Much of today’s Financial District was under water during Spanish and Mexican rule. The Bay shoreline originally ended at Battery Street but with the American annexation and the California Gold Rush about five blocks worth of new city ground was created all the way to the Embarcadero. Sand hills as tall as ten men once stood here and they were leveled and the sand used for fill. Gold Rush money quickly made this area the financial capital of the West and the coast’s first and only skyscrapers began poking up along Market Street by the end of the 19th century.
The neighborhood was completely destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. Rebuilding was rapid and generally adhered to a few guiding principles. The Neoclassical style championed by the City Beautiful movement sweeping American cities in the first decades of the 1900s made it the design of choice for most San Francisco architects. And earthquake wariness typically kept the banks and corporate headquarters to between 15 and twenty stories at the most.
By mid-century technology for earthquake-proofing buildings caused height restrictions to be repealed and builders in the Financial District reached for the sky with a vengeance. So many skyscrapers went up that San Franciscans began to despair over the “Manhattanization” of their city. Steel and glass canyon walls obscured heritage structures in some cases and wiped them off the streetscape altogether in others.
The pendulum has since swung back and strict, European-style height restrictions are once again shaping the Financial District. Our tour to explore the last century of development around the “Wall Street of the West” will begin on one of the world’s great thoroughfares, Market Street, at a landmark where survivors of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire gathered to take stock of the devastation and look towards the future...
Lotta Crabtree Fountain
Market Street, where Geary and Kearny streets join
Charlotte Mignon Crabtree was born in 1847 to British immigrant parents in New York City. Shortly after she was born her father, John, chucked his job as a bookseller to join the California Gold Rush. The family settled in the boomtown of Grass Valley where a neighbor, Lola Montez, an actress and one-time mistress to the German king, Ludwig I, encouraged young Lotta’s love of performing. The six-year old with flaming red hair quickly became a favorite distraction in the mining camps with her energetic dances. By the age of twelve she had become a seasoned dancer and singer and banjo player. Her mother collected all her earnings in gold and carried the coins around in a leather bag. Soon she needed a steamer trunk. In 1863 Crabtree left California to tour the East Coast as a stage actress and for the better part of two decades was the highest paid actress in America. She earned up to $5,000 per week at a time when a healthy daily wage was a dollar a day. Crabtree never married and gave freely of her money until she died in 1924. This cast iron fountain was an 1875 gift. In the days after the 1906 Earthquake the fountain became a gathering point where the names of the dead and missing, and sometimes found, were posted. Every year afterwards survivors gathered at “Lotta’s Fountain” on April 18 at 5:13 in the morning in remembrance.
DIRECTLY ACROSS MARKET STREET IS...
The Monadnock Building
685 Market Street
Not only did this 1906 building stand up to the devastating San Francisco Earthquake, it withstood two attempts by the United States Army to blow it up during the conflagration as a fire break. Designed in a Beaux Arts style by Frederick H. Meyer, the building, whose name is a geographic term for a free-standing hill, was billed during construction as the first steel-framed, modern fireproof office building in the city, and its boosters were right.
ON THE FOUNTAIN SIDE OF MARKET STREET, LOOMING NEXT TO IT, IS...
deYoung Building/Old Chronicle Building
690 Market Street at Geary Street
This deep brown sandstone-and-brick structure was San Francisco’s first skyscraper, erected in 1889. The tallest building on the West Coast, it dwarfed everything in the neighborhood. The Chicago firm of Burnham & Root, pioneers in the nascent art of high-rise construction, built this headquarters for the San Francisco Chronicle and crowned their confection with a magnificent four-sided, four story bronze clock tower (it would be destroyed even before the 1906 Earthquake by skyrockets ignited during a mayoral victory parade). The brawny arches and rough-faced stone of the ground floor are hallmarks of the Richardsonian Romanesque style based on the works of master Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson. The steel-framed structure took a heavy blow from the Earthquake and Willis Polk executed a re-build. The San Francisco Chronicle was founded in 1865 as The Daily Dramatic Chronicle by teenage brothers Charles de Young and Michael H. de Young. By 1880 “The Voice of the West” had the largest circulation of any newspaper on the West Coast and was operating from a handsome new headquarters at Bush and Kearney streets. The Chronicle remained here until 1924 when the paper departed for 5th & Mission streets where they have operated from ever since.
