Civic Center of San Francisco – The City Hall – dedicated December 29, 1915

May 7, 2017 | By | Reply More

San Francisco has had five city halls, which have culminated in the present noble structure.

The first was a rented building located on Montgomery and Merchant streets, which was occupied in 1849, while the second was situated at Kearny and Pacific Avenue on a site which was purchased in 1850. The third city hall was located at Kearny and Washington streets and served until 1895 when it yielded to a new Hall of Justice. Although plans for a newer and larger city hall dated from 1870, it was many years before it came into being.

When work on the project, located near the present Civic Center, was begun in 1871 (it was advertised in the City Directory for 1878 to 1879 as ”not only the largest and most durable structure in the city but … the largest edifice of this description in the United States”) it was thought that the building would be completed in several years at a cost of about $1.5 million.

It was built on historic ground for it occupied the site of the pioneer Yerba Buena cemetery, a triangular plot of land bounded by Market, Larkin, and McAllister streets. A local historian records that

Both estimates, as to date of completion and cost, fell far wide of the mark. Seven years later, only one wing of the 800-foot long main building (there was to be a separate Hall of Records) had been completed and its slow progress and mounting costs had become a public scandal. Charges of corruption, including collusion between the builders and city officials, were freely made; meanwhile, the public, impatient at the slow progress, took to referring to it as the “new City Hall ruin.”

Even though its cornerstone dated from 1872, this city hall was not yet a completed structure when earthquake damage in 1906 made it necessary to replace the poorly built edifice. This may well be considered to have been a real blessing for the city, since it resulted in the building of our present City Hall.

On March 28, 1912, the voters of San Francisco authorized a bond issue of $800,000 for the acquisition of land for a civic center as well as for the erection of a city hall.

Mayor Rolph, newly inaugurated, made the project his particular concern with an announcement that a public competition would be held to select an architect. Over seventy submitted plans, and the firm of Bakewell and Brown was finally awarded the contract by a jury of seven headed by the mayor himself. (This contract also included a prize award of $25,000.)

Ground was broken on April 5. 1913, with Mayor Rolph in the finest of fettle on the occasion. The following two years saw the structure rise in grace, strength, and dignity. Unlike its unfortunate predecessor, this city hall was well planned and was marked by superior workmanship matched only by the solid building materials that went into it.

On December 29, 1915, one of San Francisco’s most memorable days came with the dedication of the newest city hall; the event came only several weeks after the closing of the PPIE.

With pardonable pride, Mayor Rolph pointed out that the task of building the city hall had been accomplished in three years and that the cost had been kept within the appropriation of $3.5 million, adding that, actually, some of this money had been returned to the city treasury as unspent.

San Francisco’s City Hall rises 308 feet above ground level and, for many years, Mayor Rolph used proudly to indicate to the many guests he entertained on formal occasions on the steps of the rotunda that this same rotunda was

“16 feet, 2% inches higher than that of the national capitol.”

The building is designed in the French Renaissance style and is built of gray California granite; its striking exterior is matched only by its spacious and impressive interior. From 1912 to 1931, during Rolph’s long service as mayor, the rotunda and the City Hall itself saw the entire world welcomed to its grandeur.

Outstanding events included the memorial services for President Warren G. Harding, who died in the Palace Hotel, San Francisco in 1923; appropriately, James Rolph himself lay in state there when, in 1934, he died in office as governor of California.

(Surely his spirit was at peace in the familiar surroundings which had formed such a large part of his life.)

A stubborn lire in the dome occurred on February 16, 1951, which resulted in damage estimated at $10,000, but it was not long before all was restored and the building back in full Operation.

The San Francisco City Hall is, actually, the kind of structure that grows on one as he strolls about slowly and captures some of the undeniable glories, which it contains.


Tags: , ,

Category: Fog City - City of Fog

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: