Tales of the City

by Katie Cook

Armistead Maupin is a long-time San Francisco resident and author of Tales of the City. Maupin moved to San Francisco in 1971 as a reporter for the Associate Press San Francisco bureau. A few years later Tales of the City made its debut as a weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle.  The column became a book, which turned into a series of six novels. The books then became the source for the PBS/Showtime Tales of the City miniseries starring Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney. In May 2011, the Tales of the City muscial debuted in San Francisco. This walk focuses on the first book in the series, Tales of the City. If you have further interest in the series, Armistead Maupin’s website has an interactive google map with the San Francisco sites from all six of the books.

The walk begins at the Powell Street MUNI/BART station. This walk takes 3 hours, but can be shortened to a little over 2 hours by skipping four of the sites. This is a challenging walk with lots of stairs and hills to climb.

View Tales of the City in a larger map

Exit the Powell Street Station through the Stockton/Ellis exit and turn left onto Ellis Street. Walk down Ellis Street for several blocks until you come to Glide Memorial Church (330 Ellis Street) at the corner of Ellis and Taylor. Glide was the inspiration for Glibb Memorial Church where Mona attends a Sunday service.

“Today she felt mellow. Together. A karmic cog in the great, swaying mechanism of Glibb Memorial. She sang out with the fervor of a Southern Baptist, flanked by a Noe Valley wood butcher and a Tenderloin drag queen in a coral prom gown.”Glide was founded in 1929 as a Methodist church. In the 1960s Glide removed the crosses from the church and transformed into a church for the people. The church became a refuge for San Francisco’s diverse population including low-income people, addicts, transgendered, and politically-involved. Glide has continued to positively-influence and support the community spirituality and financially with their social service programs and soup kitchens.

Make a right onto Taylor and walk up to Post Street. The large red-brick building at 624 Taylor Street is home to the ultra-exclusive Bohemian Club.

“After work, Edgar swilled a double scotch at the Bohemian Club. … The Cartoon room was crowded. Edgar sat alone in the Domino Room, preferring silence.”

The Bohemian Club remains one of the most exclusive clubs in San Francisco.

If you look up you will see the Bohemian Club’s blue and white flag proudly hoisted on the flagpole on the building’s roof.Since its founding in 1872, the Bohemian Club has been cloaked in mystery. Members of this secret club are rumored to include the most powerful politicians and CEOs in the country along with several well-known top academics and popular entertainers. The Bohemian Club offers their bigwig members an arts and culture outlet as well as an upper-class playground of sorts. It is rumored that the Bohemian Club caps membership at 2700 (one member per acre of Bohemian Grove land in Marin) and it has so many potential members on its waiting list that the waiting time for membership is 15 to 20 years. If you are interested in trying to sneak into one of the Bohemian Club’s events at the Russian River Bohemian Grove you should read this 1989 Spy magazine article.

Continue up Taylor Street and make a right on Sutter. About three blocks down (450 Sutter Street) the skyscraper with the ornate gold awning and Mayan-inspired art deco carvings was the site of Jon Fielding’s medical office.

“‘Jon Fielding. The Jon doesn’t have an h. He’s at 450 Sutter. You can tell him I sent you.'”

This stunning building was the inspiration for Jon Fielding’s office.

Completed in 1929, this art deco building with heavy neo-Mayan influences was designed by Timothy Pfleuger. Pfleuger was an interior designer and architect; he designed the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph building in addition to many movie theaters including the Castro Theatre and the Paramount Theater in Oakland. In 2008 the alleyway leading to the parking garage for 450 Sutter Street (off of Bush Street) was renamed to Timothy Pflueger Place.

Continue down Sutter Street and in half a block you’ll see Wilkes Bashford (375 Sutter) on the right.

“Beauchamp decided to drink his lunch at Wilkes Bashford. There, amidst the wicker and Lucite and cool plaster walls, he downed three Negronis while he tried on a pair of $225 Walker Newberger boots.”

Wilkes Bashford opened its doors in 1966. At the time of its opening there wasn’t an outlet for men’s fashion in the United States. Wilkes introduced clothing from European designers and was also one of the first stores to support designer Ralph Lauren. The store soon became the place for the high-end customer to shop. Wilkes describes his customers as “bold conservatives.”

