The Maltese Falcon: A San Francisco Urban Hike
Before San Francisco was home to start-ups and tech millionaires the city was a haven for creatives. One of San Francisco’s most notorious residents was Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon. The Maltese Falcon is a noir detective novel (and a movie starring Humphrey Bogart) about the adventures and exploits of gumshoe private detective Sam Spade. This Maltese Falcon Urban Hike is an easy 3.5-mile walk back in history and visits some of Dashiell Hammett’s local spots and sites from The Maltese Falcon.
The walk begins at the Civic Center MUNI/BART station and takes approximately 3 hours. This is an easy walk that is mostly flat and with only one or two hills. This walk features sites from The Maltese Falcon, but Dashiell Hammett wrote several other books that were set in San Francisco. If you are interested in learning more about Hammett and his books I recommend taking Don Herron’s walking tour Up and Down These Mean Streets.
(Note: I originally published this walking tour on my former blog SFuncovered. Click on the link at the bottom of the post to access the Google Map, or go to CalTopo to download my GPS tracks.)
About Dashiell Hammett
Hammett lived in San Francisco from 1921-1930. Before moving to San Francisco, Hammett served in WWI. During his service he contracted Spanish Influenza that later turned into Tuburculosis. Hammett was disabled by the Tuburculosis and spent November 1920 to February 1921 in a military hospital receiving treatment. It was in the infirmary where Hammett met a pretty young nurse named Josephine (Jose) Dolan. After Hammett moved to San Francisco in 1921 he received a note from Jose informing Hammett that she was pregnant with his child. Hammett brought Jose to San Francisco. The couple was married in July, moved to 620 Eddy Street and in October 1921 their first daughter, Mary, was born. The couple separated in 1927 and in 1930 Hammett moved to New York.
Maltese Falcon Urban Hike
From the Civic Center Station exit at Hyde Street, and at the intersection of Hyde and Market make a right onto Hyde Street and walk past the Civic Center/UN Plaza. In about four blocks you’ll see a playground at the corner of Hyde and Turk Streets.
Dashiell Hammett rented a room at 408 Turk Street, which is now the site of the playground.
Hammett had an apartment here while he and Jose were married. Shortly after the birth of his second child, doctors advised the family that due to his tuberculosis outbreak, Dashiell should live separately. It was during this separation when Hammett realized that he wasn’t cut out for the traditional life of a family man and the marriage between Dashiell and Jose ended soon after. Dashiell continued to support his family with the earnings he made from his writing.
Continue walking up Hyde for one block and then make a left onto Eddy Street. The Crawford Apartments at 620 Eddy Street is the site of the Hammett family home.
Dashiell Hammett and Josephine (Jose) moved into this building after they were married. They lived here together until Dashiell’s tuberculosis outbreak. After doctors advised Jose that she and the children shouldn’t be living with Dashiell since he was so sick, Jose and her daughters moved to Marin and Dashiell took the apartment at 408 Turk Street.
Turn around and head back down Eddy Street back to Hyde Street. Make a left onto Hyde Street and continue walking up Hyde for another four blocks. Make a right onto Post Street and stop at 891 Post Street.
After separating from Jose, Hammett moved to 891 Post Street. This is where he wrote the bulk of The Maltese Falcon. Dashiell borrowed from real-life and 891 Post Street was also the home of detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Dashiell Hammett (and Sam Spade) lived in Apartment 401, and the building is now a literary landmark. The apartment on the 4th floor has been renovated to look like Sam Spade’s apartment. Bay Area resident and author, Mark Coggins, wrote a wonderful article on the history of the apartment and included photos of the apartment today.
Continue walking on Post Street towards Leavenworth. Make a right onto Leavenworth and a left onto Geary Street. In The Maltese Falcon, Floyd Thursby’s hotel is located on Geary near Leavenworth.
“Lieutentant Dundy raised his two bent fingers towards Spade’s chest, quickly lowered them, and said: ‘I give you ten minutes to get to a phone and do your talking to the girl. I give you ten minutes to get to Thursby’s joint- Geary near Leavenworth- you could do that easy in that time, or fifteen at the most. Ad that gives you ten or fifteen minutes of waiting before he showed up.’”
Continue walking on Geary Street, towards Jones Street. The paragraph below comes from The Maltese Falcon and it references the next three points on our walk.
