San Francisco City Hall in San Francisco
San Francisco City Hall, re-opened in 1915, in its open space area in the city's Civic Center, 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. The present building is actually a replacement for an earlier City Hall that was completely destroyed during the 1906 earthquake.
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.
The building's vast open space is more than 500000 ft2 and occupying two full city blocks. It is 390 ft between on Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street, and 273 ft between Grove and McAllister Streets. Its dome, which owes much to Mansart's Baroque dome of Les Invalides, Paris, is the fifth largest dome in the world, rising 307.5 ft above the Civic Center Historic District. It is 14 in higher than the United States Capitol, and has a diameter of 366 ft, 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 deep and 60 ft.
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 George Moscone and his successor, Dianne Feinstein, stand nearby as tacit reminders of the 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. 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:
SAN • FRANCISCO
O • GLORIOVS • CITY • OF • OVR
HEARTS • THAT • HAST • BEEN
TRIED • AND • NOT • FOVND
WANTING • GO • THOV • WITH
LIKE • SPIRIT • TO • MAKE
THE • FVTVRE • THINE
1912 JAMES ROLPH JR. MAYOR 1931
The words were written by the previous Mayor Edward Robeson Taylor, and dedicated by Mayor James Rolph.
While plaques at the Mall entrance memorialize President George Washington's farewell address and President 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.
The current City Hall building is a replacement for an original building which was completed in 1899 after 27 years of planning and construction. The original city hall was actually a much larger building which also contained a smaller extension which contained the city's Hall of Records.
Reconstruction plans following the 1906 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.<ref name=avoc/>
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. President Warren Harding's body lay in state under the rotunda following his death in San Francisco in 1923.
Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were married at City Hall in 1954. Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor 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.
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.
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.
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 Towering Inferno (1974)
- Foul Play (1978)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- Class Action (1991)
- The Rock (1996)
- Bicentennial Man (1999) portrays a ball taking place under the dome for the grand reopening of the building after restoration somewhere in the 22nd century.
- Bedazzled (2000)
- The Wedding Planner (2001)
- Milk (2008)
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.
- San Francisco Designated Landmarks
- San Francisco's tallest buildings
- Earthquake engineering
- San Francisco City Hall - official site
- San Francisco government City hall restoration project
- 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)