Spirits of the City

The Ghosts of Calhoun Terrace

By Gary Kamiya and Paul Madonna

Calhoun Terrace is haunted, and not by garden-variety ghosts. The spirits that hover around this stunning, split-level balcony of a street near the summit of Telegraph Hill are numerous and deeply odd. Two of the finest movies ever shot in San Francisco —Vertigo and Days of Wine and Roses—feature scenes set near Calhoun, and a creepy encounter in the 1953 film noir.

The Sniper takes place in an apartment on Lower Calhoun. Other poltergeists include an eccentric theater impresario who made his stake selling eggs he collected on the Farallon Islands (his house, one of the oldest in the city, still stands); an apartment compound famous for its world-class parties; and the two most unethical businessmen ever to give abad name to the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. In fact, the evil deeds of the last-mentioned characters turned a section of Calhoun into a literal ghost.

Calhoun overlooks the precipitous eastern face of Telegraph Hill, one so sheer that a burglar once escaped the long arm of the law by climbing up a tree that grew out of it, waiting until the police left, climbing down and running away. But the rock face wasn’t always like that. George and Harry Gray made it that way. Rogue quarrymen, they repeatedly defied court orders and blasted away at Telegraph Hill, sending houses crashing to the ground and injuring people.

Calhoun used to connect Union and Green streets until one of their illegal explosions wiped out that entire stretch. But karma caught up with the Grays: before their business failed, a desperate unpaid employee shot one of the brothers to death. (He was acquitted.)

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