“Spade walked up Sutter Street to Kearny, where he entered a cigar-store to buy two sacks of Bull Durham. When he came out the youth was one of four people waiting for a street-car on the opposite corner, Spade ate dinner at Herbert’s Grill in Powell Street. When he left the Grill, at a quarter to eight, the youth was looking into a nearby haberdasher’s window. Spade when to the Hotel Belvedere, asking at the front desk for Mr. Cairo. He was told that Cairo was not in. The youth sat in a chair in a far corner of the lobby. Spade went to the Geary Theatre, failed to see Cairo in the lobby, and posted himself on the curb in front, facing the theatre. The youth loitered with other loiterers before Marquard’s restaurant below.”
Continue walking on Geary Street until you reach the intersection of Geary and Taylor Streets.
The Monaco Hotel at 501 Geary Street was the inspiration for the Hotel Belvedere. The Monaco Hotel was called the Hotel Belvedere when Hammett was writing The Maltese Falcon. Joel Cairo stayed at the Hotel Belvedere while searching for the Maltese Falcon.
One block down on Geary Street is the Geary Theatre at 415 Geary Street.
Cairo had a ticket for an orchestra set for a show at the Geary Theatre. The 1906 earthquake destroyed all eight of San Francisco’s theatres, but by 1911 all of the theatres were rebuilt or replaced with new theatres. The Geary theatre was designed by prominent San Francisco architects Walter D. Bliss and William B. Faville. Bliss and Faville are also responsible for building the Bank of California building and the St. Francis hotel. Building construction started in 1909 and the new theatre opened on January 10, 1910. George Ade’s Father and the Boyswas the first show in the theater. Due to changes in management this theatre has gone by several names, including: Columbia Theatre, Wilkes Theatre, Lurie Theatre, Geary Theatre, and most recently (since 2006) the American Conservatory Theatre.
Opposite from the Geary Theatre, near the intersection of Geary and Mason Streets was the location of Marquard’s Café.
This café featured vaudeville style acts along with live music. During prohibition it was well known that the café served alcohol illegally. Harry Marquard, proprietor, and Adolph Rudolf, manager of Marquard’s Cafe, ended up serving jail time for violating the prohibition act. Marquard’s Cafe was raided in September 1921. After the raid Marquard appeared before the federal grand jury and testified that he had a deal with several elected officials to set aside 10 percent of the cafe’s receipts to be used in the Democratic fund in lieu of protection to sell liquor in his cafe. (Sausalito News, Volume 37, Number 3, 15 January 1921.)
Continue on Geary Street and make a left onto Powell Street. The St. Francis Hotel at 335 Powell Street was the inspiration for Miss. Wonderly’s hotel, the St. Mark.
“Spade went through the St. Mark’s long purplish lobby to the desk and asked a red-haired dandy whether Miss Wonderly was in. The red-haired dandy turned away, and then back shaking his head. ‘She checked out this morning, Mr. Spade.’”
The St. Francis Hotel opened in 1904. The hotel was built by the Crocker family and was meant to be an investment property for the Crocker children. Charles Crocker made his money as a railroad executive. He was one of the four principal investors in the Central Pacific Railroad and he was one of the wealthiest men in San Francisco. In 1913, the double-width north wing of the hotel was added as apartments for long-term guests. The hotel was renovated once again when the large rear wing was added in 1972.
Continue walking up Powell Street until you reach the Sir Francis Drake Hotel at 450 Powell St.
The Sir Francis Drake is the inspiration for the Alexandria Hotel where Kasper Gutman stayed.
“The mahogany door of suite 12-C at the Alexandria Hotel was opened by the boy Spade had talked to in the Belvedere lobby. Spade said, ‘Hello,’ good-naturedly. The boy did not say anything. He stood aside holding the door open. Spade went in. A fat man came to meet him.”
“From the stage-terminal another taxicab carried him to the Alexandria Hotel. Spade went up to suite 12-C and knocked on the door. The door was opened, when he had knocked a second time, by a small fair-haired girl in a shimmering yellow dressing-gown- a small girl whose face was white and dim and who clung desperately to the inner doorknob with both hands and gasped: ‘Mr. Spade?’”
When the Sir Francis Drake opened in 1928 there were already plenty of luxury hotels in San Francisco. However, the Drake topped them all with its indoor golf course and radios in every room. The hotel windows were made with Vitaglass, a special glass that let “healthy” ultra-violet rays through the glass so that guests could tan without leaving their room.
Make a right onto Sutter Street. Stay on Sutter Street for one block and then turn left onto Stockton Street and head towards the Stockton Street Tunnel.
