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The Other City Hall

Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed Contributor Alex Bevk highlights a San Francisco location with a secret past. Maybe it’s no longer there, maybe it’s been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in SF history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.


Most people, local or visitor, are impressed by San Francisco's City Hall. Constructed between 1913-1915 with a design by Arthur Brown Jr, the City Hall building has become an icon of the city. It’s been studied and written about numerous times, and has been featured in a slew of movies. But before it was built, another City Hall building dominated the skyline and people’s attention.

1899 Sanborn map (red arrow points to the original Pioneer Monument location) [Photo: ProQuest Digital Sanborn Maps, 1867-1970]

Old City Hall was built over the course of 25 years, with construction starting in 1872. It sat on the location of the new Main Library, and taking up more than two city blocks, it was the considered the largest building in the west. The building was huge, with a giant dome over the entrance, and an extension wing holding the Hall of Records with a second shorter dome. According to FoundSF, the state appropriated the land and auctioned off portions of the property as a way to raise the money for construction. The Pioneer Monument, now located between the Asian Art Museum and the Main Library, was sited in front of the main entrance.

The ruins of the Old City Hall after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

As with much of the city, the building was destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. The ruins sat for three years while officials debated whether to rebuild on the same site or somewhere else, eventually settling on the current site of City Hall a few blocks away. A competition was held in 1912, and Arthur Brown Jr’s submission influenced by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts was the winner. City Hall served as a keystone in the development of City Beautiful-style Civic Center (listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1978).

The 1915 San Francisco City Hall today [Photo: wallyg]

· San Francisco City Hall [SF Gov]
· San Francisco Civic Center National Historic Landmark [NPS]
· Old City Hall of SF [Found SF]
· San Francisco City Hall [Structural Enginneers Association of Northern California]

San Francisco City Hall

1 Doctor Carlton B Goodlett Place, , CA 94102 Visit Website