When I knew I was going to visit San Francisco, one of the first things I did was map out all the locations where Alfred Hitchcock shot Vertigo (1958). Those places are scattered throughout (and beyond) the city, so while I knew I’d never be able to see them all, I at least wanted to hit one or two of them. My wife surprised me by sending me the link to a site she found that advertised a walking tour called Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco.
At each stop, I’ll try to show the relevant shot from the film (whenever possible), followed by how the same location looks now.
The two-hour tour began at Nob Hill at Huntington Park, off Sacramento Street between Taylor and Mason. Our tour guide Laura (who did an outstanding job) first took our 25-member group to the Brocklebank Apartments (1000 Mason St), where Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) lived. The building was constructed in 1926 and designed by a female architect (quite a rarity in those days) named Madeleine. All eyebrows among the tour members went up at this revelation, but Laura assured us that as far as anyone knows, the architect’s name had nothing to do with Novak’s character’s name. And in case you’re interested in renting an apartment at the Brocklebank, you’ll pay $10K a month.
Just down from the Brocklebank you’ll find the Fairmont Hotel at 950 Mason Street, the implied location of Scottie (James Stewart) and Judy’s ballroom dancing scene. The hotel is also where the cast and crew stayed during the shoot. In addition, Hitchcock used the Fairmont to wine and dine 125 press agents in promoting the film. (That’s our guide Laura in front.)
The Pacific Union Club located at 1000 California Street was and is an exclusive club for men. They won’t let just anyone inside, including Hitchcock’s camera, although Hitch very much wanted to use the site for Scottie’s second meeting with Gavin Elster to report on Madeleine’s activities. In what would become a recurring theme throughout the tour, Laura told us that Hitchcock had Hollywood set designers meticulously replicate the interior of the the club for this scene. Interestingly, both the Pacific Union Club and the Fairmont Hotel are the only two buildings in Nob Hill that survived the 1906 earthquake.
In this scene from the film, Scottie sees Judy for the first time. The second photo shows the street as it looks today. (I think this is Grant Avenue, but I may be mistaken.)
Judy lives at the Empire Hotel, certainly not a grand location in the film, but a very memorable one. Today the hotel is called the Hotel Vertigo, where the film plays on a loop constantly. You can also find a room named after Scottie and an authentic period poster in the lobby. The interiors were not shot here, but in Los Angeles, again, meticulously replicated to look like the original.
Another location that was replicated was the Argonaut Bookshop, named the Argosy Bookshop in the film. Laura wasn’t sure why the name was changed for the film, but once again, the filming was not done at the actual bookstore, but replicated to look exactly like the Argonaut, which still exists, selling rare and hard-to-find books.
I was hoping to at least catch a glimpse of one of the more famous locations in the film, Ernie’s Restaurant. Sadly, Ernie’s no longer exists. It would’ve made little difference anyway, since Hitchcock did not (or could not) film inside the restaurant. Once again, he replicated the restaurant, even going to the trouble of hiring chefs from the restaurant and using the restaurant’s actual silverware. Above is an original Ernie’s menu from the period. (Filet Mignon for $5.25??!!)
Behind this gate is the location of the Elizabeth Arden Salon where Judy gets her makeover. Although once again, the interiors were filmed on a sound stage in Los Angeles, everything was replicated to the last detail. All the wealthy women in San Francisco went to this salon including Hitchcock’s wife Alma.
The scene where Madeleine walks into a flower shop was filmed at this location. According to Laura, this was one of the film’s most tiresome shoots, taking 16 hours to produce one minute of film. Real flowers were used, of course, but many of the flowers wilted from the heat of the lights. More flowers had to be used, but then the heat also caused the sprinklers to go off. Oh boy…
Laura also spoke a lot about the personalities behind the scenes, the actors’ issues with Hitchcock, Hitchcock’s demands and obsessions, casting problems, and other things you can read about in other places. Locations from other films were visited and mentioned during the tour (including the gorgeous Grace Cathedral from Family Plot), but by and large, it was a Vertigo-focused outing. All in all, the tour was excellent and Laura was an extraordinary tour guide. If you’re in San Francisco and are interested in the tour, check out the SF City Guides website to see tour dates. While the tour is free, they do ask for donations at the end of the tour, which you should definitely support.