“Where Bush Street roofed Stockton before slipping downhill to Chinatown, Spade paid his fare and left the taxicab. San Francisco’s night-fog, thin, clammy, and penetrant, blurred the street. A few yards from where Spade had dismissed the taxicab a small group of men stood looking up an alley. Two women stood with a man on the other side of Bush Street, looking at the alley. There were faces at windows.
Spade crossed the sidewalk between iron-railed hatchways that opened above bare ugly stairs, went to the parapet, 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. Not far from the tunnel’s mouth a man was hunkered on his heels before a billboard that held advertisements of a moving picture and a gasoline across the front of a gap between two store-buildings. The hunkered man’s head was bent almost to the sidewalk so he could look under the billboard. A hand flat on the paving, a hand clenched on the billboard’s green frame, held him in this grotesque position. Two other men stood awkwardly together at one end of the billboard, peeping through the few inches of space between it and the building at that end. The building at the other end had a blank grey sidewall that looked down on the lot behind the billboard. Lights flickered on the sidewall, and the shadows of men moving among lights.”
In the early 1900s San Francisco The Stockton Tunnel was the first tunnel in San Francisco. After a year of construction, the tunnel opened in 1914. The 911-foot tunnel cost $450,000 in construction costs, $11,000 for the rail tracks, and one life when a construction worker was killed during a cave-in. The tunnel connected the once-sleepy, small-town North Beach area to bustling downtown/Civic Center and as a result it encouraged the development of North Beach.
When you reach the entrance to the tunnel, take the stairs up. At the top of the stairs make a left (onto Bush Street) and walk a half block to Burritt Street.
Spade turned from the parapet and walked up Bush Street to the alley where men were grouped. A uniformed policeman chewing gun under and enameled sign that said Burritt St. in white against dark blue put out an arm and asked: “What do you want here?”
Burritt Street marks the place where Miles Archer was killed, and there is even a plaque to prove it!
Cross over Bush Street. Dashiell Hammett Street is almost directly across from Burritt Street.
Dashiell Hammett has Lawrence Ferlinghetti to thank for this street name. Ferlinghetti petitioned the city in 1988 to change the names of twelve streets to commemorate local writers and artists. Ferlinghetti is a beat poet and founder of the first all-paperback bookstore, City Lights Bookstore. Some of the other street names that were changed in 1988 were Jack Kerouac Alley, Isadora Duncan Alley, and Via Ferlinghetti, after Lawrence Ferlinghetti himself.
Walk back down Bush Street to Stockton and make a left onto Stockton. Walk up the Stockton Street hill for two blocks and make a right on California Street. Old St. Mary’s Cathedral is at 660 California Street.
Dashiell Hammett and Josephine Dolan were married in the church rectory on July 7, 1921. Their first daughter was born in October 1921. If you would like to learn more about Dashiell and Jose’s courtship and of Dashiell’s life in general, I recommend reading Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett 1921-1960, edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett.
Continue walking down the California Street hill and make a right on Kearny Street. At the corner of Sutter and Kearny you’ll see the former location of Otto’s Corner Store.
“Walked up Sutter Street to Kearny, where he entered a cigar store to buy two sacks of Bull Durham. When he came out the youth was one of four people waiting for a street car on the opposite corner.”
The Hotel Sutter is also at the intersection of Sutter and Kearny Streets.
Sam Spade stops in on his way from his meeting with the District Attorney to use the hotel’s telephone. “Spade went into the Hotel Sutter and telephoned the Alexandria. Gutman was not in. No member of Gutman’s party was in. Spade telephoned the Belvedere. Cairo was not in, had not been in that day.”
Make a left onto Sutter Street and walk one block to the Hunter-Dulin Building at 111 Sutter Street.
“Carrying the parcel lightly under his arm, walking briskly, with only the ceaseless shifting of his eyes to denote weariness, Spade went partly by way of an alley and a narrow court, from his office-building to Kearny and Post Streets where he hailed a passing taxi cab. The taxicab carried him to the Pickwick Stage terminal in Fifth Street.”
In The Maltese Falcon Sam Spade’s office was located on the fifth floor of this building. The Hunter-Dulin building is a 22-story building reminiscent of a French chateau. When it was built in 1927, it was the fourth tallest building in San Francisco. From 1927-1942 it served as the West coast offices of NBC and of course the office of the Spade and Archer Detective Agency.
Make a right onto Montgomery Street, cross Market Street and continue on New Montgomery Street. The Palace Hotel is located at 2 New Montgomery Street.
