San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall

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From 1849 to 1850, the Office of the Alcalde (mayor) of Yerba Buena functioned as City Hall. On May 9, 1850 City Hail moved to the corner of Kearny Street and Pacific Avenue, and in 1852, City Hall was relocated to the Jenny Lind Theater, at Kearny near Washington Street.In 1872, Old City Hall began construction at Larkin Street near Grove. The April 18, 1906 Earthquake of magnitude 8.3 on the Richter scale subjected old City Hall to peak ground acceleration of from 40 to 60 gravity forces. The building that took 27 years to build fell in 28 seconds of significant seismic motion; only the dome remained intact.In 1909, corruption-weary San Francisco voters turned down an $8 million bond issue to rebuild City Hall. A design competition for the new City Hall was announceed, but limited to architects with registered practices in California with offices in San Francisco.On June 20, 1912, the winning design for the new City Hall was announced, the design by Arthur Brown of the firm Bakewell and Brown. The first meeting in City Hall chambers was held on October 9, 1916.On August 2, 1923, President Warren G. Harding died of pneumonia at the Palace Hotel on Market Street. His body lay in state in the magnificent City Hall that he sponsored.In April 1978, San Francisco City Hall received a special award from the American Institute at Architects as one of the finest examples of French Renaissance architecture in the country. On October 10, 1978, the San Francisco Civic Center was designated a National Historic Landmark District, with City Hall listed as a Contributor Building. It is one of only 100 such landmarks in California.On October 17, 1989, the magnitude 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake subjected City Hall to peak ground acceleration of up to .10 gravity forces. In November 1995, San Francisco voters approved a $63.5 million general obligation bond issue for funding additional improvements to City Hall.On February 13, 1998, a four-alarm fire started 200 feet above ground, after welders left the wooden substructure of the dome smoldering. The Civic Centre is one of 16 National Historic Landmarks in San Francisco, including the cable car, the Presidio of San Francisco and the Old Mint.

Behold, the shoddiest public building ever constructed in San Francisco

In retrospect, perhaps building San Francisco's City Hall over a 8,000-soul graveyard was an inauspicious start.

In preparation for the city's soon-to-be grandest building, thousands of coffins were relocated to Colma in 1870. But when construction started in the mid-1870s, workers kept finding more bodies. By 1889, over 70 bodies, accidentally left behind in the move, had been dug up by unfortunate workers.

If the city was looking for an omen, it was a little on-the-nose.

San Francisco had grand hopes for its first real city hall. From its inception, the Gold Rush town had used smaller buildings, nothing really purpose-built for a true metropolis. But flush with wealth in the 1870s, the city held a nationwide contest to select a design for a massive new city hall complex near the site of today’s San Francisco Public Library.

The winner was Augustus Laver, the architect of the New York state capital in Albany. What felt like a blessing — Laver and his family were already hoping to relocate to the warmer West Coast for his health — soon turned into Laver’s unending nightmare. Although the city’s newly formed New City Hall Commission loved his Second Empire-style design with big, bold columns, grand plazas and a towering dome topped with a gleaming statue holding a torch aloft, they were soon at loggerheads about everything else.

Contracts started going to dubious bidders, and speculation ran rampant about cronyism. Although almost everything about the building is now lost to history — original plans, contracts and sketches all disappeared in the 1906 earthquake — the numbers speak for themselves. The project was set to cost $1.5 million as construction dragged on into its second decade, it crossed the $4 million mark (over $107 million today).

Because construction occurred only when the city had cash funds on hand to pay for it, work often stopped. When it resumed, it was of questionable quality. In July 1887, over 10 years into the project, the New City Hall Commission summoned Laver before them. The building’s concrete foundation, they’d learned, was incredibly shoddy despite costing a great deal of money. Laver argued the commission told him to make the change. San Francisco Mayor Edward Pond asked why, as chief architect, he didn’t push back. “I had to do so to keep my position,” Laver shot back.

While he was on the topic, Laver unloaded a bit more. The commission forced him to make expensive choice after expensive choice, he said. They swapped pine floors for marble, demanded granite approaches to the complex’s many entry points, and added more towers to the design.

The towers were another issue. By 1890 — the building still unfinished — the structure’s large decorative towers were already breaking. Architects told the commission that they had too much dead weight. Worryingly, the plaster appeared to be warping in some spots.

The commission decided the solution was to fire Laver. They brought in six more head architects before the complex was finally completed in 1897. But its opening ceremony was colored by the 25 years of costly construction.

“I am pleased to accept the finished dome of the new City Hall,” Mayor James Phelan said at the public dedication of the hall’s 36-foot-high glass dome. “This practically completes the work of construction which, having been begun in 1872, with many interruptions has continued up to this time.

“This is no place for criticism,” he added, perhaps hoping to curtail the murmuring.