FACING MARKET STREET, TURN LEFT AND BEGIN WALKING EAST, TOWARDS THE BAY, KEEPING AN EYE OUT FOR THESE...
Path of Gold Light Standards
Basking in the glow of the recently completed Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915 the City set out to illuminate 120-foot wide Market Street, initially from the Ferry Building to Seventh Street. Pacific Gas & Electric spearheaded a coalition of private companies to get the job done and to service the poles PG & E invented a forerunner to the “cherry picker.” The Winning of the West bases by sculptor Arthur Putnam feature three bands of historical subjects: covered wagons, mountain lions, and alternating prospectors and Indians. The tops were designed in 1916 by sculptor Leo Lentelli and engineer Walter D’Arcy Ryan, continuing work that had graced the 1915 Exposition. Eventually there would be 327 Path of Gold standards; in 1972 all the poles and ornaments were replaced with replicas and high pressure sodium vapor lamps.
2 New Montgomery Street at southwest corner of Market Street
The Palace Hotel opened in 1875 with 800 rooms and a claim to being the largest hotel in the world. After it was gutted by the fire that followed the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake it had to be demolished. This building replaced it. Lacking the Victorian excesses of its predecessor on the exterior, the new Palace was constructed to be the equal of the 1875 building. The Palace Court, with its art glass ceiling, was lauded as the finest dining room in America.
TURN RIGHT AND TAKE A FEW STEPS UP NEW MONTGOMERY STREET TO SEE...
39 New Montgomery Street
The Bank of California organized in 1864 when 22 of the state’s leading businessmen contributed $100 a share for funds. That same year William Sharon moved to Virginia City, Nevada to serve as the bank’s agent at this location, staking miners with money below the going rate that financed the greatest boom in mining history. Much of the more than one billion dollars (2012 money) in gold and silver wealth found in the surrounding hillsides passed through the Bank of California’s teller windows. Sharon, who had gone bust in real estate speculation during the 1849 California Gold Rush, parlayed the good fortune in Virginia City mining into a United States Senate seat in 1874. Sharon was more interested in the trappings of the office than the work - he rarely left his home in San Francisco to visit either Nevada or Washington; he presented no bills, made no speeches on the public record and voted in fewer than one percent of Senate roll calls. Sharon’s descendants used a chunk of that Comstock money to construct this Baroque-styled building in 1912; a century later a 20-foot sliver stands as a facade for a parking garage. The architect was William Kelham who came to San Francisco to supervise re-construction of the famous Palace Hotel across the street. The ornate bar in the House of Shields today was built for the Palace and carried over here.
RETURN TO MARKET STREET AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING TO WALK EAST TOWARDS THE BAY.
West Coast Life Building
601 Market Street at southwest corner of 2nd Street
West Coast Life Insurance Company was founded just days before the great earthquake in 1906 and then offered the first reconstruction loans to San Francisco residents. West Coast was the first American life insurance company in Hawaii (1907), the Philippines (1910), China (1921), and Hong Kong (1923). Horace Gardner Simpson and Hart Wood teamed up for this Colonial Revival high-rise rendered in stone and dark brick in 1917. It served as company headquarters until 1972.
582 Market Street at Montgomery Street
This was San Francisco’s second tallest building at 285 feet when it was built in 1914. Raised in only 11 months, the Hobart Building went up so quickly that accusations of slipshod construction techniques were bandied about. But here it is a century later. The project was said to be the favorite building of Willis Polk, one of San Francisco’s most prolific and versatile architects. He lavished the exterior with Baroque ornamentation sculpted in terra cotta and filled the interior with handcrafted brass fixtures and generous amounts of Italian marble.
540 Market Street at Sutter Street
When a major thoroughfare slices diagonally across a city grid it leaves awkward triangular building lots. The most famous such street in America is New York’s Broadway and it was there that the first wedge-shaped high-rises that came to be known as “flatirons” appeared. Market Street created the opportunity for many flatirons but most are gone. This Gothic-flavored example of the breed, designed by Havens & Toepke, dates to 1913. The vertical piers were constructed of reinforced concrete and scored to look like masonry.
ACROSS SUTTER STREET FROM THE FLATIRON BUILDING, ON THE NORTHWEST CORNER OF SANSOME STREET, IS...
One Sansome Street
1 Sansome Street at northwest corner of Sutter Street
This building began life in 1910 as the San Francisco headquarters for the London Paris National Bank, designed in a Neoclassical style by Albert Pissis. In 1984 the heritage building was gutted and put to duty as the entrance to the 551-foot Citicorp Center.