Continue down Sutter Street, make a left on Grant, and then a left on California Street. The University Club (800 Powell) is at the corner of California and Powell Streets.

“Up the hill at the University Club, Beauchamp sought solace from Peter Cipriani, heir to a fabled San Mateo flower fortune.”

The Bohemian Club is located on the top of the California Street hill.

In 1890 alumni from multiple universities founded the University Club to serve as a men’s club and boarding house. The club was originally located in a two-story Victorian at 722 Sutter Street (between Taylor and Jones Streets); in 1908 the club leased land from Leland Stanford and moved to its current location at 800 Powell Street. The club originally offered single-room accommodations to well-bred single men who had yet to marry and establish independent households. Today the club has an exclusive co-ed membership and offers its members a social outlet and a state-of-the-art athletic center.

(Note: if you’d like to shorten the walk skip the next two points and go directly to Sam Wo Restaurant. Make a right on Powell Street, then a right on Sacramento Street, and then a left on Grant. Sam Wo Restaurant is at 813 Washington Street, near the corner of Washington and Grant streets.)

To continue the walk, make a right on Powell, then a right on Sacramento. Walk down Sacramento for about seven blocks until you come to The Royal Exchange(301 Sacramento) on the corner of Sacramento and Front Streets.

“Promptly at noon. Mary Ann headed for the Royal Exchange with Mona. ‘Shit,’ groaned the copywriter over a Pimm’s Cup. ‘I am so spaced today.’”

Since 1972, the Royal Exchange has been a popular spot for Financial District workers to grab lunchtime or a happy hour drink. In Tales of the City, co-workers at Halcyon Communications, and neighbors, Mary Ann and Mona enjoyed lunch and afternoon drinks at the Royal Exchange.

Make a left on Front Street, then a left on Clay Street. Just after Sansome Street, on Clay, you’ll see the Redwood Grove at the Transamerica Pyramid.

[DeDe] “It was lunchtime, and you were looking very chummy.”

[Beauchamp] “You missed the good part. You should have been there earlier when I ravaged her [Mary Ann] in the redwood grove  behind the Transamerica Pyramid.”

Built in 1972 as the corporate headquarters for the Transamerica Corporation, the Transamerica Pyramid is the tallest building in San Francisco. The building has 48 floors, but only the lobby is open to the public. The launch party for the Tales of the City miniseries was held on the top floor of the Transamerica Pyramid.

Continue down Clay and make a right on Grant. Near the corner of Washington and Grant you’ll see the former location of Sam Wo Restaurant, 813 Washington Street.

(If you chose to shorten the walk by skipping the last two points, the intersection of Washington and Grant streets is about four blocks away from the University Club.)
“He took her to Sam Woh’s on Washington Street, where they wriggled through the tiny kitchen, up the stairway and into a booth on the second floor.”

After 100 years in Business, Sam Wo Restaurant found itself in a legal battle with the city health department to stay in business..

After being in business for over one hundred years in San Francisco’s Chinatown, in April 2012 Sam Wo restaurant was hit with a variety of building and health code violations. The fate of this restaurant is currently unknown. During the 1950s, it was home to late night beat poets like Jack Kerouac, and from the 1960s to the 1980s, Edsel Ford Fung, known as the world’s rudest waiter, taunted tourists and regulars. In Tales of the City, Edsel Ford Fung embarrasses Mary Ann by yelling at her for not washing her hands after using the restroom.

Continue on Grant until you reach the Savoy Tivoli at 1434 Grant Ave. (between Green and Union streets).

“This is the madwoman you met at the Tivoli. There’s a house on Russian Hill that claims it’s your home.”

The Savoy Tivoli opened its doors in 1907 and over the years the bar has grown with San Francisco. It first opened as a boarding house for sailors, and later it turned into a café popular with the North Beach beatniks. In 1974, the Savoy Tivoli attracted audiences with the popular show Beach Blanket Babylon, and in 1976 they hosted the first punk rock show in San Francisco when The Ramones played in the back room. In the Tales of the City, the Savoy Tivoli was the location where Anna Madrigal and Mona first meet.

Continue up Grant and make a left on Union Street. Café Malvina (now Café Divine) was located at 1600 Stockton Street at the corner of Stockton and Union.

