Tuesday, July 6, 2010

San Francisco City Hall

Probably my favorite building in San Francisco proper is City Hall. Completed in 1915 and designed by Arthur Brown, Jr, the building reflects the City Beautiful movement that was sweeping the country at the time. San Francisco was working on a master plan done by architect Daniel Burnham which included this city center which was planned to be completed for the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in 1915. You can see where the movement's name came from...strikingly beautiful architecture!The earlier (and larger!) city hall was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, so a strong and fire proof building was desired. Acres of marble and gilded bronze seem to have survived the last century admirably well.The attention paid to the building by Brown is evident - he designed every detail down to the very door knobs and even the typeface of the signage! This makes the entire building read as a cohesive environment rather than seperate pieces.The large interior is sun filled and bright and barely requires any electric lights. Above is the gracious entry hall with a peak into the grand rotunda.The grand porportions of the space represent the importance of government and were meant to impress. The city was making a comeback from its destruction in a big way and this civic center was meant to display the wealth, power and culture San Francisco held claim to. The grand staircase is probably one of the most beautiful I've ever seen, rivaling the Paris Opera House (which I just realized I never blogged about despite taking a thousand pictures of the space last fall!).A few details of the gilded bronze hand railing. While it may not meet current safety codes, I think we can excuse it :-) Thank good ness for grandfather clauses!The soaring atrium almost reads as a grand cathedral. The dome is the 5th largest in the WORLD!The different materials read from darkest at the base (sandstone and marble) to light at the top (painted plaster) , exaggerating the height of the space.Much of the statuary was done by Henri Crenier, an Ecole des Beaux-Arts trained artist.This grand space has been witness to state funerals, weddings (Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe) and even a double murder ( mayor George Mascone and civil rights leader & supervisor Harvey Milk). If you haven't seen the fantastic movie Milk from 2008 about the murder with Sean Penn, definitely check it out; much of the movie is filmed on location.Everywhere you look is a beautiful picture. What a space.
I loved a lot of the local California flavor that was incorporated into the decoration such as these artichoke finials.This statue of Harvey Milk was put in place in 2008; a fitting memorial in a beautiful space.The rest of the building is less grand but no less appealing. I loved the natural light filled wide hallways.These sconces, and all of the building's light fixtures in general, were really fantastic. I noticed that other buildings by Brown, such as the War Memorial opera house directly across the street used the same exact fixtures.The motto of the county is in old Spanish above one of the main entries to the rotunda. It reads ORO EN PAZ FIERRO EN GUERRA or Gold in peace, Iron in war.
Much of the light comes from numerous skylights and light tunnels into the building. This skylight is one that lights the hallways behind the rotunda.
I'm always fascinated by these structural skylights. All of that heavy metal being supported by glass essentially!
Aren't the mail boxes in the entry hall spectacular? Attractive design for everything!
Civic pride is evident: even at night the building is proudly lit. The interior is open to the public and I urge you to visit this fantastic space!

25 comments:

Terry said...

Wonderful. Thanks so much for the tour.

Karena said...

Stefan, just breathtaking! I love all of the grand and unique architectural details.

Karena
Art by Karena

Hels said...

I think the architecture and all the decorative elements are really lovely and would indeed inspire admiration and awe for the processes of government.

But I haven't heard of the City Beautiful movement that was apparently popular at the time. I do know about garden cities and integrated town planning, but I don't suppose you mean that.

Woody said...

That is absolutely breaktaking. I'm going to SF in a couple weeks and I'll have to check this out. Thanks for posting this!

BWS said...

Beautiful public building I have do not even remember from visits there. Thank you for showing us.

Semigloss Chic said...

I love it when city/govt buildings have beautiful details and architectural significance. If cities put emphasis on the beauty of the structures, why shouldn't we in our own surroundings!

Dandy said...

Absolutely beautiful, and I never would have known about it, if not for you. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you! I used to be in San Francisco often, but while I frequently passed City Hall, I had no idea what was inside. Admired the exterior, of course---but the interior is breathtaking. Your photos are much appreciated. It definitely will be on the to-do list of my next visit.

