Monday, February 23, 2009

The disappearance of Hitchcock's San Francisco

Former San Francisco resident Takuan Seiyo talks about the San Francisco of the late 50's and early sixties, when Hitchcock made movies there. He compares it then to what it has become now, and how and why it got there:

From Meccania to Atlantis - Part 7: The True Horror in Hitchcock Films
I used to live in San Francisco. The San Francisco that despite having been roiled by hippies, beatniks, anti-this-and-that, still had the feel of the charming, civilized town that it had been when Alfred Hitchcock was shooting his masterpieces there.

Observe the setting of Davidson’s Pet Shop in The Birds. It’s a staged scene, but this is San Francisco’s Union Square in 1962-3 and that is the way middle class people looked and dressed in San Francisco. Tippi Hedren is an upper class society girl in this movie, so perhaps her suit has a finer cut and her clutch purse a higher price tag – but watch the other people milling about (and don’t miss Hitch himself).

Union Square was where middle class San Franciscans, dressed in suits, white shirts and ties for men, and high heels, ankle-length dresses, gloves and often hats for women, shopped.


Union Square now reeks of urine and reverberates with the shrieks of lunatics who use its sidewalks and benches as their bedroom, kitchen and toilet. It’s no longer politically acceptable to call them crazy or to put them in institutions. Besides, California doesn’t have the money. It has given the bounty robbed from its taxpayers to Mexican and other “Hispanic” legal and illegal immigrants (now 37% of California’s residents), and to public employees’ unions who thrive from dispensing the ransom to the colonizing aliens.

Put Tippi Hedren, dressed so that only her calves are exposed, next to a 2009 spoiled rich girl, say Paris Hilton, whose body hundreds of millions of people know virtually in its entirety, save for a crevice or two. Which figure is charged with more female sexuality, not to use such no-longer-comprehensible terms as class and elegance?


San Francisco had its upper crust, mainly of the demographic known as WASP, but it was also a town of immigrants and ethnics: primarily Irish and Italian, some White Russians, some Jews, some Chinese, some Californios harking back to the 19th century, and some blacks whom the currents of the U.S. military effort in World War 2 had deposited in Northern California. Its people had manners, and its working class had a touch of the contentment that comes from being able to support a large family decently on one blue-collar salary.

It was a town of peaceful ethnic neighborhoods and eateries, and exotic, for America, churches like the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral. It was charming, beautiful and diverse. But not “diverse.”

San Francisco is “diverse” now. And this is what it means: [...]

He goes on to describe the disappearance of the city he knew, and what it's been replaced by, and the how and why of it. I've seen a lot of what he talks about; I lived there for 24 years, and left for many of the reasons of which he speaks.

I enjoy reading Seiyo's writing because of his sharp wit and politically incorrect bluntness, even if I don't always agree with all of his conclusions. He's great at identifying causes of problems, but the solutions, if there are any, are much harder to come by. There's fragments, suggestions, but no whole answers.

The entire world is changing in ways I don't care for. It's a lament that every generation goes through as they age. In the end, one does one's best to save what is best of the past and to bring it into the future. I don't know that we CAN do anything more. The older you get, the less future you have, and the more you see that the future belongs to you less and less. For the sake of peace of mind, a certain amount of acceptance of that fact is required. And yet, we don't just let go of what we value. Like so much of life, it's a continuous balancing act.


ZZMike said...

I was born there - a while back. I used to be one of the "don't call it Frisco" types.

But now, it's Frisco all the way. It used to be a pretty classy city. In fact, when people said "the City", we all knew which city.

I have no plans to go back.

Chas said...

When I arrived in San Francisco in 1981, it still had a lot of that charm, but it was in the process of disappearing.

I remember Union Square bustling with nicely dressed shoppers and business men. There were not many winos or beggars yet.

I had coffee in a nearby coffee shop early one morning. The owner, a man who had moved to SF thirty years earlier, said he loved The City, because it was friendly, like a really big small town. You had the benefit of both worlds.

I could see that even then. People were genuinely tolerant and open minded, and you could be whoever you wanted to be... even a Republican. There were all these people with different points of view, and they all got along just fine.

But things continued to change. The population kept increasing, and the city started becoming crowded, and the atmosphere became coarser. An intolerant leftist political correctness started dominating the culture. Then the Thought Police started to dictate what you could and could not say or do. True tolerance went out the window.

24 years later, most of the charm had gone. That's when we left. Sad but true. My heart drew me to San Francisco, but in the end, I had to take it with me when I left.

Ragemanchoo said...

I was in downtown SF today and went to Union Square, shown in the opening sequence with all the birds swarming around it. I asked at a shop there if they knew where the Davidsons Pet Store was, the one that was used in the filming, adding that that wasn't the store's real name, but it was indeed a pet store. I figured it was a shop on Union Square. It turns out, according to the lady at the Williams-Sonoma store, it was a shop on Maiden Lane, down a side street. The store was a pet shop in real life and was for a number of years after the film, but eventually closed. She told me its now Mark Jacobs and has been remodeled a lot so it doesn't resemble the original pet store space. Its at 125 Maiden Lane. Does anybody know if this is true? The lady who told me this looked about 55 or 60 and sounded pretty confidant but I want to be extra sure. I went in the store, and it has a nice high ceiling that would have lent itself to an upper level like in the movie...

Chas said...

I think I saw the store in the 1980's. A pet shop specializing in birds, I think it was on Maiden Lane. I came across it quite by accident, and I remember thinking that it looked like it could be the one from the movie.

They had a large walk-in cage of canaries. The proprietor was busy with customers, so I didn't get to ask about the history of the place. I had wanted to go back another time, but I never did.

Anonymous said...

I was in that pet shop in the 1980's on Maiden Lane. I asked the man behind the counter "Is this the…?" and he continued with "yes, this is the store from the birds." in a very annoyed tone of voice. He obviously was asked that question a lot. Somehow, I remember the store as Robeson's Pet Store, but I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

demokrats have a way of creating hell-holes, sure enough.

Detroit was the same way in the early 1950's. Just check out some videos on YouTube. Clean people, dressed nice, public transportation that you could actually ride on without fearing for your life. Look at it now ....

Anonymous said...

Yes ..... the Pet Store was named ROBINSON'S. It was on Maiden Lane, named for the whore houses that used to be there. It did have two levels, lots of birds and the front window always held puppies. I'm 73 and remember it we.., along with the sights and sounds of Union Square, the cable cars on Powell, The White House, City of Paris, I. Magnin's, Dunhill's and many others.

In the Birds Tippi Hedren also goes in the back door of a shop from an allyway. The shop was Podesta Baldocchi's Florist.

The City was unique from post WW II until the 80's when it began to lose its "class."