Crown Zellerbach Building
1 Bush Street/523 Market Street
Skidmore, Owings & Merril have built some of the world’s most famous skyscrapers of the second half of the 20th century and this one was San Francisco’s first glass curtain tower when it appeared on the streetscape in 1959. It was originally the headquarters of Crown Zellerbach, a paper and lumber conglomerate founded when San Franciscan Isadore Zellerbach merged his paper company with Crown Willamette in 1928. The building raised eyebrows when it was oriented toward the canyons of Bush Street and not Market Street but at the time Market was in decline and not the vibrant being encountered today. So the large slab you see from this angle is the back of the Crown Zellerbach Building; you will walk by the front later in the tour.
Matson Building and Annex
215 Market Street
Walter Danforth Bliss and William Baker Faville executed this elegant cream-colored terra cotta skyscraper for the Matson Navigation Company in 1923. William Matson, a Swedish orphan, landed in San Francisco after a trip around Cape Horn when he was 18 years old in 1867. He found work on the family yacht of Claus Spreckels, a Hawaiian sugar tycoon. Spreckels financed young Matson in launching schooners between Hawaii and San Francisco, at first carrying cargo and then opening the islands to tourism. Of the half dozen steamship companies which provided regular service from San Francisco to Hawaii in the age before the airplane, Matson’s fast “white ships” were the luxury standard.
Pacific Gas and Electric General Office Building
245 Market Street
Most of the office towers that filled the San Francisco streetscape following the 1906 Earthquake continued to adhere to the original tripartite form that decreed skyscrapers by raised in the form of a classical column with a base (the ornamented lower floors), a shaft (the unadorned bulk of the structure) and a capital (the decorative upper floors). Even into the 1920s, when Bakewell & Brown constructed this utility headquarters, the tradition was being followed. Their Beaux Arts confection blends harmoniously with the adjacent Matson Building.
Southern Pacific Building
1 Market Street
The Southern Pacific Railroad was founded as a land holding company in 1865. The original charter called for the Southern Pacific Railroad to go south from San Francisco through southern California through Arizona and New Mexico to El Paso, Texas but when the Central Pacific Railroad Big Four acquired it in 1868, the Southern Pacific Railroad would not end until it reached New Orleans. In the wide open spaces of the West when a town would not grant the railroad access privileges it simply re-routed and started new towns. In 1881 the Southern Pacific Railroad joined the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad at Deming in New Mexico territory to become the second transcontinental railroad. The Southern Pacific empire eventually had a monopoly over freight in and out of the San Francisco and Oakland Bay area. In 1916 Walter Bliss and William Faville won the commission to create the massive headquarters for the Southern Pacific. Their Baroque-flavored behemoth featured a small tower on top. Today the refurbished landmark is one of three office buildings that make up One Market Plaza along the Embarcadero along with the 1976 bookends, the Spear Tower and the Steuart Tower.
San Francisco Ferry Building
1 Ferry Plaza
This ferry terminal dates to 1898 when it replaced a wooden structure. Designed by A. Page Brown, the grand terminal survived the 1906 earthquake. Until the completion of the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge in the 1930s it was the second busiest transit terminal in the world, behind only London’s Charing Cross Station. The clock tower that lords over the structure was modeled after the 12th century Giralda bell tower in Seville, Spain.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ONE BLOCK ON MARKET STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON CALIFORNIA STREET AS IT ANGLES INTO MARKET.
Buich Building/Tadich Grill
240 California Street
This eatery began life as a coffee stand on Clay Street is 1849 and operates today as the oldest continuously running restaurant in California. John Tadich began working in the business in 1872 and in 1887 he bought the operation. The Buich family purchased the restaurant in 1928 and continue to own it today. Tadich moved from its original Clay Street digs in 1967 and settled into this 1909 building with a green terra cotta front.
