Locating “Tales of the City”

Macondray Lane, 2010 photo by D. Huw Richardson.

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is a series of eight novels set primarily in San Francisco, spanning from 1976 to the present. The stories recount the lives of a broad cross-section of the city’s denizens, and the transformative impact that the characters and the city have on each other. The first five novels were originally published as serials in The San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner; the first installment appeared in the Chronicle exactly thirty-five years ago today. Beginning in 1993, the first three novels were adapted as three television miniseries starring Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis. This year, the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco is premiering a new musical based on the first two novels. When San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein installed a time capsule under the Benjamin Franklin statue in Washington Square Park in 1979, the small collection of items intended to represent San Francisco’s most recent past included a copy of the first Tales novel.

Larry Rhodes first moved to San Francisco in 1982 – when Maupin was still publishing Tales of the City as a serial in The San Francisco Chronicle. However, it wasn’t until three years later, when Rhodes was living in Atlanta, that he began to read Maupin’s work. Rhodes became so engrossed with Maupin’s writing that he subsequently developed a website featuring Tales-related self-guided walking tours, Tours of the Tales, which launched in July 2010.

Rhodes’ initial impulse to create the tours came around 2001, when he was again living in the Bay Area and wanted to take out-of-town friends to sites mentioned in Tales of the City. At that time, Maupin’s website included a walking tour of locations mentioned in Tales, but the tour focused almost exclusively on the Russian Hill and North Beach neighborhoods. Rhodes was interested in developing something more comprehensive.

In 2003, Rhodes began in earnest to research the locations that appeared in the first six Tales novels and the first two television miniseries. Because some of the businesses mentioned in Tales had moved or closed by the time Rhodes began his investigation, he relied on telephone directories and Polk’s city directories going back to the 1970s at the San Francisco Public Library to establish their correct locations. He also sought information online, using sites such as Mister SF by journalist Hank Donat and Film in America by location scout Scott Trimble. Based on his findings, he made excursions to find and photograph the sites as they exist in San Francisco today (selected photographs can be found on a dedicated Flickr site). As Rhodes commented to me,

” I want to place the locales not only in the context of the books or movies, but in San Francisco itself. I want the people who take the walking tours to have a feel for San Francisco – somehow capture the essence of the City that captured me.”

So far, Rhodes has created four self-guided walking tours that are available as PDFs on his website. These cover Acquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, Russian Hill, North Beach, Jackson Square, Telegraph Hill, Chinatown, Nob Hill, the Tenderloin, and Union Square. He plans on extending the scope of his tours; additional areas for future tours might include the Castro, Noe Valley, Civic Center, South of Market, the Haight, and Golden Gate Park. He is also considering tours that cover sites outside San Francisco that are mentioned in Tales, including locations in Oakland, Marin County, Mendocino, Los Angeles, and Reno.

Because Rhodes provides these tours as PDFs, they can be printed out or read on e-book readers such as Kindle and Nook. Armistead Maupin’s webmaster, Rick Miller, had previously used Google Maps to develop  a map based on his own research, and Rhodes has subsequently created similar maps, links to which can be found on the PDFs of each walking tour. Rhodes plans to lead occasional free group walking tours, but the primary focus has been on developing a means by which fellow Tales enthusiasts could explore the sites mentioned in the series at their own pace and on their own schedule. Rhodes’ website also includes a guestbook, which provides an opportunity for those using the tours to respond not only to Rhodes’ work but also to connect with one another.

To learn more about Larry Rhodes’ project, and to download the tours, please visit his website, Tours of the Tales.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Locating “Tales of the City”

  1. Judy Breen

    I had the pleasure of actually taking the tour with Mr. Rhodes in 2003. It was quite an adventure. Bravo, Mr. Rhodes

  2. sfdrew

    Ms. Breen

    That’s wonderful that you had a chance to go on an early version of Larry Rhodes’ tour. It sounds as though you had a good time! His “Tours of the Tales” website might be of interest to you as a way to stay up-to-date on the tour’s continued development.

    Drew Bourn

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