It didn’t work. The local papers kept writing about its embarrassing failings. The dome and rotunda alone cost $420,000 ($13 million today), and the bronze street lamps that lined the streets didn’t work: They needed to be totally rewired for electricity. The lamps cost $800 each, $25,000 each today, not counting rewriting costs.

In addition, the building itself smelled it had sewage issues and was built over swampy ground. Sometimes chimneys backed up and filled rooms with smoke. Some floors reportedly didn’t quite match up.

SF City Hall ruins from 1906 quake found

2 of 9 Rebecca Karberg (l to r), U.S. General Services Administration historic preservation specialist and Edward Yarbrough, ICF International senior architectural historian and Joanne Grant, ICF International archaeologist, look closer at a separation in the area believed to the foundation of the original San Francisco City Hall that collapsed during the earthquake and fire of 1906 were discovered during landscaping work at a construction site at 50 U.N. Plaza on Friday, September 21, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

4 of 9 A ruined San Francisco City Hall in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fire.Ran on: 04-11-2006 The Valencia Street Hotel in the Mission District collapsed, trapping people on the lower floors and killing an estimated 80 people. Fourth-floor occupants walked into the street. Ran on: 05-09-2006 The Valencia Street Hotel in the Mission District collapsed, trapping people on the lower floors and killing an estimated 80 people. Fourth-floor occupants walked into the street. ? Show More Show Less

5 of 9 Edward Yarbrough, ICF International senior architectural historian, stands at the site where materials believed to the foundation of the original San Francisco City Hall that collapsed during the earthquake and fire of 1906 were discovered during landscaping work at a construction site at 50 U.N. Plaza on Friday, September 21, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

7 of 9 Rebecca Karberg U.S. General Services Administration historic preservation specialist touches a piece of rebar at the site where materials believed to the foundation of the original San Francisco City Hall that collapsed during the earthquake and fire of 1906 were discovered during landscaping work at a construction site at 50 U.N. Plaza on Friday, September 21, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

8 of 9 Materials believed to the foundation of the original San Francisco City Hall that collapsed during the earthquake and fire of 1906 were discovered during landscaping work at a construction site at 50 U.N. Plaza on Friday, September 21, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

Crews working on a building project in San Francisco's Civic Center have unearthed the massive foundations of the old City Hall, a ghostly reminder of San Francisco's greatest disaster.

The imposing old City Hall collapsed in a shower of bricks, stone and steel in the 1906 earthquake. It was the largest municipal building west of Chicago and was so elaborate it took 25 years to build. The City Hall was supposed to be earthquake proof, but it collapsed in seconds after the great quake struck. It had been open for less than 10 years.

Its ruins were demolished in 1909, but workers digging under the sidewalk on Hyde Street near Fulton Street for a landscaping project struck something big Sept. 14 - bricks and concrete and steel reinforcing bars. They called archaeologists from the federal General Services Administration, which owns the adjacent former federal building at 50 United Nations Plaza.

They looked at old maps and old reports: It was the 1906 City Hall, all right. "We were surprised to see it," said Rebecca Karberg, historic preservation specialist for the GSA. "You really never know what's under the surface."

The wreckage of the old City Hall - a grandiose dome 300 feet high held up by the skeletal remains of a building - became a famous symbol of the '06 quake. The wrecked building was widely photographed, and the pictures were sold as postcards.

The cornerstone of City Hall was laid on Washington's Birthday, 1872, though site excavation started the year before. It was built on the site of the old Yerba Buena Cemetery, where perhaps as many as 9,000 San Franciscans were buried between 1850 and 1860. "The original 49ers," Karberg called them.

Shifting design

The site, just off Market Street where the Main Library now stands, was sandy and wet in the winter. There was an underground spring. The original design called for a building in the shape of the letter W, with columns and ornamental towers in the French Second Empire style.

Over the years, however, the design was changed more than once. There were big cost overruns and various scandals. It took so long to build, it became a municipal joke: "The new City Hall ruin," it was called.

Only a year after its 1897 opening, it was damaged in a minor earthquake, an ominous sign. "It was the proverbial disaster waiting to happen," wrote Stephen Tobriner in "Bracing for Disaster," a book about engineering in earthquake country.

Before dawn on April 18, 1906, the Big One struck.

Officer E.J. Plume was in the police station in the City Hall basement. He heard the pillars that held up the cornices and the cupola "go cracking with reports like cannon, then falling like thunder." The building "seemed to be reeling like the cabin of a ship in a storm."

The officers ran out, but City Hall was otherwise unoccupied. Had it been full of city workers, the death toll would have been huge.

Architect design™

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. 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!


Wonderful. Thanks so much for the tour.

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

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.

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!

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

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!

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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 A great tour Stefan. Thank you.

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.

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.

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.

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.

David @ Ashfield Hansen Design

Your new camera is awesome. captures this space perfectly.

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

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.

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!

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

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 ླྀ'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!

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

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.