260 California Street at northeast corner of Battery Street
Henry Newhall was in his early 20s in Massachusetts when gold was discovered in California. He left his auctioneering job and set out by ship immediately but a six-month illness in Panama delayed him long enough that most of the best mining sites had been claimed when he arrived so he set up an auction house instead. He prospered immediately and soon turned his interest to railroads, becoming president of the San Francisco and San Jose Rail Road. He then turned to real estate and ranching, purchasing tens of thousands of acres for a dollar or two per acre. His extensive land holdings would become the current communities of Newhall, Saugus, Valencia, and the city of Santa Clarita. Henry had five sons, several of whom carried on his father’s interests after his death in 1882. Newhall’s Sons & Co. was headquartered on Sansome Street until the 1906 Earthquake and Lewis Hobart created this artistic replacement in 1910. Fans of Brooke Shields’ 1990s sitcom Suddenly Susan may recognize the Newhall Building as the office location for Susan Keane’s fictitious magazine, The Gate.
Robert Dollar Building
311 California Street at southwest corner of Battery Street
This was the headquarters for the Dollar Steamship Company for nearly a century beginning in 1910. Robert Dollar began with a single steam schooner called Newsboy that he used to transport lumber from the Sonoma Coast to San Francisco in 1895. He continued buying vessels until the Dollar Line Smokestack, with its signature dollar emblem was a familiar sight throughout the Orient, symbolizing American industry and Dollar had earned the sobriquet, “the Grand Old Man of the Pacific.” W.S. Schmolle designed the reinforced concrete structure to be five stories, decorated in Gothic terra cotta, but the building was greatly enlarged by Charles McCall in 1919.
TURN LEFT ON BATTERY STREET AND WALK TWO BLOCKS TO BUSH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON BUSH STREET.
100 Bush Street at northwest corner of Battery Street
George William Kelham was born in Massachusetts in 1871 and educated at Harvard and the legendary Ecole des Beaux-Arts in France. Working in the New York office of Trowbridge and Livingston, Kelham was sent to San Francisco in 1906 to supervise construction of the Palace Hotel and never left. He would develop the master plan for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and design some of the town’s most impressive skyscrapers. Here, in his last major San Francisco commission before drifting down the coast, Kelham blended Gothic Revival into Art Deco stylings to create this 28-story tower in 1928 for Royal Dutch Shell. There are castings of shells that decorate the cornice on the upper levels as well as shell designs in the lobby floor and decorative grill at the front of the building. Shell vacated its custom-designed headquarters in the 1960s.
The Heineman Building
130 Bush Street
This 20-foot wide building from 1910 lays claim to being the narrowest building in San Francisco. George Applegarth designed the building for a belt, tie and suspender manufacturer. The Gothic-flavored structure is outfitted with bay windows and sheathed in cream-glazed terra cotta.
Standard Oil Building
225 Bush Street at southwest corner of Sansome Street
This Neoclassical high-rise on a rusticated base enjoyed a brief reign as San Francisco’s tallest building when it was completed for Standard Oil of California (later Chevron) in 1922. George Kelham conceived of a two-part L-shaped composition with ornamentation derived from a Florentine palace. Chevron stayed here for over half a century during which time another wing was added to make a U-shape.
TURN RIGHT ON SANSOME STREET.
Adam Grant Building
114 Sansome Street at northeast corner of Bush Street
Back in 1868 architect John Gaynor used 250 tons of iron to construct a four-story emporium for the dry goods business of Daniel Murphy and Adam Grant. The 1868 Joint Committee on Earthquakes cited Gaynor’s work as the way to build earthquake-proof buildings. Alas, when a serious earthquake hit in 1906, Gaynor’s lauded pile of bricks collapsed to the ground. Oh, well. John Galen Howard and John Galloway designed this handsome brick replacement in 1908, enhancing the exterior with sculptural ornamentation. Murphy Grant and Company departed downtown in 1926 and architect Lewis Hobart added eight more floors in a conversion to office space. The four recessed corners each received a nine-foot terra cotta ornamental urn estimated to weigh about 1500 pounds. Subject to the vagaries of tastes, the building was stripped of most of its ornamentation in the middle of the 20th century but it came back in an early 2000s restoration. In 1978 California passed a law that all exterior ornamentation of buildings in earthquake zones be secured so those new fiberglass urns are anchored.
