Saturday, February 13, 2021

Where is 28 Barbary Lane in ‘Tales of the City’?

28 Barbary Lane in the Netflix revival of Tales of the City

Anna Madrigal’s legendary apartment complex actually sprang out of uncorroborated reports that the Marina Safeway supermarket in San Francisco had been a busy cruising spot (“Dateway”) for the straights in the 1970s. With no one to go on record about it, then-columnist Armistead Maupin thought of writing a serial that would wink at one of the town’s biggest open secrets. That serial became the basis for Tales of the City, and 28 Barbary Lane was born.

Maupin told SF Weekly he wanted the novels’ characters to reside in “a fictional address that would become so real to people that they would go looking for it.”

He wasn’t disappointed. This safe space for all has been hiding in plain sight at Macondray Lane in Russian Hill, San Francisco, and both fans and makers of the TV adaptations have made pilgrimages here. The novels, which read at times like roman à clefs, did little to disguise the imaginary lane, “a narrow, wooded walk-way off Leavenworth between Union and Filbert.”

Macondray Lane by sanfranman59

Macondray Lane is bounded on one end by Leavenworth Street and the other by Taylor Street, where we see the roadside wooden staircase used for many exterior scenes. 

However, as in the case of many fictional San Francisco houses, 28 Barbary Lane itself was filmed on a Los Angeles set for the original PBS series. The Netflix revival takes the “well-weathered, three-story structure made of brown shingles” even farther, to a New York City set.

That’s par for the course, as the Big Apple, like San Francisco, is an important site for the LGBTQ rights movement. In the end, 28 Barbary Lane must be a state of mind. As Maupin wrote in The Days of Anna Madrigal, the last Tales of the City novel, there’s “a city waiting for” the beloved landlady.

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