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San Francisco City Hall

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Title: San Francisco City Hall  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: San Francisco, Flag of San Francisco, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, 49-Mile Scenic Drive, Civic Center, San Francisco
Collection: Arthur Brown, Jr. Buildings, Beaux-Arts Architecture in California, Buildings and Structures Burned in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Buildings and Structures in San Francisco, California, City Halls in California, Civic Center, San Francisco, Domes, Government Buildings Completed in 1915, Landmarks in San Francisco, California, Rebuilt Buildings and Structures in the United States, San Francisco Designated Landmarks, Terminating Vistas in the United States, Visitor Attractions in San Francisco, California
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall
General information
Type Government offices
Architectural style Beaux-Arts
Location 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, California
Construction started 1913
Completed 1915
Cost US$3.4 million
Owner City and County of San Francisco
Management Real Estate Division
Antenna spire 93.73 m (307.5 ft)
Technical details
Floor count 5, including ground floor
Floor area >46,000 m2 (500,000 sq ft)
Lifts/elevators 7 (6 passenger, 1 freight)
Design and construction
Architect Bakewell & Brown
Designated 1970[1]
Reference no. 21

San Francisco City Hall is the seat of government for the City and County of San Francisco, California. Re-opened in 1915 in its open space area in the city's Civic Center, it is a Beaux-Arts monument to the City Beautiful movement that epitomized the high-minded American Renaissance of the 1880s to 1917. The structure's dome is the fifth largest in the world—taller than that of the United States Capitol by 42 feet.[5][6] The present building replaced an earlier City Hall that was destroyed during the 1906 earthquake, which was 2 blocks from the present one. It was bounded by Larkin Street, McAllister Street, and City Hall Avenue (a street, now built over, which ran from the corner of Grove and Larkin to the corner of McAllister and Leavenworth), largely where the current Public Library and U.N. Plaza stand today.

The principal architect was Arthur Brown, Jr., of Bakewell & Brown, whose attention to the finishing details extended to the doorknobs and the typeface to be used in signage. Brown's blueprints of the building are preserved at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Brown also designed the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, Veterans Building, Temple Emanuel, Coit Tower and the Federal office building at 50 United Nations Plaza.


  • Architecture 1
  • History 2
  • Filmography 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


San Francisco's City Hall as seen from the plaza across the street
City Hall at night, as seen from Davies Symphony Hall
Interior stairs lead to the Board of Supervisor's meeting chamber

The building's vast open space is more than 500,000 square feet (46,000 m2) and occupying two full city blocks. It is 390 ft (120 m) between Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street, and 273 ft (83 m) between Grove and McAllister Streets. Its dome, which owes much to Mansart's Baroque dome of the Val-de-Grâce (church), Paris, is the fifth largest dome in the world, rising 307.5 ft (93.7 m) above the Civic Center Historic District. It is 19 ft (5.8 m) higher than the United States Capitol, and has a diameter of 112 ft (34 m), resting upon 4 x 50 ton (3.5 x 44.5 metric ton) and 4 x 20 ton girders (3.5 x 17.8 ton), each 9 ft (2.7 m) deep and 60 ft (18 m).

The building as a whole contains some 7,900 tons (7,035 metric tons) of structural steel from the American Bridge Company of Ambridge, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. It is faced with Madera County granite on the exterior, and Indiana sandstone within, together with finish marbles from Alabama, Colorado, Vermont, and Italy. Much of the statuary is by Henri Crenier.

The Rotunda is a spectacular space and the upper levels are public and handicapped accessible. Opposite the grand staircase, on the second floor, is the office of the Mayor. Bronze busts of former Mayor Moscone assassination, which took place just a few yards from that spot in the smaller rotunda of the mayor's office entrance. A bust of former county supervisor Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in the building was unveiled on May 22, 2008.[7] While hard to discern these days, the inscription that dominates the grand Rotunda and the entrance to the mayor's small rotunda, right below Father Time, reads:








1912 JAMES ROLPH JR. MAYOR 1931[8]

The words were written by the previous Mayor Edward Robeson Taylor, and dedicated by Mayor James Rolph.

While plaques at the Mall entrance memorialize Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the primary themes of the statuary are to the past mayors, with the dates of their terms in office. The medallions in the vaults of the Rotunda are of Equality, Liberty, Strength, Learning and, as memorialized in the South Light Court display, Progress.


Postcard of pre-earthquake San Francisco City Hall, Hall of Records and Mechanics Pavilion from McAllister Street and City Hall Avenue (Polk Street, now Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place). circa 1900
Postcard of pre-earthquake San Francisco City Hall, circa 1900

The current City Hall building is a replacement for an original building which was completed in 1899 after 27 years of planning and construction.[9] The original city hall was actually a much larger building which also contained a smaller extension which contained the city's Hall of Records.

The building was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Reconstruction plans following the earthquake wanted the buildings design and plans to work with noted city planner and architect Daniel Burnham's plan to rebuild the city, and in particular, the Civic Center complex in a neo-classical design as part of the city beautiful movement, as well as a desire to rebuild the city in time for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. After Arthur Brown Junior's design was selected, construction started in 1913 and was completed by 1915, in time for the Exposition.[9]

The main rotunda had also served as the location of many prominent state funerals. General Fredrick Funston, hero of the Spanish–American War, Philippine–American War, and the 1906 earthquake had his there in 1917. A story of President Warren Harding's body being laid in state in San Francisco City Hall following his death in San Francisco in 1923 is apparently false.[10]

The original San Francisco City Hall in ruins following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
The coffin with the body of General Fredrick Funston on display during his state funeral in San Francisco City Hall in 1917.