San Francisco City Hall is a masterpiece, in the shadow of a fiasco

1 of 22 Early 1900s: A historical photo of old San Francisco City Hall from the Wyland Stanley collection. The building, built in 1899, was demolished after the 1906 Earthquake. Wyland Stanley collection Show More Show Less

2 of 22 oursfcityhall SanFrancisco City Hall 1947 Duke Downey/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

3 of 22 Jan. 10, 1977: A Corinthian column in San Francisco City Hall. Dave Randolph/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

4 of 22 March 28, 1949: The head of the Goddess of Liberty - a statue from the Old City Hall in San Francisco. Bob Campbell/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

5 of 22 San Francisco City Hall in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fire 150 Anniversary maybe xx/The Chronicle 1906 Show More Show Less

6 of 22 OurSF: 1906 Earthquake photo from the Chronicle archive. Photographer unknown. Looking south from Nob Hill, with City Hall in the distance on the right. Chronicle archives Show More Show Less

7 of 22 Feb. 1948: A view from the street of San Francisco City Hall. Ken McLaughlin/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

8 of 22 Wilt Chamberlain in front of City Hall during a parade for the San Francisco Warriors. Chronicle file/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

9 of 22 FILE-- Screen actress Marilyn Monroe kisses Joe DiMaggio as they waited in the judge's chambers for the marriage ceremony which united them November 14, 1954, in San Francisco. DiMaggio, whose 56-game hitting streak endures as one of the most remarkable records in baseball or any sport, died Monday, March 8, 1999, his lawyer said. He was 84. (AP Photo/File) Photo by Bill Young, San Francisco Chronicle Bill Young/Associated Press Show More Show Less

10 of 22 MONROE-DIMAGGIO3/14JAN54/MN/AF - Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio in the judges chambers before their marriage on January 14, 1954. Photo by Art Frisch. Art Frisch/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

11 of 22 Nov. 6, 1950: The San Francisco tourism bureau debuts the new "Elephant Train" near City Hall. Chronicle file/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

12 of 22 June 2, 1970: Nate Thurmond plays croquet with Franklin Mieuli at a celebrity event near City Hall. Joe Rosenthal/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

13 of 22 oursfcityhall SanFrancisco City Hall and Civic Center during St. Patrick's Day parade 1947 Aaron Rubino/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

14 of 22 New Supervisor Harvey Milk being sworn in by J. Ollie Marie-Victiores. Supervisors swearing in steps of City Hall, Polk St. side in rain. Photo by Arthur Frisch. Arthur Frisch/SFC Show More Show Less

15 of 22 John Monaghan, a George Moscone aide, and staff members wait in the main reception office. They are still in shock as the bodies of Moscone and Harvey Milk lay in the inner office immediately after they were assassinated by Sup. Dan White at City Hall in San Francisco November 27, 1978. Gary Fong/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

16 of 22 MOSCONE/B/29NOV78/MN/FONG - George Moscone, lay in state under the City Hall rotunda. Thousands of people filed pass caskets of Mayor Moscone and Sup. Harvey Milk for hours. Photo by Gary Fong Gary Fong/STAFF Show More Show Less

17 of 22 Thousands of local volunteer extras perform a faux candlelight vigil down Market Street for Harvey Milk for a scene in the film, Milk staring Sean Penn on Saturday, February 9, 2008 in San Francisco, Calif. The front row : includes former SF City Supervisor, Carol Ruth Silver, who plays Thelma (3rd from Left), former speechwriter to Harvey Milk, Frank M. Robinson (4th from Left), Howard Rosenman who plays "David Goodstein," (4th from right, beard) and Boyd Holbrook who plays "Denton Smith" (far right). our sf oursf Kat Wade/Special to the Chronicle Show More Show Less

18 of 22 Harvey Milk Memorial March & Rally at City Hall. 11/27/1985 Tom Levy/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

19 of 22 WHITE NIGHT/22MAY79/MN/EHMER - City Hall under attack during a riot that broke out after the Dan White court case was settled. People broke through the front doors of City Hall. Ref: Dan White, George Moscone, Harvey Milk. Photo by Susan Ehmer WHITE NIGHT RIOT Susan Ehmer/STAFF Show More Show Less

20 of 22 Cynthia Wides, left, and Elizabeth Carey of Oakland leave City Hall after marrying in San Francisco, Calif., Saturday, June 29, 2013. Jason Henry/Special To The Chronicle Show More Show Less

21 of 22 John Lewis (l to r) and Stuart Gaffney stand together while watching coverage of the Supreme Court rulings with others in the Mayor's Office at City Hall on Wednesday, June 26, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. The Supreme Court handed down their decisions dismissing California's Proposition 8 and striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

22 of 22 Phyllis Lyon, left, and Del Martin, who have been together for 51 years, embrace after their marriage at City Hall in 2004. They were the first legally married same-sex couple in San Francisco. Liz Mangelsdorf/The Chronicle Show More Show Less

Make a list of all the worst San Francisco-funded projects of your lifetime, then throw in the troubled eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Collected together, they cannot compare to the fiasco of old City Hall in San Francisco.

