Sam Spade Was Here

This elaborate hand-painted ceiling is in the lobby of the Hunter-Dulin Building at 111 Sutter Street in San Francisco, a key point of interest on the architecture walking tour I took last week. Years of cigarette smoke build-up had kept the mural hidden until it was exposed by extensive cleaning in 2005.

The building was designed in a combination of French Château and Romanesque styles by Schultze & Weaver, the architects who designed the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. It does seem to resemble a grand hotel rather than an office building.

Among other high-profile tenants who have walked through the intricately detailed entrance, 111 Sutter was the West Coast headquarters of NBC from 1927 to 1942.

The marble floor is another example of the opulence of this lobby. In days gone by, an elevator captain would stand in the center of the lobby and direct people into one of the six elevators. From years of pivoting in place, the marble is worn in the spot where he stood.

Elevator Floor Indicator

What’s the connection to Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett’s detective in novels such as The Maltese Falcon? Hammett chose 111 Sutter to be the fictional location of Sam’s office — on the fifth floor.

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44 thoughts on “Sam Spade Was Here

  1. jim

    There are a lot of old buildings around elaborately decorated like this yet to be re-discovered. Cigarette smoke,altered ceiling heights, plastering over when modernised, – we just don’t know what art is beneath some surces.
    Isn’t it wonderful when restoration can bring back these beauties?!

    1. Cathy Post author

      It really is wonderful. You’re right that so many beautiful old buildings (when not torn down) go plastered over, totally redone — covering up some really great art and architecture.

  2. Michael Figueiredo

    Such a cool story to go along with these great photos! I never would have guessed that the first one was in San Francisco. You could have posted that as a “Where in the world am I?” photo and I would have guessed somewhere in Europe!

  3. Jenna

    I’m so glad you posted this because I will definitely check out this building next time I’m in SF. It’s just the kind of thing I enjoy seeing. That entrance is amazing!

  4. Leigh

    Love the shot of the ceiling – and hard to believe that was covered just because of cigarette smoke. I’ve never done a guided architectural walk but it seems to be the way to find the hidden gems in the city.

    1. Cathy Post author

      On the walking tour, we saw another old building that had a skylight that was discovered underneath years of cigarette smoke!

  5. Lisa

    I love architecture, this is a beautiful building. That arch detail is gorgeous. That is one of my favorite parts of travel, to explore, examine and photograph the architechture.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks, Lisa. I love architecture, too. I’m not an expert by any means, but I appreciate interesting styles and designs.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I was really surprised by the ceiling. Before we walked in, Rick (our tour guide) told us about it, but it was more beautiful than I expected.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Sam Spade goes back quite a while. Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” was published in 1930 and the movie starring Humphrey Bogart was made in 1941.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Amazing to think about that being covered up by smoke build up! I wonder how many other beautiful ceilings are still concealed.

  6. Grace

    I love the ceiling Cathy. I am a sucker for opulent and elaborate ones. I’m actually thinking of decorating the one in my bedroom.

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