Pacific Coast Stock Exchange/Stock Exchange Tower
301 Pine Street at southwest corner of Sansome Street
This granite Greek temple began life in 1915 as a United States Treasury building fashioned by J. Milton Dyer of Cleveland, Ohio. In 1930 it became the home of the San Francisco Stock and Bond Exchange that had been founded back in 1882 when 19 founding members ponied up $50 each to start a market in a wide range of commodities. They hired Timothy Pflueger, one of the town’s most important architects, to retrofit the building. Pflueger was at the forefront of the Art Deco movement and he completely gutted the original building, leaving only the granite steps and Tuscan colonnade, which he was required to retain by contract. Pflueger placed two Art Deco medallions on the entablature and Ralph Stackpole contributed two heroic sculptures named ‘Agriculture’ represented by feminine figures and ‘Industry’ represented by masculine figures which he carved on site in Yosemite granite. San Francisco and the Los Angeles Oil Exchange merged their exchanges in 1957 to form the Pacific Stock Exchange which operated here until the early 2000s. The interior space has once again been totally transformed, this time into an upscale gym. The City Club is located on the tenth floor of Stock Exchange Tower at 155 Sansome Street.
Royal Insurance Building
201 Sansome Street at northwest corner of Pine Street
The Seattle-based West Coast representative of the Howells and Stokes firm of New York, A.H. Albertson, supervised construction of this ornate office tower in 1907. The white marble base is a near replica of a contemporary New York City building and features a carved clock over the entrance with a lion and a unicorn. The Georgian Revival building is executed in red brick and green and white terra cotta above the marble base. After nearly a century of commercial use the building went residential in the 2000s while retaining the fine exterior.
351 California Street at southeast corner of Sansome Street
Robert Balfour and Alexander Guthrie migrated from Scotland to San Francisco in 1869 looking for a way to make some money. Before they were done trading and shipping, mostly in grain, Robert Balfour would be knighted for his contribution to the British Merchant Marines. This headquarters building is a 1920 creation of George Kelham, again returning to a favorite Baroque Revival theme. Here he used brick over a prominent limestone base.
Bank of California Building
400 California Street at northwest corner of Sansome Street
Hailed by many as the most splendid banking temple in San Francisco, this 1908 Greco-Roman structure was the handiwork of Walter Danforth Bliss and William Baker Faville. Beyond the impressive Corinthian colonnade is a banking hall under a coffered ceiling. The tower of fluted concrete walls next door was raised in 1967.
Old Federal Reserve Bank
400 Sansome Street at northeast corner of Sacramento Street
This George Kelham creation was the first structure built by the Federal Reserve in San Francisco, completed in 1924. Kelham gave his ground floor an impressive Neoclassical verve with powerful Ionic columns and then segued to a sparer Art Decoish flavor above the phalanx of eagles as the building stepped higher. Most of the Financial District is constructed on bay fill and beneath the Old Federal Reserve lies the buried remains of the packet ship Apollo which burned at its mooring on May 4, 1851.
TURN LEFT ON CLAY STREET.
600 Montgomery Street at northeast corner of Clay Street
The Transamerica Pyramid is the tallest skyscraper in the San Francisco skyline and one of the most recognizable high-rises in the world. William Pereira provided the design that is still depicted in the company’s logo even though Transamerica has left the building. At 850 feet, this was the tallest building west of the United States and one of the five tallest in the world when it was completed in 1972. In turn, it was constructed on the site of the historic Montgomery Block that was the first four-story building west of the Mississippi River when it was built in 1853.
Bank of Italy Building
552 Montgomery Street at southeast corner of Clay Street
Amadeo Pietro Giannini, the son of Italian immigrants began in business as a produce broker and made enough money to retire at 31 to manage his father-in-law’s estate. He founded the Bank of Italy in a converted saloon on October 17, 1904 to take deposits from the often ignored “little fellow.” This eight-story, Second Renaissance Revival structure was raised in 1908 and served as headquarters for the tiny bank as it morphed into the giant Bank of America. Substantially unaltered since its construction, the Bank of Italy Building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978
TURN LEFT ON MONTGOMERY STREET.
Anglo Bank Building
500 Montgomery Street at northeast corner of Sacramento Street
The Anglo Bank has not left much of a footprint on San Francisco history. Reportedly constructed in 1918, this Neoclassical vault is topped by a roof balustrade and features a parade of fluted Ionic columns marching around its facade.
Italian American Bank
460 Montgomery Street at southeast corner of Sacramento Street
Architect John Galen Howard tapped the Tuscan Revival style for this post-earthquake banking house in 1907. Howard helmed a busy shop and foremost among his duties was creating the Master Plan for the University of California at Berkeley. In 1983 the bank and its smaller neighbor, the Borel and Company Building, were gutted and sentenced to serve as ground floor supports for a modern high-rise office tower.
