S.F.’s iconic falcon returns to its perch

The glass case that sat empty on the second floor of iconic John’s Grill in San Francisco since the famed Maltese Falcon statuette was stolen in February, finally welcomed its caged bird home.

The statuette seemed irreplaceable and its loss irreparable when the icon — a copy of the prop that caused trouble for detective Sam Spade in the 1941 movie version of Dashiell Hammett’s novel “The Maltese Falcon” — was stolen along with several books signed by the writer.

But in a twist worthy only of a Hollywood film noir, the 100-year-old restaurant received a new 150-pound bronze falcon from the Academy of Art University. The unveiling of the statuette took place Friday; it will be placed in a new, secured case surrounded by video cameras.

The restaurant’s owner, John Konstin, received the statuette in the 1990s from the film’s last living actor, Elisha Cook Jr. To Konstin, the falcon was a loss that was more symbolic than financial. Nevertheless, Konstin put up a $25,000 reward for the bird but never got any leads.

A few months ago, he asked the Academy of Art’s director of sculpture, Peter Schifrin, to make him a bigger, better version of the bird.

“[The original copy] actually wasn’t a very good sculpture — it looked like a fat, middle-aged parrot,” said Schifrin. “We wanted to make a different bird, a San Francisco bird. So we made it more falcony, with falcotude.”

Schifrin researched the bird with his two interns, Zach Roberts and Ah Young Jeon, and sculpted the creature over the past month. It measures one-third bigger than the original.

At the unveiling celebration, John’s Grill served Sam Spade’s lamb chops with baked potato and sliced tomatoes, the way Hammett used to order them when he frequented the restaurant in the 1920s.

The writer’s granddaughter, Julie Rivett, said she was happy to see that the falcon is back in its place.

“I see that the falcon fever is contagious,” she said. “I’m glad it’s got a nest here at John’s Grill.”

At a nearby table, someone whispered, “When they rip this one off, the new one is gonna be even bigger.”

svasilyuk@examiner.com  

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