammett’s world. This hotel, which has learned to take advantage of it’s Hollywood past, was where Kim Novak’s character lived in Vertigo. It was around this area that I found I was one block from Frank Bullitt’s apartment in that movie. I really wanted to run up there for a photo but it was getting late in the day, I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for about 5 hours… can’t do it all. However, not once but twice we Ubered past the intersection where the car chase in Bullitt began. Close as I could get.
At this point, he corner of Pine and Hammett, turn or look left and you see a red brick building where Hammett also lived. Must have been before living on Post because of how he used this area in The Maltese Falcon. He didn’t move around as much as the Chandlers but almost. Down the way is Stockton and you can see the railings for the three stories of stairs that lead down a level.
And not far from this is the Stockton Tunnel. It has changed quite a lot. At the time he wrote the scene, it was mostly a vacant lot with a long dirt hill down to the next street.
Across Pine is this alley named Burritt Street. Above the man in the fedora (that’s Don in full regalia, trench coat and all) is another plaque. It says this:
The red brick across from the plaque wouldn’t have been there when Hammett knew the area, so the idea is Archer either followed Brigid here, or met her, and she let him have it. He then fell backwards and rolled down the hill to the lower level of Stockton.
You can see that Hammett used the city he knew well in the novel, the buildings and the lots, and used them well.
Don ends the tour here, with a view of the majestic St. Francis hotel at Union Square. Hammett worked here, too. In the front, top-left set of rooms, silent film great Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and 2 friends had their roaring party in September of 1921. A young actress fell ill and died a few days later and Arbuckle was charged with rape and manslaughter. The Hearst papers turned it into a massive swamp of accusations and ugliness. Two trials resulted in hung juries; the third acquitted him. The scandal finished his career and the trials were a media circus. The Pinkertons were part of the investigative force, as was Hammett.
Wyatt Earp once stayed there, too.
Saw this Black Bird at the Legion of Honor. It’s an eagle, not a falcon, but I couldn’t resist including it. At that museum, we ran into an unexpected delight – a Peter Paul Rubens exhibit.
One of the items was this pen and ink wash title page illustration Rubens created.
Lastly, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Popeye!
If you find yourself in San Francisco and have a Sunday afternoon to burn, Don Herron’s walking tour is well worth the time!
A grateful tip of the fedora to Don.