Mark Coggins

hammett_891post

891 Post Street #401, San Francisco, California is billed as the home of Dashiell Hammett and his PI Sam Spade. Image courtesy of Google Maps Street View.

hammett_dashiellDashiell Hammett lived in this building during the period he wrote his first three novels and he put Sam Spade in the same building in The Maltese Falcon. With a close reading of the text, and a comparison of the other apartments in the building, scholars have determined that #401 is the most likely to be Spade’s and Hammett’s, although there are no records of the particular apartment in which Hammett lived.

During the building’s dedication as a literary landmark, I had the opportunity to tour #401 and meet Hammett’s only living daughter, Jo Hammett. Also in attendance were Julie Rivett, his granddaughter, and Richard Layman, his biographer and the editor of both the recent anthology of hammett_maltesefalconHammett letters and the memoir Jo published about her father.

Don Herron, leader of the famous Dashiell Hammett San Francisco tour—and author of the accompanying guidebook—was also present. When it came our turn to go up into the apartment, he strongly recommended taking the stairs. Apparently he’d been trapped in the elevator when it dropped to the basement after being overloaded with a mere four people.

Mark Coggins

hammett_891post

891 Post Street #401, San Francisco, California is billed as the home of Dashiell Hammett and his PI Sam Spade. Image courtesy of Google Maps Street View.

hammett_dashiellDashiell Hammett lived in this building during the period he wrote his first three novels and he put Sam Spade in the same building in The Maltese Falcon. With a close reading of the text, and a comparison of the other apartments in the building, scholars have determined that #401 is the most likely to be Spade’s and Hammett’s, although there are no records of the particular apartment in which Hammett lived.

During the building’s dedication as a literary landmark, I had the opportunity to tour #401 and meet Hammett’s only living daughter, Jo Hammett. Also in attendance were Julie Rivett, his granddaughter, and Richard Layman, his biographer and the editor of both the recent anthology of hammett_maltesefalconHammett letters and the memoir Jo published about her father.

Don Herron, leader of the famous Dashiell Hammett San Francisco tour—and author of the accompanying guidebook—was also present. When it came our turn to go up into the apartment, he strongly recommended taking the stairs. Apparently he’d been trapped in the elevator when it dropped to the basement after being overloaded with a mere four people.

Page 2

hammett_floorplan

Here’s a floor plan that was included in the pamphlet printed up for the dedication.

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Inside the apartment we were greeted by Bill Arney, the current occupant of the apartment, Bill’s mother and Jo Hammett herself.

hammett_tubWalking down the L-shaped hallway to the combination living room/bedroom (pulling down the wall-bed transforms it), we passed a small bathroom. In The Maltese Falcon, Spade is fooled by Gutman into thinking that Brigid O’Shaughnessy has secreted some money on her person, so he forces her to strip in the bathroom. He sits on the tub while she does it, with Gutman and the rest of his crew waiting in the other room. Here’s the tub.

hammett_postwindowhammett_hydewindowThe apartment is on the front corner of the building, so it has a view of both Post and Hyde. Here’s a view from the Post Street window (left) and from the Hyde Street window (right).

Page 3

hammett_deskBill has done some work to restore the interior of the bedroom/living room to the sort of appearance it might have had in Hammett’s time. Left is a photo of a desk he’s set up near the wall-bed. In the photo of the desk, note the book with the alarm clock on top. That book is Drake’s Celebrated Criminal Cases of America which Bill said he had a hell of a time finding. Why bother? Check out this passage from The Maltese Falcon where Spade is woken after Archer is found murdered:

Cold steamy air blew in through two open windows, bringing with it half a dozen times a minute the Alcatraz foghorn’s dull moaning. A tinny alarm-clock, insecurely mounted on a corner of Drake’s Celebrated Criminal Cases of America—face down on the table—held its hands at five minutes past two.

hammett_jo-with-coggins

Finally, here’s the picture I’m most pleased to have captureda shot of me with Jo Hammett not three feet from where The Maltese Falcon was written!

Mark Coggins is the Shamus and Barry-nominated author of The Immortal Game and Vulture Capital. He lives in San Francisco, and his latest novel is The Big Wake-up.

This article originally appeared in Mystery Scene Issue #89.

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