“As Mona and D’orothea entered Malvina’s, Norman was striding down Union Street toward Washington Square…. Upstairs at Malvina’s, they sipped cappuccinos and reconstructed the missing years.”

In addition to being the site of Cafe Malvina, this building also appeared in the movie “Dirty Harry.”

Café Malvina operated in this location until 2004. Before Café Malvina opened in the 80s this building was home to Rossi Drug Store. Café Divine currently occupies this location and its sidewalk café is always bustling, especially during breakfast and lunch.

Washington Square Park is located across the street from Café Divine/Café Malvina.

“He (Edgar) sat down on a bench in Washington Square. Next to him was a woman who was roughly his age. She was wearing wool slacks and a paisley smock. She was reading the Bhagavad Gita. She smiled.”

Columbus Ave. and Union, Stockton, and Filbert streets border Washington Square Park. Established in 1850, along with Union Square and Portsmouth Square, Washington Square Park is one of San Francisco’s three original parks. Much like its name describes, the park was originally a square until the 19th century when Montgomery Street (now Columbus Ave.) was extended and slashed through one corner of the park. In 1879 a statue of Benjamin Franklin was erected in the middle of the park. Henry Cogswell, a dentist turned Gold Rush millionaire donated the statue to the city and when the statue was erected he placed a time capsule at the base of the statue. The time capsule was opened in 1979 and was replaced with a new capsule to be opened in 2079. The materials from the 1879 capsule can be found at the California Historical Society at 678 Mission Street.

Continue up Stockton Street for one block until you reach Mama’s Restaurant at 1701 Stockton St. (corner of Stockton and Filbert streets).

“The line at Mama’s snaked out of the building and up Stockton Street. Mary Ann was considering alternative brunch spots when a familiar figure in the crowd signaled her sheepishly.
‘Oh…hi, Norman.’”
“…The trio dined on omelets at Mama’s. Alexandra ate in silence, studying Mary Ann. Afterwards, in Washington Square, the grownups talked, while Alexandra chased pigeons in the sunshine.”

Mama’s Restaurant opened its doors more than 50 years ago and has remained a neighborhood favorite. It is very common to see Mama’s with a line out the door and around the corner from the early morning until the late afternoon.

Gather your breath and ready yourself for the challenging part of the walk. Turn right and head up the Filbert Street Hill. When Filbert Street dead-ends at Kearny continue up the stairs until you reach Telegraph Hill Blvd. Continue walking straight until you get to the Filbert Street stairs at the other side of the Telegraph Hill Blvd. (it will look like you are walking down someone’s driveway, but if you continue on you’ll see the stairs at the base of the driveway). Go down two sets of stairs until you reach the lower half of Montgomery Street. At the base of the stairs you’ll see the 1360 Montgomery Street, the art deco building that was the inspiration for Beauchamp and DeDe’s home.

“Beauchamp and DeDe moved into a fashionable Art Deco penthouse on Telegraph Hill. They entertained lavishly and were frequently seen at philanthropic extravaganzas…by almost everyone, it seemed, but Mary Ann Singleton.”

This Montgomery Street building has a rich history.

This is rumored to be the inspiration for Beauchamp and DeDe’s Montgomery Street Penthouse. This house was used during the filming of the 1947 movie Dark Passage, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Architect Irvine Goldstine designed the Malloch Building in 1937. Alfred du Pont did the three silver murals on the side of the building.

Make a right onto Montgomery Street and then a left onto Alta Street.

Armistead Maupin’s once lived at 60 Alta Street, in a house that is affectionately referred to as the Duck House. You can see photos of the interior of Maupin’s former apartment on MisterSF.

Turn around and head back down Montgomery Street. When you reach 1360 Montgomery Street turn right and take the Filbert Street stairs. Walk half way down the wooden stairs until you reach Napier Lane.

“She [DeDe] wanted to walk. And think. As usual, she went to the Filbert Steps, where the gingerbread houses and alpine cul-de-sacs provided a Walt Disney setting for her woes. She sat down on the boardwalk at Napier Lane and watched the neighborhood cats promenading in the sun.”