Harvey Milk were assassinated there in 1978, by former Supervisor Dan White.

The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 damaged the structure, and twisted the dome four inches (102 mm) on its base. Afterward, work was completed, under the leadership of the San Francisco Bureau of Architecture in collaboration with Carey & Co. preservation architects, and Forell/Elsesser Engineers, to render City Hall earthquake resistant through a base isolation system. In an earthquake, the mass of the dome threatens to act as a pendulum, rocking the building's structure and tearing it apart. But the base isolation system of hundreds of rubber and stainless-steel insulators inserted into City Hall's underpinnings should have the effect of disrupting seismic waves before they can affect the structure. However damage to the structure could still occur as no building is completely earthquake-proof. The base isolation system would likely prevent total collapse of the building. City Hall reopened after its seismic upgrade in January 1999, and was the world's largest base-isolated structure at that time.[11]

The city hall has attempted to recruit peregrine falcons to nest in aeries outside the dome. Pigeon droppings have to be periodically cleaned from the pair of glass-covered light wells that were covered with concrete at the height of modernism. In a curious coincidence, the new city hall in nearby San Jose has already drawn at least one pair of falcons, discovered by Mayor Ron Gonzales himself as he saw pigeon feathers descend past a window during a meeting.[12]

In May 1960, the main Rotunda was a site of a student protest against the House Un-American Activities Committee and a countering police action whereby students from UC Berkeley, Stanford, and other local colleges were fire hosed down the steps beneath the rotunda. This event was memorialized by students during the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley four years later.

The original grand plaza has undergone several extensive renovations, with radical changes in its appearance and utility. Prior to the 1960s there were extensive brick plazas, few trees, and a few large, simple, raised, and circular ponds with central fountains, all in a style that discouraged loitering. The plaza was then extensively excavated for underground parking. At this time a central rectangular pond, with an extensive array of water vents (strangely, all in several strict rows and all pointing east, with identical arcs of water, and completely without sculptural embellishment), was added, with extensive groves of trees (again, in 60s modernist style, planted with absolute military precision on rectangular grids). In the 1990s, with the rise of the problem of homelessness, the plaza was once again remodeled to make it somewhat less habitable—although the most significant change, the replacement of the pond and pumps with a lawn, could be reasonably justified on the basis of energy and water conservation.

Martha Cohen, director of Special Events, has added color changeable LED lighting to the outside of the Rotunda, & between the exterior column. The colors change to coincide with different events happening in the City, Bay Area & World.


The beauty of City Hall has not been lost on filmmakers working in San Francisco; a good many films have shot scenes in and around the building. Ironically, that which may be City Hall's best-known scene does not take place in San Francisco but in Washington, DC. A scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed in the rotunda as a late addition to the production when it was decided that a coda was needed for Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood's relationship. The City Hall was prominently featured throughout and famously at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dirty Harry filmed a key scene in the Mayor's office itself. In the opening sequence of The Towering Inferno, the film's dedication is superimposed over a shot of City Hall, and the helicopter taking Paul Newman to the Glass Tower is shown flying over the building.

Other films that feature City Hall include:

The scene from A View to a Kill (the last James Bond film to star Roger Moore) is particularly memorable for the blaze which tore through the building as a result of an attempt to kill Bond and Stacey Sutton, however they managed to escape stealing a fire truck in the process.[14]

See also


  1. ^ "City of San Francisco Designated Landmarks". City of San Francisco. Retrieved 2012-10-21. 
  2. ^ San Francisco City Hall at Emporis
  3. ^ San Francisco City Hall at SkyscraperPage
  4. ^ San Francisco City Hall at Structurae
  5. ^ Gregor Gosciniak (26 June 2005). "San Francisco City Hall". CityMayors. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  6. ^ Christopher Hall (November 2009). "Civic Center: San Francisco's Culture Zone delivers Opera, Ballet, and a few Surprises". VIA Magazine (American Automobile Association). Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  7. ^ Daub Firmin Hendrickson Sculpture Group (2007). "Winning Maquette for Harvey Milk City Hall Memorial Sculpture Competition". The Harvey Milk City Hall Memorial Committee. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b "San Francisco Attractions: City Hall". A View on Cities. 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  10. ^ Warren G. Harding
  11. ^ Gerald Adams (29 December 1998). "Rebuilt, restored reborn: City Hall reopens, with jewels polished and population reduced". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  12. ^ Rita (16 March 2006). "San Jose's Pale Male". sfist (Gothamist LLC). Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  13. ^ Kit, Borys (February 1, 2008). "'Milk' shoot does the Castro good".  
  14. ^ "San Francisco City Hall - San Francisco, CA, USA - James Bond - 007". 8 January 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 

External links

  • San Francisco City Hall – official site
  • 360 degree panoramic photographs of San Francisco's City Hall, from Don Bain's 360° Panoramas
  • San Francisco government City hall restoration project
  • Virtual Tour of City Hall and Dome An unofficial guide to items of historic, artistic and architectural interest.
  • Virtual Tour/docent document Note: slow link.
  • Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress): City Hall, Civic Center, San Francisco, San Francisco County, CA
  • Images of City Hall and Civic Center, 1912-1918 and The New City Hall, 1915, The Bancroft Library
  • 3D model (Google sketchup/earth)
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