Borel and Company
440 Montgomery Street
This Beaux Arts vault hidden among its more ambitious neighbors is the 1908 handiwork of one of San Francisco’s finest architects, Albert Pissis. The granite-faced steel frame building is beautifully proportioned behind a quartet of engaged Corinthian columns. Alfred Borel founded a small commission business in 1855 and six years later he was joined by his 21-year old brother Antoine from Switzerland. Eventually the company morphed into a private bank with their fingers in power companies, utilities and cable cars.
Wells Fargo History Museum
420 Montgomery Street
This museum is on the site of the original Wells, Fargo and Company -- a joint-stock company created by Henry Wells and William Fargo in 1852 to provide banking and express services to Gold Rush pioneers. In the window you can see an 1860s Concord Coach that once conquered the vast plains and high mountains of the American West.
Alvinza Hayward Building/Kohl Building
400 Montgomery Street at northeast corner of California Street
Vermont-born Alvinza Hayward studied law as a young man but spent most of his early years dabbling in lumber and mining interests. He came to California early in the Gold Rush of 1850 and invested wisely in high-producing mines. Hayward also found financial success in timber, coal, railroads, San Francisco real estate, and banking. He was often called California’s “first millionaire” and the state’s “richest man.” If not absolutely true, he was in the discussion. Hayward had this building constructed in 1901 when he was 79 years of age; the steel-framed structure designed by Willis Polk was touted as “fireproof” and five years later it indeed came through the city’s devastation with damage only to the first couple of floors. Although the ground level has been compromised through the years the upper stories, fashioned in an Edwardian style, retain their original integrity.
Financial Center Building
500 California Street at northwest corner of Montgomery Street
On this site in 1852 John Parrott, an importer and banker, constructed a three-story building using granite blocks shipped across the Pacific Ocean from China. The building sailed through the 1906 Earthquake but was no match for a wrecking ball in 1926. Noted San Francisco architect, Frederick H. Meyer, designed the new 17-story building with collaboration from Albin R. Johnson. The building spent more than a decade vacant in the 1990s before being re-imagined as a 362-room luxury hotel in the early 2000s.
TURN RIGHT ON CALIFORNIA STREET AND WALK UP ONE-HALF BLOCK.
Bank of America Building
555 California Street
Built as a symbol of the wealth and power and importance of the Bank of America in 1968, this 779-foot tower is the second tallest building in the city. This centerpiece of the Financial District served as the bank’s world headquarters until 1998 when corporate left town for Charlotte, North Carolina. Within the plaza is the 200-ton black Swedish granite sculpture “Transcendence” by Masayuki Nagare that, while resembling a liver, is locally and derisively known as the “Banker’s Heart.” Movie buffs will note that the roof of the Bank of America Building is where the sniper shoots his victim from in the opening scenes of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry.
RETURN TO MONTGOMERY STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Bank of America Building
300 Montgomery Street between California Street and Pine Street
What appears to be a massive block-long Neoclassical building is actually two structures welded seamlessly together. The original 1917 bank featured an entrance on California Street and it was blended with a new addition and a gilded entrance on Montgomery Street in 1941. The carved inscriptions in Roman numerals give you a clue about the operation.
Commercial Union Assurance Building
315 Montgomery Avenue at northwest corner of Pine Street
This Renaissance Revival tower, from the pen of George Kelham and Kenneth MacDonald, is the same height at City Hall and thus enjoyed a brief stint as San Francisco’s co-tallest building when it was completed in 1921. Entrance is on Montgomery Street through a massive archway. If you get the right vantage point in the city you can see a belvedere on the roof.
235 Montgomery Street at southwest corner of Pine Street
This Neo-Gothic tower reigned as the city’s tallest building from 1927 to 1964. The tower was named for Emanuel Charles Christian Russ, who arrived in the city in March 1847; he bought the land on which the present-day building is located for $75. Architect George W. Kelham modeled the Russ building after Chicago’s Tribune Tower and its dignified presence led it to be known simply as “The Skyscraper.” The city’s first indoor parking garage was located here.
