Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hall or Nothing

Recently, I had the opportunity to compose a chapter of a book about crime novelists and the cities they made famous through their fiction. (I’ll have more on that later.) My assignment was to write about Dashiell Hammett and San Francisco, California, where both Sam Spade and The Continental Op trod the “mean streets.”

During the course of my research for the piece, I discovered something that was unrelated, but nonetheless fascinating. It has to do with the popular 1967-1975 NBC-TV series Ironside. As you may remember, wheelchair-bound former Chief of Detectives Robert T. Ironside (played by Raymond Burr) lived in and worked out of spacious offices high up in San Francisco’s Hall of Justice (shown on the left), located directly across Kearny Street from historic Portsmouth Square on the edge of Chinatown. What I hadn’t realized until doing the Hammett research was that that broad-shouldered block of a building, designed by city architect Newton J. Tharp and completed in 1912 (it replaced a still grander Hall of Justice that was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire), was demolished in 1968 after a new Hall of Justice complex (and police headquarters) was erected at 850 Bryant Avenue.

What does this mean? That for most of Ironside’s eight-year run, “The Chief” and his small contingent of major-crime solvers conducted their investigations from a structure that no longer existed. It must have been fairly weird for San Franciscans, seeing their old Hall remain standing on television, even as it was razed and replaced in fact by an ugly hotel tower. And Ironside producers must have spent a lot of time collecting film footage of the 66-year-old building that they could use--and, in many cases, reuse--as the series continued.

READ MORE:Chronological List of San Francisco County Jails 1846-Present” (San Francisco Sheriff’s Department History Online).

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