“Spade walked down Geary Street to the Palace Hotel, where he ate his luncheon. His face had lost its pallor, his lips their dryness, and his hands its trembling by the time he had sat down. He ate hungrily without haste, and then went to Sid Wise’s office. When Spade entered, Wise was biting a fingernail and staring at the window. He took his hand from his mouth, screwed his chair around to face Spade, and said: ‘ ‘Lo. Push a chair up.’”
Sam Spade dines at the restaurant in the Palace twice. The current Palace Hotel is also known as the New Palace Hotel. The original Palace Hotel was destroyed in the fires after the 1906 Earthquake and the current structure was built in 1909. The original Palace Hotel was built by banker William Chapman Ralston and it cost nearly $5 million. In August 1875, just two months before the hotel opened, Ralston’s banking empire collapsed and Ralston drowned in the Bay on the very same day. In 1923, tragedy struck the Palace when 58-year old President Warren G. Harding suffered a seizure and died in the Presidential Suite (Room 8064). The extravagant interior of this hotel is definitely worth a stroll around the lobby and common areas.
Retrace your steps and head back up New Montgomery Street to Market Street. Make a left onto Market Street and walk about 4 blocks to the Pacific Building, 821 Market Street (site of the Old Navy store).
“Spade and Detective-sargeant Polhaus ate pickled pigs’ feet at one of big John’s tables at States Hof Brau. Polhaus, balancing pale bright jelly on a fork halfway between plate and mouth said: ‘Hey, listen, Sam! Forget about the other night. He was dead wrong, but you know anybody’s liable to lose their head if you ride them that way.’”
Built in 1907, this 9-story building was boasted as the largest concrete building in the world. The architect, Charles F. Whittlesey, designed the building to use an innovative new building technique that combined steel and concrete. This building technique was later expanded to build the first skyscrapers. The Pacific Building was decorated in hues of green, rust, cream, and yellow tiles and decorative terracotta sculpture. Whittlesey justified his unusual color choices in Architect and Engineer, saying, “The climate of our city is decidedly gray and this is accentuated all about town, especially in the large buildings, by the use of a particularly gloomy stone of a disagreeable yellowish-gray color that catches and absorbs much of the smudge carried on the winds.” States Hof Brau took up the entire first floor of the building and it had several dining rooms that were decorated in different themes.
Cross Market Street and you’ll find the Flood Building- 870 Market Street– to the left, a half block down.
Upon his arrival in San Francisco, Dashiell Hammett worked briefly at the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Built in 1904, the 12-story building cost 1.5 million dollars to build and at the time of completion it was the largest building in San Francisco. In 1945, the building was almost demolished to make room for a 3-story Woolworth’s store. Luckily, the government stepped in and made a deal to save the building. Woolworths moved into the basement and ground level and the rest of the building was occupied by government agencies.
Check out the clock on the sidewalk outside of the Flood Building and then walk down Market Street, towards Powell.Pass Powell Street and make a left onto Fifth Street. The building at the corner of Fifth and Market Streets was the former location of Samuel’s Jewelers.
Hammett was employed as an advertising copywriter at Samuel’s Jewelers, also known as “The House of Lucky Wedding Rings”. It was here that Hammett met his Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Brigid’s character is inspired by Peggy O’Toole, a typist at Samuel’s who had an affair with Hammett. The building housed over 40 jewelers and the entire first floor was occupied by the jewelry showroom. In 1915, Albert Samuels installed a 20-foot clock outside of his store to celebrate the Panama-Pacific Expo. In 1941 the jewelery store moved next to the Flood Building at 850 Market, and took the clock with it. The clock still sits on the sidewalk outside of the Flood Building.
Continue on Fifth Street until you reach the Pickwick Hotel at the corner of Fifth and Mission Streets.
“The taxicab carried him to the Pickwick Stage terminal in Fifth Street. He checked the bird at the Parcel Room there, put the check into a stamped envelope, wrote M.F. Holland and a San Francisco post office box-number on the envelope, sealed it, and dropped it into a mailbox. From the stage-terminal another taxicab carried him to the Alexandria Hotel.”
Make a right onto Mission Street and walk a block to The Remedial at 932 Mission Street.
“You must have something you can raise money on,” he insisted.
I’ve some rings, a little jewelry.”
“You’ll have to hock them,” he said, and held out his hand. “The remedial’s best- Mission and Fifth.”
Sam Spade suggests that Brigid pawn her jewelry at The Remedial to make some extra money to pay for his services. The Remedial is still an operating pawn shop.
Retrace your steps and walk back to Mission and Fifth Streets. Make a left onto Fifth Street and cross Market Street. Make a right onto Market and make a left onto Powell ( at the Cable Car turnaround plaza).
