The city’s retail heart can be found around Union Square, located north of Market Street and bordered by Powell and Stockton streets; it takes its name from its role as gathering place for stumping speechmakers during the Civil War. Cable cars clank past throngs who gravitate to the district’s many smart hotels, department stores, boutiques and theatres. The square witnessed the attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford outside the Westin St Francis Hotel in 1975 and was also the location of the legendary opening scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Conversation, in which Gene Hackman spies on strolling lovers. Many of Dashiell Hammett’s detective stories are set partly in the Westin St Francis; in fact, during the 1920s, he worked there as a Pinkerton detective.

Along Geary Street, not far from the south side of the square, the Theater District is a pint-sized Broadway of restaurants, tourist hotels and, naturally, theatres. On the eastern side of the square, Maiden Lane is a chic urban walkway that, before the 1906 earthquake and fire, was one of the city’s roughest areas, where prostitution ran rampant and homicides averaged around ten a month. Nowadays, aside from some prohibitively expensive boutiques, the main feature is San Francisco’s only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, an intriguing circular space at no. 140 that, when it opened in 1948, was a prototype for the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Today it’s occupied by Xanadu Gallery, which specializes in premium Asian art pieces.

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