Monday, July 11, 2011

My neighborhood — The McKittrick Hotel — 3/3

The Portman Mansion, 1007 Gough Street

Vertigo, the finest Hollywood movie ever filmed in San Francisco, must have encouraged many people to move here. This wasn’t true in my case, but after I first saw it in Boston in 1958, the portrayal of San Francisco as a misty, color-saturated, Vista-Visioned enchantment lying somewhere far to the west on the Pacific coast haunted me in its mythic unreality as it still does even to this day.

Other impressions from the movie remain unforgotten—the genially conceived long stroll across Ernie’s Restaurant in the famous green velvet dress, of course, and the leap into the Bay under the Bridge at Fort Point, the tète-à-tète among misty redwoods in Muir Woods, the fall from the (totally non-existent) bell tower at Mission San Juan Bautista in Hollister.

Equally impressive for me and my male buddies in those days was Kim Novak’s appearance at the Empire Hotel at 940 Sutter. Her Playtex Maidenform bra seemed to stretch her green knit sweater to the point of structural unsustainability.

Another great moment occurs when Madeleine enters the McKittrick Hotel to regenerate her delusional possession by Carlotta Valdes. Certainly nowhere in Boston could you encounter an architecture that looked anything like like this.

The "McKittrick Hotel" was in fact the twenty-room Portman mansion dating from the 1880’s at Gough and Eddy Streets. It was torn down in 1959 to make room for an athletic practice field belonging to Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School.

Jimmy Stewart pulls up in his 1956 DeSoto FireFlite.
St Paulus Church is behind him, and my apartment under the arrow.

And he goes looking for Madeleine.

An opportunity for a quick bath is ignored.

The derelict mansion was pulled down in 1959.

Time is elastic, you have to become an older person to really understand that. As much time has elapsed between the filming of the Hitchock movie and the present as between then and when the mansion at 1007 Gough Street was still in its prime. Who knows, perhaps Carlotta Valdes really existed. Every city has its own ghosts, and God knows this town is loaded with them.

A few times each week I sit waiting at the bus stop at Gough and Eddy for the 31-Balboa to come lumbering up the hill. Sometimes, when the neighborhood is wrapped in fog, the McKittrick Hotel rises up spectrally across the street in front of me beyond the schoolyard, and I see Jimmy Stewart stalking Madeleine up the steps. It occurs to me that I too have trailed after one beautiful woman or another, only to see her disappear before my eyes.

The black-and-white photos of the Portman Mansion are taken from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.



  1. Were any of those beautiful interiors saved I wonder?

  2. What a god d@mn shame this marvelous building was demolished! And for what??? From the images above, the interior looked like it was still in very good condition. Mind blowing that it could be destroyed...