It’s no secret that San Francisco’s South of Market district has changed a lot in the last 20 years, but it’s easy to forget just how dramatic those changes have been.
Not all that long ago, SoMa synonymous with seediness and squalor — so much so that the area was used as the backdrop for a movie scene that defined mainstream anxieties about out-of-control crime during the early 1980s.
Remember Clint Eastwood’s “Go ahead, make my day” bit from the 1983 Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact? It was the standout scene in the movie, and the line became one of the decade’s pop-culture touchstones — so much so that it was embraced by then-President Ronald Reagan:
“I have my veto pen drawn and ready for any tax increase that Congress might even think of sending up. And I have only one thing to say to the tax increasers. Go ahead–make my day.”
–Ronald Reagan, to the American Business Conference (1985)
As it happens, the building used to film the famous “make my day” scene still exists, although the neighborhood around it has changed almost beyond recognition. The scene itself was shot at 701 Third Street, at the corner Townsend, in a building that was originally constructed to be a Doggie Diner. By 1983 it had become a one-off burger joint called Tiger’s. (In the film it’s called the Acorn Cafe.) Later it became Burger Island, and today it’s a utterly forgettable McDonald’s franchise.
More interesting, however, are the scenes outside the windows of the building. In Sudden Impact, the lot across the street is dusty and vacant, heightening the sense of post-urban blight.
But there’s a reason that lot was empty, of course. Originally it was home to a magnificent Southern Pacific train station that was torn down in the mid-1970s, just a few years before the film was shot:
And now, in a perfect metaphor for SoMa’s transformation, that empty lot is now home to a Border’s Bookstore and coffee bar:
So there you have it. The location that was once a perfect embodiment of lawlessness and urban decay is now a perfectly civilized place to take the family or browse the books while you sip coffee.
Here’s the original Sudden Impact scene it’s entirety. Enjoy the spectacle, then say it to yourself: “Go ahead… make my latte!”
photos: S&P depot via San Francisco Public Library
UPDATE: Tom Purcell took a photo of the screencap superimposed over the current location.
photo by Tom Purcell