The first attempt at a grand City Hall, completed in 1899, was essentially paid for on layaway &mdash with construction stopping each time the city ran out of money. Multiple generations of crooked politicians brought in shady contractors who used inferior materials, creating an infrastructure so dysfunctional that the building smelled like sewage from the year the doors first opened.

Originally planned to be finished in a few years for $1.5 million, it took more than 27 years, with a 400 percent cost overrun. By the time old City Hall was mortally wounded after the April 18, 1906, earthquake, there were no sentimental words for the structure.

&ldquoThere has not been any official attempt to determine how badly damaged the hall is or whether or not it will be possible to repair,&rdquo The Chronicle reported on April 29, 1906. &ldquoA casual glance at the ruins, however, would seem to indicate that several sticks of dynamite would be the proper remedy.&rdquo

In this context, our current City Hall, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, is something of a miracle.

Built in less than three years, the Beaux Arts masterpiece endures as one of the greatest city buildings in the country. It is beautiful but also practical, remaining functional after countless social and technological revolutions.

But when one looks at the disaster that came before it, and the expectation that politicians would repeat those mistakes, the success of the "new" City Hall is startling. The first City Hall lasted just seven years. There's no reason to believe this one won't be around for 700.

San Francisco started small, with tiny buildings and offices in private buildings providing city services. But as the population rapidly expanded in the city&rsquos first 20 years, civic leaders in the early 1870s saw the need for a grander City Hall.

The timeline for this first City Hall began in 1870, when The Chronicle announced a call for architects. The contest had cash prizes, and seemed more like a modern radio promotion than a serious attempt to acquire top talent to build the city&rsquos most important building to date.

Jan. 6, 1977: The god Neptune - one of many statues and details in the rotunda of San Francisco City Hall. Dave Randolph/The Chronicle

It&rsquos impossible to pinpoint one villain for the problems with the sprawling building, which was conceived a block away from the current City Hall, where the public library is now. Construction was completed in fits and starts due to cash shortages, and the need to undo the mistakes being made along the way.

&ldquoWhen the McAllister-street wings were under construction in 1889 it was discovered that some of the massive walls in both wings instead of being built with solid brick had been filled with rubbish,&rdquo The Chronicle reported.

Even before 1906, parts of the building already looked like they had fallen victim to an earthquake. Another scandal involved a finished wing that was discovered to be more than a foot shorter than the main building.

In the end, the building survived less than seven years. While other grand structures of the era withstood the 1906 earthquake &mdash the St. Francis Hotel and Chronicle building included &mdash the temblor wreaked havoc on flimsy City Hall. The main dome was reduced to its steel frame, a sad skeleton that could be seen for miles, and wasn&rsquot razed for months.


There was one piece of excellent news for city leaders, who pledged in the days after the earthquake to rebuild San Francisco better than before. While $20,000 in paper money was reduced to ashes, more than $5.5 million in city gold reserves survived in the old City Hall&rsquos inner vault. This was used to pay teachers, police and firemen, and (along with heroic work by strong local banks) left the city in position for a quick and ambitious comeback.

From the moment the plans started appearing in 1912, the new City Hall was everything the old one wasn&rsquot. The boldest move involved the brains behind the design. Instead of hiring old-guard architects with cozy relationships with local politicians, they chose two young upstarts, Arthur Brown Jr. and John Bakewell Jr., who were among the first Americans to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. At that point, the Berkeley City Hall was their biggest project.

In a 1966 column titled &ldquoThe Neglected Masterpiece,&rdquo The Chronicle&rsquos Harold Gilliam wrote that San Francisco City Hall and its designers were wildly underrated.

City Hall &ldquois a triumph of Renaissance styles,&rdquo Gilliam wrote. &ldquoThe building is not only a link with the city&rsquos extravagant past but with the civic magnificence of earlier ages. . The City Hall was the last architectural gesture of San Francisco&rsquos youth.&rdquo

&ldquoBuilt without a nickel of graft,&rdquo as Mayor &ldquoSunny Jim&rdquo Rolph liked to say, the &ldquonew&rdquo City Hall is an opulent palace. Architect Brown&rsquos inspiration for the cupola was the dome of Les Invalides in Paris, which houses the tomb of Napoleon. Renaissance flourishes are everywhere, including Roman Doric columns, a regal balcony outside the mayor&rsquos office and high columned porches at both entrances.

But the most awe-inspiring details are inside, where a centerpiece marble staircase flows into the main gallery, and a wealth of architectural detail can be seen in every direction. The place to look is up, where the sculpture work is best. Even for a longtime San Francisco resident, it&rsquos hard to walk through City Hall without gawking with neck craned backward like a tourist.

The building was completed in late 1915, barely making deadline for the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition year because of a granite cutters&rsquo strike. Rolph celebrated with a victory lap like no other San Francisco mayor before or since, scarcely making a speech for the rest of his life that didn&rsquot mention the City Hall built on his watch.