Walk back up the Filbert Street stairs and make a right onto lower Montgomery Street. Walk down Montgomery Street until you reach Julius’ Castle at the dead-end (1541 Montgomery Street).

“And then…a sudden slash of electric green as a flock—no, the flock—of wild parrots headed north to the eucalyptus trees above Julius Castle. The birds were a legend on the hill.”

Built in 1923, this former restaurant is the only San Francisco eatery to be marked as a city landmark. However, its landmark status couldn’t save it from the repercussions of the illegal renovations made by the building owner Jim Payne. As a result, the restaurant has been closed since 2008 and is slowly falling into disrepair. In its heyday politicians, Hollywood movie stars, and even famed Everest climber Sir Edmund Hillary frequented the once popular restaurant.

Go up the stairs on your left and climb the 174 stairs to Coit Tower. Cut across the Coit Tower parking lot and go down the Greenwich stairs. Continue on Greenwich and make a left onto Stockton. Make a right onto Union Street. If your feet need a rest you can catch the 41-Union MUNI bus at the corner of Union and Columbus. You will want to off-board the bus at Union and Taylor. (If you choose not to take the 41-Union bus you can continue walking on Union Street until you reach Taylor Street.)

“Boarding the 41 Union bus, Mary Ann realized suddenly why Connie kept an extra set of keys in her purse”

When you reach the intersection of Union and Taylor streets (either by foot or by bus), turn left to cross Union Street and walk up Taylor Street. About halfway up the hill the rickety wooden stairs mark the beginning of Macondry Lane. Take the stairs to Macondry Lane.

Macondry Lane was the inspiration for Barbary Lane. Anna Madrigal’s house was located at 28 Barbary Lane.

Walk the two blocks of Macondry Lane. After you cross Jones Street, Macondry Lane narrows to a sidewalk path that runs on the left side of the break between buildings. Macondry ends at Leavenworth make a left on Leavenworth, and then a right on Green Street. The Hyde and Green Plant Store is located at 1898 Hyde St (corner of Hyde and Green). The plant store no longer exists, but the building’s current occupants kept the “Plants” sign in the window.

The current occupants have retained some of the Hyde and Green Plant Store’s signage.

“The beast in the doorway made Mary Ann’s flesh crawl. Its face was chalk white with lurid spots of rouge on the cheekbones. It was bare-chested and furry-thighed, and two gnarled goat horns rose hideously from its brow….
‘Where’s the party?’
‘Not far. The Hyde and Green Plant Store. I’m gonna walk it.’
‘Dressed like that?’”

You can stop the tour here or you can turn right and walk along Hyde Street for nine blocks until you reach the last two points. The Buena Vista Café is located at 2765 Hyde Street (at Beach).

“On the fifth night, she drank three Irish coffees at the Buena Vista, realized her Mood Ring was blue, and decided to phone her mother in Cleveland.”

The Buena Vista is famous for inventing the Irish Coffee.

Until 1916, the building at the corner of Hyde and Beach Streets operated as a boarding house for fishermen who worked at the nearby Sardine Cannery. In 1952, the Buena Vista developed the recipe for their famous Irish coffee The Buena Vista bartenders now serve up to 2,000 Irish coffees a day.

Walk the last block of Hyde Street until you get to Aquatic Park.

“When it was over, Mary Ann left the bar and walked through Aquatic Park to the bay. She stood there for several minutes in a chill wind, staring at the beacon on Alcatraz.”
“After watching Young Frankenstein at the Ghirardelli Cinema, Michael and Jon walked onto the pier at Aquatic Park. The pier was dark. Clusters of Chinese fisherman broke the silence with laughter and the tinny blare of transistor radios. A helicopter made a whup-whup noise in the sky over Fort Mason.”

The art deco inspired bathhouse at Aquatic Park was built in 1939 as part of the New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA). The building was designed to be reminiscent of an ocean liner and the lobby is adorned with WPA murals by Sargent Johnson and Hilaire Hiler. During World War II (1941-1948) the building was used to house troops. After WWII the building became home to the San Francisco Maritime Museum and the nation’s first senior center. The building is now operated by the National Park service and is open to the public daily from 10am–4pm.

America December 2, 2012 at 1:33 am

Your post, Tales of the City, is really well written and insightful. Glad I found your website, warm regards from America!

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