Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin – My self guided tour of San Francisco
“This is a must read!” a friend exclaimed, as he explained the collection of fascinating characters I’d get to know, in this now classic series of books.
Tales of the City brings a diverse range of friends together, in the liberated world of 1970s San Francisco. Each character is brought richly to life by the writer, Armistead Maupin, who shares with us the shenanigans, heartbreak and drama at 28 Barbary Lane, the home on the hill where much of the story is set.
With a devoted following in the LBGT world, the books have long since achieved classic status. Maupin went on to finish the Tales of the City series with its final three books, the last of which was released in 2014.
From the first book to the last, I was reading them every chance I got.
And with the latest 2019 ‘Limited Series’ on Netflix, (with original cast members Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis returning in their roles in the made for TV series), I was reminded of all the wonderful San Francisco locations where the story takes place.
So, I set out to discover all the fabulous original filming locations and, of course, those famous Barbary Lane steps for myself.
Tales, more tales and further tales of the city…
After reading these raw, honest and beautifully written books, I become equally excited when I found out that the first three books were turned into a made-for-TV mini-series in the early 1990s.
With a wonderful cast and the beautiful city of San Francisco as a backdrop, the characters, and the vibrant city were suddenly brought to life, all while remaining true to the books. If it’s possible, the books were even enhanced by this cleverly adopted TV mini-series. And they were all there, from Michael ‘Mouse’ Tolliver, his best friend Mona, kooky and mysterious landlady Mrs Madrigal, the innocent and slightly naive Mary-Anne Singleton and many more.
There are many ‘tales’ to this city. The well-developed characters and fascinating story lines reveal twists and turns at every corner. We soon find out that nothing is what it seems at 28 Barbary Lane – and everyone has a secret.
Map, camera, action…
Getting an early start, I rugged up to brave the crisp San Francisco air as the fog continue to roll in from the bay. Wasting no time, I grabbed my map and set out on foot for my very own Tales of the City tour.
Anyone that has been to San Francisco understands just how steep the streets can be. It’s quite a work out when on foot and thankfully the first part was downhill, but I was ready to discover what landmarks I could in the short few hours I had available.
Setting off from the top of Nob Hill I weaved past several landmarks and points of interest from the book and movies, winding down to Russian Hill and ending alongside Fisherman’s Wharf. While only able to cover a small portion of the many scenes in the books and mini-series, I thoroughly enjoyed what I had seen. Here are a few snaps of what I discovered along the way.
I started with this map from Armistead Maupin’s website where it plots the main locations from the books and mini-series.
I then made my way to where it all started. The famous steps of 28 Barbary Lane. The real name is actually Macondray Lane, located between Green and Union St on Taylor St. Blink and you will miss it but once there be sure to walk to the top of the stairs and along the lane itself to see some the best of San Francisco architecture and scenery.
Dede and Beauchamp’s penthouse apartment in the mini-series was located at 1360 Montgomary Street, Nob Hill. This famous building has been used in other films, most notably in the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Vertigo.
When Mary Ann Singleton first went to San Francisco for an 8 day holiday, she found herself in the popular bar of the Buena Vista on day five drinking Irish Coffee and contemplating what was ahead of her. Should she stay in San Francisco? Mary Ann then left the bar to call her mother back in Cleveland, Ohio.
Anna Madrigal would meet Edgar Halcyon in different parks around the city. They would often meet to have lunch, talk and laugh about life and the problems of the day. Washington Square Park was one of these parks.
In the second book, More Tales of the City, Mary Ann met a handsome stranger by the name of Burke Andrew during a cruise to Mexico with friend Michael. Burke, suffering from amnesia began to have rose triggered flashbacks. The rose decorated stained-glass window of Grace Cathedral became an integral part in this mysterious story line.
Beauchamp, Dede’s husband at the time was an interesting character. The secretive, handsome and popular Beauchamp Day would often mingle and conduct business with other socialites and dignitary at the Pacific Union Club. This exclusive club was a beautiful brown coloured building that sat high and proud on top of Nob Hill.
Although this was a completely fictitious series of novels, the characters are so intriguing and lovable, most with an innocent and often hilarious side, that I can highly recommend reading the series. And next time you find yourself lost in the city of San Francisco, create your own memorable tales of the city.