1201 California St., San Francisco

Posted: October 5, 2010 in Uncategorized
“Miss Wonderly, in a belted crêpe silk dress, opened the door of apartment 1001 at the Coronet.”

At Winston-Salem’s BOOKMARKS festival a couple Saturdays ago, your blogger had the serendipitous pleasure to meet and briefly talk with Ms. Jeanine Catalano, visiting in town from San Francisco. Ms. Catalano currently lives at an historic address–1201 California Street, atop Nob Hill. This building, known as the Cathedral Building, has been identified as the Coronet, the hotel in The Maltese Falcon in which Brigid O’Shaughnessy briefly stays.

1201 California St., Brigid O'Shaughnessy's address.

Part of the fascination with The Maltese Falcon is Hammett’s vivid evocation of the city of San Francisco and his interweaving of actual locations with imaginative ones likely based on real addresses. In this case, the Coronet is an imaginative address, chosen as a swank location for the smooth facade Brigid projects. Crime author Joe Gores, writing in 1975 for the City of San Francisco magazine, tracks down the actual locations and models of settings in The Falcon, and convincingly argues that the Cathedral Building was the model for the Coronet. At the time of publication of the novel, the Cathedral was a brand new building and address, the work of architectural firm Weeks & Day who also designed the Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco and the historic California Theater in San Jose. (Joe Gores, “A Foggy Night,” City of San Francicso, 9 (4 November 1975): 20-30, excerpted in Richard Layman, Discovering the Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade, Vince Emery Productions, 2005: 132-143.)

Ms. Catalano was happy to share some thoughts about the Cathedral building and her experience there, and both she and Aprilynn Stewart, the building manager, shared some historic pictures of the building.

Portico, 1201 California St., Spanish Revival architecture.

Ms. Catalano: I have lived in San Francisco for nearly twenty-five years. Almost long enough to be considered a “native” San Franciscan. [At first} I was not aware of its [the building’s] significance in terms of The Maltese Falcon but was quite aware of its historical architectural significance. The building was constructed in 1929, has beautiful architectural features, both inside and out and is the subject of many photos, especially by tourists who visit our neighborhood, Nob Hill. I’ve read and enjoyed [The Maltese Falcon] tremendously. I own a copy of the book and a copy of the book can be found in the lobby of our building. Living in an older building, especially a grand building such as ours, comes with a sense of stewardship. We feel a connection to the past and an obligation to the future. Also, living in this building with its link to the story makes the story come alive even more.”

The Cathedral Building in the 1039s.

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