Monday, January 23, 2012

Noir City Special: We Crash Dashiell Hammett's Apartment

So, more than once I mentioned that Jenifer had lined up something highly unusual for my visit to San Francisco that was going to be a real topper for the trip out.

She told me ahead of time that she'd gotten this set up, but it didn't make any sense at the time.  After having spent a few days with Jenifer, I now get that she's just one of those people who has the near-magical ability to make things work.

Its also worth mentioning that Jenifer figured out from looking at pictures that she lives across the street from the recently renovated former apartment of pulp hero, Dashiell Hammett.

The story around the apartment itself is kind of amazing, and involves sleuthing on the part of his truest fans.  Its true Hammett lived in multiple buildings, but by looking at return addresses on envelopes from letters, descriptions of Sam Spade's apartment in The Maltese Falcon and a few other contextual clues, they've narrowed it down and figured out that this was the apartment Hammett resided at for a few years in San Francisco, and when he wrote The Maltese Falcon.

I'm still not entirely clear on how Jenifer made the contact, but this morning we met up with one of the organizers of Noir City, who had been one of those investigators and who had lived in the apartment himself and did a lot of renovations.  I won't go into specifics, but basically the apartment is now a very weird spot.  Nobody lives there, and its a residential building, so there are no tours.  Essentially its supported by a philanthropist who pays the rent and maintenance and the place sits empty most days except for an occasional tour like ours or a walking tour.

Jenifer models next to the plaque talking about Hammett outside the security door.
The building is down the street from my hotel, as well.  And one thing I've learned in my short stay is that behind a lot of these facades, there's something going on or some crazy history in a lot of these buildings you wouldn't guess walking by, be it a famous author's former residence, or a secret stash of vintage cars or swimming pools by big doors.

Just inside the doorway
It doesn't seem that anybody was really aware of the building's history until the last 20 years, and so the apartment had to be basically re-done to match the original decor.  The building went up in 1917, and so Hammett would have lived there about 10 years after it opened.  Since that time, landlords had removed doors, painted over glass, added a hundred layers of paint, etc...

Dedicated folks pieced together the apartment from fixtures in apartments from the building that were original, found items that matched the book, etc...

Its a fairly small place.  A bedroom/ living room with a murphy bed, a small bath (with the original clawfoot tub and toilet, so you can stand where Hammett stood as he showered, I suppose), a small kitchen, etc..   So this was not from a period in Hammett's life where the money was just rolling in.  Its a modest living space in a part of town with a lot of character now and then.

I did take more pictures, and when I upload them to Google, I'll post a link.

Oh, the Falcon on the desk?  I'm not sure what that's about.
No, this was not Hammett's chair, but its a nice chair, right?
Of a very special, very noir weekend, this was an unbelievable bit of history that put a near surreal spin on things.

Thanks to Jenifer for arranging the tour (and so much more during my stay), to Bill who was more host that tour guide, and Doug, who was... there, I guess.

More pics when I get home and get them off my phone.


J.S. said...

Cool! Sounds like you had some people doing a pretty great job of showing you around!!

Doug said...

No one is there like me, man. I'm the best.

picky said...

This is so cool that you got to do this! The story sounds fascinating.