Railbird

Laura Casey Interiors said...

It is gorgeous and I love learning about historical architecture. Thanks for the great tour and your attention to detail.

Author said...

What's also interesting about the building is when they did the renovaton a number of years back, part of the required earthquake retrofit was to install a type of rolling mechanism, so that in case of earthquake, the building could move slightly to minimize any damage.

ChipSF said...

Since I am usually here on some rather banal business, it is uplifting to be in these fantastic spaces. It is also a spectacular setting for great parties.

Julio said...

Even as a child, this has always been my favorite architecture in the city. I always think back on a 4th grad field trip which was my first time visiting and got lost from the rest of the class because I was so mesmerized by the inside and didn't see them exiting for the bus.lol. A great tour Stefan. Thank you.

pve design said...

I can just picture you as a child with your head looking up and your eyes on the hunt. Did you spend hours looking and keeping your parent's waiting.....?
Stunning.
pve

Anonymous said...

I use to live accross the street from city hall in 1987 in the beautiful Beax Arts building on Van Ness and McAllister. It use to house Harry's Bar the sister bar to the one in Venice. It's long gone but the lobby is still worth looking at for anyone checking out City Hall.

Anonymous said...

I take back that last post about the baux art building. Wow what 20 years will do. The Corinthian Court built in 1915 to house the World expo visitors was restored in the 80s. Harry's Bar, Spuntinos and STARs the most desired restaurant at the time all revolved arount this Gem of a building. Once again it has been altered to house extended suites, a bank and a California Pizza Kitchen. In just 20 years, so Sad.

Ashfield Hansen Design Inc. said...

Thank you for your coverage of one of our local landmarks!
It is nice to be reminded just how stunning it is!

We are fortunate to have gems like this that match the grandeur of important European spaces.

Well done!

David @ Ashfield Hansen Design

Janet said...

Your new camera is awesome... captures this space perfectly!!!

lissadzn said...

Gorgeous! I'd recognize that foyer anywhere! It's in Beaches, when Hilary collapses on the staircase. I'm such a dork, forgive me.

Lord Cowell said...

Wow, I LOVE all the interior masonry detailing, and the bronze balustrading - very Versailles (reminds me of the staircase at the Petit Trianon). Great to live in a country steeped in history and monuments (New Zealand is really only 170 years old - so not a lot of Beaux Arts or Neoclassical Architecture around). David.

Thomas said...

Beautiful building!

Mel said...

The Spanish actually appears to be Modern Spanish. The F>H shift just took a while to be fully standardized. Makes me want to go back and read Don Quixote again, though!

philippine real estate said...

Awesome place to have like this in your place. Want to go there someday.

Paula M

John E. said...

August 2010

Just got a look at your weblog and must add my admiration for both Daniel and Arthur for their century-old work for a public building. I am truly amazed and stupefied, in part due to the overwhelming response to the aesthetic of the City Hall as well as the historical aspects. I also can look at the City Hall building and ask for the added possibilies of new constructs (while preserving the existing City Hall) serving public and business needs throughout San Francisco.

I have to add, as one who was born in San Francisco in the '60's and studied art there - eh, is there a possibility for an affordable future building construct (within a city-service based structural concept) that is more "21st century" and serves the employment and design needs of people and professional architects who are about to live and look for employment and work there? Maybe one that is "city"-styled and easy to enter 24-7, that can accomodate "21st century" people needs and can help to expedite and add to the existing process of often-times completely confusing efforts of 21st century working people and businesspeople to gain and create new wealth, and sustain the promise of additional future architecture endeavors in that wonderful city (The U.S. Federal Building notwithstanding)? Thank you!

Ray Brickman said...

The architectural design is awesome. Thanks for uploading this..

Batangas City real estate said...

Is this a city hall, for real? LOL. Actually, the architecture is so great. It looks like a palace to me. And i am hoping the city officials are doing great job with this great city hall too.