A green car pulls into the driveway just yards away from the end the seawall. This car was immediately followed by a white car driven by a retired detective which then parked just yards away from it. A woman came out of the green car holding a bouquet of flowers she bought from a downtown florist just yesterday. Still not her usual self, she walk towards the edge around the corner behind the Fort, He then followed her, watching her movements ever so carefully. She stood at the edge of the seawall just inches away from the water sporting a blank, melancholy and absent face as she started tearing the flowers from the bouquet. As she tears the flowers off, it seems she is counting the last hours, minutes and seconds of her life completely unaware of the grandeur of her surroundings. As she dropped the last petal of the bouquet, she paused turning towards the Golden Gate Bridge. In a rather an unexpected moment, she jumped! She jumped into the water hoping to end her life and the demons that possessed her mind. The detective ran profusely towards the seawall. Taking his hat and jacket off, he jumped into the water following her into the chilly San Francisco Bay. He manages to fish her out of the cold, shivering water carrying her to her car. Now almost unconscious, he lays her gently on the front seat of her car calling her name, “Madeleine, Madeleine” her cried. She did not make a sound then completely faded away.
This is another one of the gripping scenes in an Alfred Hitchcock’s epic psychological thriller, Vertigo. Released in 1958, it starred Kim Novak as Madeleine, the haunted and disturbed wife of a shipping tycoon and James Stewart, a retire San Francisco Police detective named Scottie, hired by the tycoon to follow his wife eventually falling into her bewitching charm. The film primarily set in San Francisco where the exterior scenes were filmed on location and the interior shots were done in a Hollywood backlot. Critics and film historians believed the film as one of Hitchcock’s finest.
This particular scene was filmed on location in the historic military fortification at the Presidio in San Francisco called Fort Point. Located at the northern most point of the now historic park it offers the best views of the most famous landmark in the city – the Golden Gate Bridge. This is the best location for all kinds of ‘Kodak moments’ with the famous bridge without having to cross it. Tourists would come here for sightseeing and selfies while locals would come here as part of their jogging and bicycling route.
It has been more than 60 years since the film’s release and many things had changed at the fort since then. For example, the Presidio had decided to put a fence around the very spot where Madeleine jumped into the water. Perhaps the idea behind this is the prevent people from doing the very same thing. Another difference you’ll see is on the seawall itself. The large link chain still surrounds it but instead of seeing a grey brick seawall like it was on the film, visitors today will see a grouping of large black volcanic-like rocks covering the once grey brick seawall. My theory behind this is 1) to prevent strong waves from hitting the driveway and parking lot making the pavement slippery and 2) the prevent people from, again, jumping into the water. There is no known incident of people actually doing this but it is always best to be cautious. It is possible that the scene where James Stewart rescued Kim Novak from the bay was done it the production studio. It strongly doubt the Presidio would allow anyone even for the sake of a Hitchcock film to jump into the San Francisco Bay. But one thing is certain. It is undeniable that people whether of sound mind or not are drawn to Fort Point because of the awe-inspiring magnificence of the Gold Gate Bridge.
Fort Point was built in 1853 primarily as a defensive stronghold to protect the Pacific Coast of the US. It houses a number of cannons, dozens of barrels of gunpowder some of which are displayed at the fort today. At its heyday, the fort housed as many as 500 soldiers. The lighthouse your see today was built in 1864 and it was in use until 1963. Fort Point is the only fortification built in the west coast of the United States between 1817 and 1867, the rest were at the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
There are many ways to get to Fort Point. One way is to drive here another way is to join a tour group as many of them would make a stop at the fort. If you want to drive here come early because parking is limited. Taking photos and selfies of the Golden Gate Bridge is tempting (I know I was) but I strong suggests visiting the old fort itself. It offers scheduled guided tours, videos and admission to the fort is FREE and you will have a great view of the bridge if you climb up the rooftop level of the fort.
When I went to Fort Point, I did not expect it to be busy with crowds of tourists. I also did not expect tour guide companies making stops at the fort not just for its historical significance in American Military history but also because there are other people like myself who enjoy visiting movie locations such as this. I However, I am rather disappointed that the visitors I saw at the fort where only there because it gives them a different view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Though she is indeed stunning, I think visitors overlooked Fort Point and the romance it had with a very remarkable classic film. I wonder if they have heard or seen the film Vertigo. I wonder if they even know the name Hitchcock.