&ldquoI love that building,&rdquo Rolph declared after opening the doors on Dec. 28, 1915. &ldquoIt is marvelous how it has risen. It has been built without a breath of scandal and on time. I am proud to be the first mayor to occupy it, and I thank you, my fellow citizens, for honoring me as no other man has ever been honored. It is the finest public building in the world.&rdquo

City Hall withstood its own earthquake in 1989 with minor damage, but needed a seismic retrofit. After citizens protested Mayor Willie Brown&rsquos more extravagant plans (&ldquoThe Taj MaWillie&rdquo: still the best nickname in City Hall history), the building opened in 1999 with a better foundation. A restored interior, and gold leaf and blue accents on the dome, made the building even more awe-inspiring.

There were movie cameos over the years for the new City Hall &mdash it withstood Clint Eastwood&rsquos sneer in &ldquoDirty Harry&rdquo the structure was (fake) burned in James Bond&rsquos &ldquoA View to a Kill&rdquo and the building hosted a closing scene in &ldquoRaiders of the Lost Ark.&rdquo But the most cinematic moments happened in real life.

San Francisco City Hall - History

A temporary City Hall was built on Market Street and served until the new City Hall was opened in 1915. This temporary building later became the Hotel Whitcomb, and is now the Ramada Hotel. It was badly damaged during the 1989 earthquake, but was repaired.

Municipal City Hall, San Francisco -- Wright, Rushforth & Cahill, Architects

A Seven Story City Hall for San Francisco The accompanying illustration shows the Market street front of the structure which is to be erected by Mr. James Otis, trustee, on the south side of Market street near Eighth, San Francisco, and which is to be used temporarily as a City Hall. It is to be of reinforced concrete with a frontage on Market street of 200 feet, depth 165 feet, and height above the sidewalk of 102 feet. It will contain seven stories and basement, and will cost approximately $600,000.

The building is so planned that it may eventually be used as a first- class hotel, but for the present the interior arrangements have been specially designed for the accomodation of various City departments which are to occupy the building when completed.

On the ground floor will be housed the County Clerk, Tax Collector and Assessor. The second floor will contain offices of the Board of Supervisors, Fire Commissioners and Board of Education. The third floor will provide for official offices of the Mayor and his Secretary the Civil Service Commission, Sheriff and Grand Jury. On the fourth floor are placed the Justice Courts, City Attorney and Law Library, and the fifth floor will be devoted entirely to the Superior Courts, Judges Chambers, etc. The sixth floor will be given over to the Board of Public Works and the Board of Health and the entire seventh floor will be occupied by the Bureaus of Architecture and Engineering.

The building will be provided with four rapid running elevators, vacuum cleaning plant, messenger and fire alarm service, heating plant, etc.

The main rear light courts are 24 feet, 6 inches wide and entirely open on the south side, thus affording exceptional advantages in the important matters of direct sunshine and light.

To the rear of the main building will be placed the Central Emergency hospital on one side and the stables and garage on the other. The intervening space, about 10,000 square feet, between the three buildings, will be parked and laid out with shrubbery, flower beds, etc.

SH Archive Possible Tartarian Old San Francisco City Hall Built in 1899 and 'destroyed' in 1906 by 'earthquake'

Initially I had thought the current SF City Hall was associated with Tartarian architecture. Then as I was researching I saw photos of it being constructed, but also noticed an older SF City Hall that was destroyed in 1906. so this is yet another structure that was quickly built (allegedly took 27 years per wiki), and immediately destroyed within a short time span.

The ruins of the old SF city hall shown in the attached image doesn't make the structure look impressive, and to me it probably was built by contemporary man, but wanted to get everyone else's opinion on it.

Interesting to note the size of the structures in comparison to the people on the ground.

Looks like it was caked in mud or dust more so over time

Earthquake aftermath

New SF City Hall being Rebuilt post 1906. Construction looks similar to that of the original city hall, making me rethink if old city hall is actually tartarian

Well this is a bit. creepy. I did a foto forensic check on the ruins photo and the tower portion of the photo looks to have been added/modified. Gut instincts was telling me that the skeletal remains of what looks to be contemporary steel beams seemed unimpressive for Tartarian standards, which begs the point, as investigators we should be diligently checking the veracity of these black and white photos. i'm under the impression its a lot easier to fake a B&W photo over color.

