Civic Center of San Francisco – The War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building – dedicated September 9, 1932

May 11, 2017 | By | Reply More

Before mentioning the outstanding structures that comprise the War Memorial Opera House and its adjoining Veterans Building, mention should be made of the State Building, completed in 1923, which rises on McAllister Street and which is quite consonant in design with the rest of the Civic Center.

It occupies the half block bounded by Larkin, McAllister, Polk, and Redwood streets. It accommodates the offices of various state boards and commissions together with an office for the governor as well as quarters for the California State Supreme Court.

The building cost more than was at first anticipated, $1,560,000. Since its dedication, it has expanded with the addition of two wings. The cornerstone was laid on December 22, 1922, and, since dedication, the California State Building has served its purposes well.

A commemorative plaque in the foyer of the War Memorial Opera House states that the singularly graceful and beautiful structure is ”dedicated to the Citizens of San Francisco who have given their lives in the service of their country.”

It would have been difficult to have erected a more distinguished structure. From early days, San Franciscans have loved good music, including opera, and the plans for the present building were long in mind before its eventual realization.

After much preliminary investigation and debate, the present site was chosen, facing Van Ness Avenue, in 1931; Arthur Brown, Jr. was again selected as the architect for the two buildings which were to be built at the same time.

Their cornerstones were laid on the same day, Armistice Day, November 11, 1931, and both were dedicated in joint ceremonies on Admission Day, September 9, 1932.

(Present at the ceremonies was Governor Rolph who, as mayor, had participated in earlier planning for the two buildings.)

The Opera House cost $3.5 million and was formally opened on Saturday evening, October 15, 1932, when the opera Tosca was performed with some 4,000 in attendance. Seating 3,285, it well serves a culturally conscious San Francisco.

Among the outstanding events, in addition to musical presentations, which have marked the history of the Opera House have been those that occurred April 17 through June 1945, when it and the Veterans’ Building served as the birthplace of the United Nations.

Commemorative meetings of the United Nations have since been held there, in 1955, and 1965, with a special twenty-fifth anniversary ceremony in 1970.

The War Memorial complex is further distinguished by the fact that the Japanese Peace Treaty was drawn up in 1951 in the Veterans’ Building and signed in the Opera House.

The Veterans’ Building features a main auditorium which seats over 1,100, while the remainder of the structure contains numerous meeting rooms which are in constant use by various groups of war veterans. The third and fourth floors were once occupied by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and now by the Asian Museum.

All of this contributes to the distinctiveness and cultural attraction of the Civic Center.

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