In Search of Vertigo

San Francisco has certainly changed, that’s for sure.  I thought that locating many of the filming sites from Vertigo would be rather simple, heck I had a book to tell me, didn’t I? Well…think again. As I walked the streets of San Francisco on the hunt for what remained of Hitchcock’s “tortured Valentine” to the city, I couldn’t help feeling like Vertigo’s Gavin Elster, when he has Scottie in his office, “Well, San Francisco’s changed. The things that spell ‘San Francisco’ to me are disappearing fast.” Yes, Gavin, yes the are.

I chose a select few locations for my short stay.  Ones that were easy for a girl on foot to get to (sorry, no Palace of the Legion of Honor or San Juan Bautista – although if I track down my photos of my last visit there, I will be sure to post them!), as well as places that had changed the least.

My visits to each location were scattered throughout my journey, and not in the order as seen in the film, however for simplicity’s sake we will go through them in the order they appear in the film.  Except for Mission Dolores that is, which you can now see here.  Please note, this entry is full of spoilers for Vertigo.  However, I would assume that you would only read this if you’ve seen the film…


In the Vertigo, Scottie visits Ernie’s to catch a glimpse of Madeleine, we first see an exterior shot of the restaurant.

What is so very surprising is that, although Ernie’s was an actual establishment, and Hitchcock had a very close relationship with the owners, he chose not to film at the location.  Instead, both the outside and the inside of the restaurant were recreated on a sound stage.  Hitchcock went to great lengths to recreate Ernie’s perfectly, which included art work and table settings borrowed from the actual restaurant.

The real Ernie’s closed in 1995, and was replaced by the Essex Supper Club, which apparently kept much of the original decor of Ernie’s.  However, Essex didn’t last long, and closed in 1998, the original furniture and fixtures went to auction, according to Footsteps in the Fog.

Today, the location of the real Ernie’s is now a place called Carrots, “a luxury emporium” (according to their “about” page). The page also notes that they are indeed located at where Ernie’s once was, and claim that Ernie’s closed in 1999, contrary to Footsteps. Sadly, the outside maintains none of the original glamor of Ernie’s.

Elster’s Apartment

The following day, Scottie begins to follow Madeleine, starting at the Elster’s apartment.

Unlike Ernie’s, Hitchcock actually filmed here.  The building is called the Brocklebank, and still maintains an extreme likeness to how it stood in Vertigo.

Fort Point

After following Madeleine to the Palace of the Legion of Honor for the second time, he continues to tail her as she reaches Fort Point, near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Madeleine gets out of her car, and then walks around the building before jumping into the Bay in an apparent suicide attempt.

Today, Fort Point is a popular location for tourists looking to get a good shot of the bridge and as the end of a run for joggers along the Presidio.  The area is also part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  Additionally, the actual location where Madeleine jumps into the Bay is now blocked off, due to security reasons.  However, someone has cut away a portion of the chain link fence to provide a nice view of the bridge for photographers.

Not far from Fort Point is a nice gift shop and cafe that has lots of books on SF, including Footsteps.  I picked up an additional copy for my pop.

Scottie’s Apartment

The day after Scottie rescues Madeleine from the Bay, we find her at Scottie’s apartment, dropping off a thank you note.

Scottie’s apartment is still standing, and still fairly recognizable.  Although the small bush seen in the film is now quite tall, the railing has changed, and the door painted a muted tan, instead of bright red.  The apartment is located right on the corner of Lombard and Jones, and exactly one black from “the crookedest street in the world” – the famous twisted portion of Lombard Street.

A few details that do remain are the doorbell plate and letter slot.

This was one location where I could actually, albeit, somewhat awkwardly bask in the fact that I was standing where Jimmy Stewart stood.  Though, I kept in mind the laws of the land, and stood on the sidewalk. Many other locations were busy with either tourists or local traffic.  What I found both entertaining and sad is that no one who passed by the location seemed aware of its significance.  It was just another building on their way to see the famous twists and turns of Lombard Street.  Although I did notice a security camera angled toward the door…I don’t blame them.

UPDATE: Scotty’s apartment no longer is recognizable.

Judy’s Place

After Madeleine’s “suicide” at San Juan Bautista, we are introduced to the character of Judy Barton, a dead (pun intended) ringer for Madeleine.  Judy’s “place to live”, as she puts it, is the Hotel Empire.

When Footsteps was printed, the hotel had been renamed the York Hotel, but today is is actually known as Hotel Vertigo, located at 940 Sutter Street.  The Hotel Vertigo is a posh, modern hotel, and while it takes its name from the film, as well as its typeface, the interior looks nothing like the film.

Palace of Fine Arts

Once Judy, who we have now learned only pretended to be Madeleine, and it was all a set-up for Gavin to kill his real wife, Judy decides to let Scottie back into her life, but without telling him the whole truth.  One afternoon, they take a stroll by the Palace of Fine Arts.

The Palace of Fine Arts was originally constructed for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in 1915 and originally set up a temporary structure.  It remained until 1966, when, after falling into disrepair, it was rebuilt as a permanent structure.

I must say, this was one of my favorite places to visit.  Not only did I get to walk where Jimmy Stewart walked, but the place is simply beautiful.  So, I will leave you with some bonus photos of this stunning location…

For photos from my visit to the Mission Dolores click here!

For Mission San Juan Bautista photos click here!

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