FotoForensics - Analysis (see link for better image quality)

and for reference, the original pre ruins shot. does not look to be altered
FotoForensics - Analysis

LGBTQ Guide: San Francisco City Hall a landmark in history of struggle and triumph

1 of 5 (left to right) Engaged couples, Xavier and Josep Garcia-Weibel and Bella Reynoso, 19, and Alex Garcia, 18, wait in line to be married at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif. on Monday, August 13, 2018. Sarahbeth Maney / Special to the Chronicle Show More Show Less

2 of 5 Deric Harris (left) and Michael Alba Huizar hold hands after their wedding ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif. on Monday, August 13, 2018. Sarahbeth Maney / Special to the Chronicle Show More Show Less

3 of 5 The bust of Harvey Milk in San Francisco City Hall stands in space that popular for wedding ceremonies. It was unveiled in 2008. Spud Hilton / The Chronicle Show More Show Less

4 of 5 Jan. 9, 1978: San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk is sworn in on the City Hall steps. Art Frisch / The Chronicle Show More Show Less

5 of 5 Jewelle Gomez, left, and Diane Sabin, right, are joyous In San Francisco's City Hall after the Supreme Court decided that gays and lesbians have the constitutional right to marry nationwide on Friday, June 26, 2015. Gomez and Sabin were married in 2008 after being plaintiffs in the original 2004 lawsuit when gay marriages were ruled invalid. Tim Hussin / Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less

A city hall, often, is a monument.

It&rsquos a massive stone landmark that can be a monument to the people and their rights, a monument of both justice and injustice, a monument to everything that is bold and progressive about government and everything that is mind-numbingly dull. A monument to oppression or to freedom, depending on the people inside it and who&rsquos looking in from outside.

In San Francisco, City Hall is one of the grandest monuments of LGBTQ history &mdash locally and globally &mdash and the struggle for recognition and equal rights. No other city hall in the country, even the world, shares the close, personal ties to LGBTQ history &mdash the tragedies, the trials and the triumphs &mdash that San Francisco City Hall does.

The original opened in 1899 and was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires that consumed the city. Conceived by architect Daniel Burnham, who had a major hand in the 1893 Chicago&rsquos World&rsquos Fair, the building is a glorious ode to Beaux Arts architecture and the City Beautiful movement &mdash a push during the turn of the 20th century to create buildings of such grandeur and symmetry in a heightened neoclassical design that the planned spaces would elevate civil order. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake badly damaged City Hall, and it was closed for a seismic upgrade and makeover, reopening in 1999.

Photographers stop to make some pictures of City Hall as it was awash in the colors of the Rainbow Flag for Pride Week in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle 2016

On Nov. 27, 1978, San Francisco&rsquos City Hall had become a monument to the worst of democracy, when ex-San Francisco Supervisor Dan White assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, one of the nation&rsquos first openly gay elected officials.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein was then president of the Board of Supervisors. &ldquoI opened (Milk&rsquos) door,&rdquo she recalled to The Chronicle in 2008. &ldquoI found Harvey on his stomach. I tried to get a pulse and put my finger through a bullet hole. He was clearly dead.&rdquo With the mayor also slain, as president of the Board of Supervisors, she became acting mayor, and had to deliver the terrible news of the killings from the steps of City Hall that night.

Six months later, in May 1979, White was convicted only of voluntary manslaughter, which carried a seven-year sentence &mdash and City Hall became the scene of violent protests. The May 21, 1979, White Night riots started in the Castro and moved to City Hall, following a path down Market Street familiar to anyone who has marched in this city for LGBTQ causes. The grief over Milk&rsquos slaying and the fury over the perceived miscarriage of justice led to fights and fires.

White Night Riots San Francisco Police try to restore order at City Hall during the protests and riots that took place after the Dan White Verdict May 21 1979 John Storey / The Chronicle

Activists, who numbered more than 5,000 people and who refused to apologize for the violence, clashed with San Francisco police in a post-riot raid in the Castro later that night. The eventual result was a justifiably angry LGBT constituency that wouldn&rsquot back down at closed-door sessions at City Hall the next day. Gay voices had gained even more power at City Hall after justice for a fallen martyr was denied.

Sometime we make monuments to expanding freedoms. Fast-forward to Feb. 10, 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that clerks at City Hall would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in San Francisco. Two days later, the first to be married were longtime partners Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. (You can find their marriage certificate and photos on display in the South Light Court in City Hall.)

A frenzy ensued. Rosie O&rsquoDonnell flew from New York City to marry her then-partner, the late Kelli Carpenter. Helicopters buzzed over the Civic Center, and people gathered on the steps of City Hall as a parade of same-sex couples exited the building newly wed, arms raised in victory and joy.

Nearly 4,000 couples were married before the state Supreme Court halted the ceremonies one month later. In August of the same year, the same court voided those marriages. On June 16, 2008, marriage licenses were once again administered, but, as before, the joy was short-lived.

On election night 2008, the United States voted in its first African American president, Barack Obama. That same election, California passed Proposition 8, creating a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. It was a bittersweet evening for many.

It would take more than two years of legal wrangling before Prop. 8 was overturned. It was another three before U.S. Supreme Court rulings effectively allowed same-sex marriage in California, on June 26, 2013, and again San Franciscans thronged to the steps of City Hall. Two years later, the high court legalized same-sex marriage across the land.