220 Montgomery Street at northeast corner of Bush Street
The firm of Burnham and Root, one of the fathers of the modern skyscraper, designed this 10-story office tower in 1892. Banking and railroad baron Darius Ogden Mills, California’s wealthiest man for a spell, financed the city’s first skyscraper which Burnham and Root designed in the orderly Chicago Style with Romanesque elements. After extensive damage from the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, Willis Polk, who designed San Francisco buildings for over 40 years, rebuilt and enlarged the structure. He was brought back for more expansion in 1914 and 1918. The 302-foot Mills tower was completed as a companion building in 1931 by Lewis Hobart at 220 Bush Street.
TURN RIGHT ON BUSH STREET AND WALK DOWN HALF-A-BLOCK.
San Francisco Mining Exchange
350 Bush Street
Spurred by the discover of Nevada’s vast Comstock Lode the San Francisco Mining Exchange was formed in 1862 to trade mining stocks. Its activity made San Francisco the money capital of the West. But the seemingly inexhaustible Comstock Lode went into decline in the 1880s which proved disastrous for the specialized nature of the exchange. Additional silver discoveries breathed new life into the Exchange and in a burst of optimism the firm of of Miller & Pflueger was hired to design a suitable temple of commerce in 1923. Their Beaux Arts creation with twinned Corinthian columns and full width pediment closely mirrors the iconic New York Stock Exchange, built some twenty years earlier. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 withered the Exchange and they departed for more modest quarters before disappearing in 1967 after 105 checkered years of existence. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce spent thirty years in the building but it has been vacant since 1979.
RETURN TO MONTGOMERY STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
California Pacific Building
105 Montgomery Street at northwest corner of Sutter Street
Brothers James William and Merritt James Reid were Canadian architects who managed a busy practice in the early years of the 20th century and designed a wide array of San Francisco buildings including the Cliff House, the Fairmont Hotel, the Spreckels House and the bandshell in Golden Gate Park. Here they crafted a stylish Classical Revival tower in 1910 with red brick set on rusticated pillars.
TURN RIGHT ON SUTTER STREET AND WALK DOWN A FEW STEPS TO SEE, TWO BUILDINGS DOWN...
130 Sutter Street
Willis Polk’s 1918 creation was one of the first American buildings to feature a glass curtain wall. He trimmed his pre-modern office space with cast iron details. The structure carries the name of Andrew Smith Hallidie who gave up gold prospecting in 1857 and began the manufacture of wire rope. Ten years later he used his wire to rig an aerial tramway to transport ore in the mountains and in 1873 he created the world’s first practical cable car system, the Clay Street Hill Railroad. Hallidie died in 1900 at the age of 65 and had no connection here.
RETURN TO MONTGOMERY STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
111 Sutter Street at southwest corner of Montgomery Street
Twenty-five stories and 308 feet above the street is the French Châteauesque crown of the Hunter-Dulin Building, crafted for the Los Angeles investment firm in 1926. Leonard Schultze and Spencer Fullerton Weaver, who designed New York’s Grand Central Terminal among a long roster of luxurious buildings, drew up the plans. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) kept its West Coast headquarters here for 15 years after the building opened but its most famous tenant was Dashiell Hammett’s fictional detective, Sam Spade.
Wells Fargo Bank
1 Montgomery Street at northwest corner of Post Street
The “Wall Street of the West” begins here with the lavish remains of one of the City’s grandest banking halls. Willis Polk designed this space as an Italian Renaissance tower for the First National Bank in 1910. In the 1980s, the 11-story building was owned by the Crocker Bank that was itching to build a spanking new 37-story tower on the block and tear down its tired predecessor. The City bestowed its blessing but only if the banking hall beneath the office tower was retained. So the tower was decapitated, the lower floors sheathed in terra cotta and the polished Raymond granite pillars restored. The roof is a garden that serves as a passageway into the Crocker Galleria.
TURN RIGHT ON POST STREET.
Mechanics’ Institute Library and Chess Room
57 Post Street
The Mechanics’ Institute was founded in 1854 to serve the vocational needs of out-of-work gold miners. Its subscription library had a decidedly technical bent. The collection perished in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire as did that of the the Mercantile Library Association that was formed in 1852. The institutions merged after the disaster, re-emerging with a wide-ranging collection contained in an Albert Pissis-designed Beaux Arts building that boasts a centerpiece spiral staircase of iron and marble leading from the lobby to the library. The Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club in San Francisco is the oldest chess club in the United States, incorporating on April 24, 1855. The Institute has hosted many world champions including Bobby Fisher and Anatoly Karpov.
TURN LEFT ON KEARNEY STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT ON MARKET STREET.