The Burger King on Powell Street was formerly the Edison Theatre – 39 Powell Street.
“Spade frowned. ‘She went to a movie at ten-thirty?’
‘So she says- the one on Powell Street that stays open until one in the morning. She didn’t want to go home, she says, because she didn’t want to be there when Miles came. That always made him mad, it seems, especially if it was around midnight. She stayed in the movie until it closed.’ Wise’s words came out slower now and there was a sardonic glint in his eye. ‘She says she had decided by then not to go back to your place again. She says she didn’t know whether you’d like having her drop in that late. So she went to Tait’s- the one on Ellis Street- had something to eat, and then went home- alone.’ Wise rocked back in his chair and waited for Spade to speak.”
This was the location of the late-night movie theatre on Powell Street where Iva took in a movie on the night that Archer was shot. Opened in 1911, it was renamed the Powell Theatre in 1933. From 1976-1977 it was renamed the Powell Cinema and was operating as a gay porn theatre.
Less than a half-block up, at the corner of Powell and Ellis Street is 120 Ellis Street.
Dashiell Hammett rented a room at 120 Ellis Street when he first arrived in San Francisco.
Continue up Powell for another half block until you see the Hotel Union Square at 114 Powell Street.
Built in 1908 as the Golden West Hotel, Hammett booked Jose a room here upon her arrival to San Francisco. It was frowned upon for Dashiell and Jose to live together before marriage, so she stayed here until she and Hammett were married. The Hotel Union Square currently has a Dashiell Hammett guest room and the lobby is decorated with Dashiell Hammett and The Maltese Falcon memorabilia.
Retrace your steps and head back down Powell Street for a half block and make a left onto Ellis Street. John’s Grill is located at 63 Ellis Street.
“He went to John’s Grill, asked the waiter to hurry his order of chops, baked potato, and sliced tomatoes, ate hurriedly, and was smoking a cigarette with his coffee when a thick-set youngish man with a plaid cap set askew above pale eyes and a tough cheery face came into the Grill and to his table. ‘All set, Mr. Spade. She’s full of gas and raring to go.’”
The folks at John’s Grill are very friendly and they’ll let you go up to the second floor to check out their copy of the Maltese Falcon and some Hammett memorabilia. They also have a detailed history about the restaurant’s role in both the book and the movie. And if you’re hungry after the long walk the meal that Sam Spade enjoyed at the restaurant is still on the menu.
The walk begins at the Civic Center MUNI/BART station and takes approximately 3 hours. To begin the walk exit the Civic Center Station at Hyde Street, and at the intersection of Hyde and Market make a right onto Hyde Street and walk past the Civic Center/UN Plaza.
Start on Hyde Street and walk past the Civic Center/UN Plaza. Continue walking up Hyde and make a right onto Post Street.
Make a right onto Leavenworth and a left onto Geary Street.
Continue on Geary Street and make a left onto Powell Street.
Make a right onto Sutter Street. Stay on Sutter Street for one block and then turn left onto Stockton Street and head towards the Stockton Street Tunnel. When you reach the entrance to the tunnel, take the stairs up. At the top of the stairs make a left (onto Bush Street) and walk a half block to Burritt Street. Cross over Bush Street. Dashiell Hammett Street is almost directly across from Burritt Street.
From Bush Street make a left onto Stockton.
Walk up the Stockton Street hill for two blocks and make a right on California Street.
Make a right on Kearny Street and then make a left onto Sutter Street and walk one block to the Hunter-Dulin Building.
Make a right onto Montgomery Street, cross Market Street and continue to the Palace Hotel on New Montgomery Street. Go back to Market Street, make a left and walk down Market Street, towards Powell. Pass Powell Street and make a left onto Fifth Street.
Continue on Fifth Street until you reach the Pickwick Hotel at the corner of Fifth and Mission Streets. Make a right onto Mission Street and walk a block to The Remedial at 932 Mission Street. Retrace your steps and walk back to Mission and Fifth Streets.
Make a left onto Fifth Street and cross Market Street. Make a right onto Market and make a left onto Powell ( at the Cable Car turnaround plaza). Continue up Powell for two blocks until you see the Hotel Union Square at 114 Powell Street.
Retrace your steps and head back down Powell Street for a half block and make a left onto Ellis Street. John’s Grill is located at 63 Ellis Street and is the end of the hike.
Parking in San Francisco is difficult, please use public transportation.
You can access the Google Map below, or download my GPS tracks from CalTopo.
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