Phyllis Lyon, left, and Del Martin, who have been together for 51 years, laugh during their marriage ceremoney at City Hall in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004. The longtime lesbian activists Lyon, 79, and Martin, 83, were the first to be married. In the background are from left are Kate Kendell, Executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Roberta Achtenberg, Senior Vice President of the San Francisco chamber of Commerce. In the background on the right are members of Mayor Gavin Newsom's staff, including Steve Kawa, center, chief of Staff and Joyce Newstat, Director of Policy, far right. Others are unidentified. In a political and legal challenge to California law, city authorities officiated at the marriages of several same-sex couples Thursday and issued dozens more marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. (San Francisco Chronicle, Liz Mangelsdorf) LIZ MANGELSDORF/The Chronicle Liz Mangelsdorf / The Chronicle 2004

Sometimes City Hall becomes a monument to love, earned by those who came before. Our own story is small and personal compared to those pioneers who championed gay rights, sometimes suffering legal and even lethal consequences. On Oct. 17, 2013, I married Brice, my partner of 20 years. We&rsquoll soon be celebrating our 25 years as a couple and our five years of marriage.

We bought new suits for that day, I wore the same tie my father wore to my parents&rsquo wedding in 1959, and we held the hand of our 5-year-old son, who was nervous around the very tall bearded judge who wed us on the fourth floor of City Hall, under the San Carlos window. In our own family life, we considered it a &ldquofancy errand,&rdquo but not one without deep appreciation.

It brings to mind the true reason for a monument: a reminder. An enduring landmark that helps us remember the love, remember the loss and, hopefully, remember the freedom.

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The History of Nudity in San Francisco Uncovered

In San Francisco you&rsquoll see naked people on bike rides, lounging on Baker Beach, running in the Bay to Breakers or walking around at the Folsom Street Fair.

A few years ago Bay Curious listener Kelly Hardesty was walking in the Castro with her daughter when they saw a naked man, who wore nothing but white tennis shoes. Her daughter said, &ldquoMommy, Mommy he&rsquos naked.&rdquo She replied, &ldquoYeah, he is.&rdquo

Bay Curious is a podcast that answers your questions about the Bay Area. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, NPR One or your favorite podcast platform.

Kelly didn&rsquot want to make a big deal about it, since it wasn&rsquot exactly the most unusual sight in the city, but then a mailman looked at her and said, &ldquoI remember when I first started my route, and that used to shock me, too, but now I don&rsquot think anything of it.&rdquo

&ldquoIs it legal to be naked in San Francisco &hellip and if so, has it always been that way?&rdquo

The state of California has indecent exposure laws, making it illegal if someone is naked with the intent of being sexual (like masturbating in public), or intentionally offensive (like flashing someone). If you&rsquore just hanging out naked minding your own business, California leaves that up to local governments.

Getting Closer to Nature

For the first half of the 20th century, San Francisco didn&rsquot have public nudity laws. In that era, local people weren&rsquot walking around nude much, so it was a non-issue. But then the '60s arrived, and many saw nudity as a form of political, artistic or personal expression.

College students streaked across the nation. In San Francisco, hippie culture was thriving, and Golden Gate Park became a favorite spot for nudists looking to get closer to nature. According to police patrolling the area, there was also a decent amount of public sex.

&ldquoIt wasn&rsquot uncommon for a gal to come out of the bushes there in the Panhandle without a damn stitch and stand right in front of you with her hands up,&rdquo said Thomas J. Cahill, who was chief of police at the time. &ldquoI was out in the park and two started going to it on the lawn beside me.&rdquo

Of course, sex is sexual, and thus already illegal according to California law. But conservative San Franciscans wanted tougher laws to prevent this kind of behavior, and they eventually got public nudity banned in the parks.

Outside of the parks, nudity wasn&rsquot regulated and considered fair game.

Bans Up and Down the Bay

As time passed, nearby cities made public nudity illegal -- among them, San Jose and Berkeley.

Berkeley is interesting because its ban is mostly due to one naked guy -- Andrew Martinez was a student at UC Berkeley. He believed that society was sexually repressed and, to address this, he decided to undress. He went to classes, parties and did errands wearing nothing but a pair of sandals and a backpack.

Among his fellow students he was known as &ldquothe Naked Guy.&rdquo In 1992, the university implemented a dress code policy and found Martinez in violation of it. When he showed up naked to his disciplinary hearing, he was expelled.

Martinez stayed in Berkeley, continuing to walk around nude. But then in 1993, the City Council decided to discuss whether public nudity should be allowed. When Martinez showed up naked to speak against it, he was flanked by nude friends. The council was sufficiently offended and voted to make public nudity a misdemeanor crime.

San Francisco in the Buff

Back in San Francisco, nudists were enjoying their time in the sun. The city developed a reputation for bodies in the buff. Especially at certain public events like the Folsom Street Fair, a leather fetish festival, and the Bay To Breakers, a rambunctious 12K race.

