Francis Ford Coppola & The Sentinel – San Francisco Local Artist Guide

Dawson Turner
DSCN0257 Copy Min 2[The Sentinel against the Transamerica Pyramid. Columbus & Kearney. Shot on my Nikon Coolpix 6300.]


Following its early birth in the late 18th century, the great city of San Francisco has grown into commonplace as an artist’s haven. Focusing on hubs that draw in artists of any creed, I want to briefly talk about one long-revered establishment in particular.

Right off the Financial District and sitting comfortably at the intersection of Chinatown and North Beach, two neighborhoods among the city’s most culturally eclectic, lies the colossal Sentinel Building (AKA “Columbus Tower”).

From what I’ve seen so far, it lies in plain view as definitively one of the city’s most recognizable and photogenic formations. Built in 1907, it immediately registers to me as absolutely part of the city’s must-see destinations. Most importantly, and I couldn’t be happier to boast this, it’s hardly a five-minute walk in a straight line from our very own Pacific Tradewinds Hostel in the heart Chinatown.



Serving as longtime meeting place for musicians, writers, directors, film lovers, The Sentinel has a textured history as a club for numerous of the city’s performer of arts. The building has been flush with life since the prohibition era.

Purchased by American folk and pop music group The Kingston Trio around late 1959, they renamed the building Columbus Tower and transformed its basement into a recording studio. The studio hosted a broad range of musicians local and abroad, namely The Grateful Dead. Twenty years later, it was sold to Coppola in 1972.


Within these walls today lies the world headquarters of Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas’ colossal production company, AMERICAN ZEOTROPE. As a huge film nerd, having this cornerstone of American film history, ongoing film history, so close to my temporary home means the world to me.

Sold to Coppola by The Kingston Trio in July of 1972, the Sentinel Building began its transformation into the establishment it is today. The café that now resides comfortably on the first floor, CAFE ZEOTROPE, opened its doors in 1999. The place is filled with Coppola’s own inspirations, a menu with many favorite recipes, and taste for European ambience.

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It stood proudly as a symbol of North Beach, the kind of bohemian neighborhood I’d always dreamt about, the home of so much history and so many legends.” – Francis Ford Coppola


Many of his films including the Godfather II, Apocalypse NowThe ConversationOne From The Heart, andThe Outsiders were written, sound mixed, and edited here.

Two years after setting up shop on Columbus, Francis Ford Coppola operated within these walls to produce and direct “The Conversation”, a masterpiece made entirely in San Francisco. One of many filming locations can be found a few steps east of Pacific Tradewinds just within the Financial District. Five minutes away by bus lies Union Square where the opening scene of the film was shot.

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Stills from THE CONVERSATION (1974). Above image shot in Union Square


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As a current resident and volunteer at the International Travelers House Pacific Tradewinds Hostel, I’m proud to have such a rich artistic epicenter within reach. When I say within reach, I’m talking a literal four minute walk. Incredible. I believe that the feeling will be shared by travelers beckoned to San Francisco with the same passion.

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