Rich Pasco, coordinator of the Bay Area Naturists, a nudist group, has been running in the race since 1998.

Rich Pasco (Jessica Placzek/KQED)

&ldquoWe are a group of people who believe that the human body is God's divine creation, nothing to be ashamed of, and that our interaction with Mother Nature is enhanced by removing the barrier of clothing,&rdquo Pasco says.

He says it wasn&rsquot just public events where people could let it all hang out. There were nudity-approved beaches, and certain neighborhoods where nudists would congregate.

&ldquoThere were a group of people in San Francisco who thought going to Jane Warner Plaza would be a good idea. It&rsquos a little urban park, and this urban park became an urban nude beach,&rdquo he says.

Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro became a popular spot for nudists. (Emeritus Professor Max Kirkeberg, Department of Geography, San Francisco State University)

The Wiener Bill

But the tides of the urban nude beach began to change in 2011 when then-Supervisor Scott Wiener began focusing on &ldquoquality of life&rdquo issues.

Wiener started off by trying to ban nudity in restaurants and requiring naked people to put a buffer between themselves and public seating -- like sitting on a newspaper when riding the bus.

But Wiener didn&rsquot stop there. He felt the men in Jane Warner Plaza were still taking it too far by wearing genital jewelry designed to maintain erections.

&ldquoI just don't buy the freedom of expression argument here,&rdquo said Wiener in an interview with KQED Forum at the time. &ldquoFreedom of expression is not about taking your pants off at Castro and Market and showing your genitals to passing traffic and pedestrians. That&rsquos not freedom of expression.&rdquo

To prevent this, Wiener wrote up a bill banning public nudity on streets, plazas, sidewalks and on public transit, though there was a blanket exemption for street fairs and festivals, and no impact on nude beaches.

Wiener&rsquos campaign received coverage from national news outlets. While some people supported the ban, others felt it was unnecessary.

Nudists in San Francisco, California. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

A KQED listener at the time said, &ldquoWe do have laws already that enforce lewd behavior. Castro has always been an adult neighborhood. We have smoke shops, porn stores, probably 15 gay bars alone . &rdquo

Longtime residents felt the proposed nudity ban was due to demographic shifts and catered to the new wealthier residents, some who had children and wanted a more family-friendly atmosphere.

Obviously, the nudists were not fans of Wiener&rsquos proposal. There were a number of public meetings about the ban, where nudists made their thoughts known, sometimes by taking their clothes off in opposition. Among the most vocal was longtime nudist Oxane &ldquoGypsy&rdquo Taub.

Gypsy Taub, who disrobed inside City Hall during a meeting, is escorted away on Nov. 20, 2012, in San Francisco. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Taub had a public access television show where she and her interviewees were always naked.

&ldquoPeople say that somehow public nudity hurts children. I would say to the contrary. Because children who grew up without ever seeing a naked body grow up extremely insecure about their own body because all they see is commercials and porn,&rdquo Taub said.

Life After the Ban

Despite nudist activists like Taub, the anti-nudity bill, also called the Wiener bill, was passed in November 2012 by a 6-5 vote. It became illegal to show your genitals, perineum or anal region in public.

According to the new law, the first violation is a $100 fine, the second a $200 fine and the third violation results in either jail time &ldquonot to exceed one year&rdquo or a fine &ldquonot to exceed $500&rdquo.

There were some loopholes. To appease people concerned about events like the Bay to Breakers and the Folsom Street Fair, the bill says that the ban does not apply to permitted events like parades, fairs and festivals. So as long as the event organizers don&rsquot mind, you should be able to be nude at any permitted event.

However, it didn&rsquot exactly work out like that. Taub says she ran into trouble when she applied to get permits for nude-specific events after the ban took place.

&ldquoWhen we went and applied for parade permits, we were denied over 20 times,&rdquo Taub says. &ldquoEvery single one of them was either ignored or denied, every time with a new flimsy excuse.&rdquo

Taub and other nudists lawyered up, and filed a complaint against the San Francisco Police Department for infringing on their First Amendment rights.

The nudists also held nude protests against the ban, and Taub even got married nude on the steps of City Hall, after which she was arrested. She says she was arrested about seven or eight times in the first year of the ban. The district attorney never imprisoned Taub for her nude protests. In 2015, a federal judge ordered the city to give a permit to the nudists for a parade.

Nude activist Gypsy Taub is arrested by San Francisco police officers as she protests San Francisco's new ban on nudity at San Francisco City Hall on Feb. 1, 2013. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

&ldquoI mean it's still not as good as having public nudity be legal, which is our goal, but it's way better than what we had before, where we couldn't even have an event without everybody being arrested or cited,&rdquo Taub says.

Today, you need a permit to get fully naked in San Francisco. Or, if you&rsquore not into paperwork, you can always go to a nude-approved park, like the north end of Baker Beach, where the National Park Service has said it&rsquos legal to be naked.

Watch the video: Die Straßen von San Francisco - Intro - Serienoldies