Welcome to The Landmarks, where Curbed takes a look at one of the many San Francisco landmarks, listed either locally or on the National Register of Historic Places. Landmarks will be chosen at random, but do drop us a line if you'd like to see a certain landmark highlighted
Flatiron buildings, named after old timey hot irons, are found on triangular lots. San Francisco has a few examples due to her wonky criss-crossed street grids, but the most eye-catching is the Sentinel Building at 141 Columbus. Started before the 1906 Earthquake and Fire but finished after, the building has been home to crooked politicians, music groups, and movie makers. It was listed as City Landmark #33 way back in 1970.
Construction on the Sentinel Building started in 1905, and was still a work in progress when the 1906 Earthquake and Fire hit. Designed by local architects Salfield and Kohlberg, the triangular shaped lot led them to take inspiration from the very famous Flatiron Building in NYC. Built for lawyer and political crime boss Abe Ruef, he planned to have his real estate brokerage on the top floor. Unfortunately for him, the 1907 graft prosecutions got in his way and he didn't move in until 1915 when he was released from San Quentin.
In addition to being an office building, there's always been a ground floor restaurant space. During Prohibition, a small spiral staircase lead from the restaurant to an underground speakeasy known as Neptune's Grotto that extended below the sidewalks and adjacent streets.
Ruef died in 1936 and the building became home to the Bohemian set, with artists and writers moving in and living next to their studios. The whole building went into a period of physical decline and threatened with demolition until 1958, when it was purchased by businessman Robert Moor. He hired local architect Henrick Bull to completely rehabilitate it. Moor soon sold it to the pop-folk band The Kingston Trio, and they converted some offices into recording studios and creative spaces for designers and architects.
The Trio in turn sold it to Francis Ford Coppola in 1973, who changed its name back to the Sentinel. Coppola has offices for his company Zoetroppe in the building, with the ground floor restaurant serving his vineyard's wines. The property is still owned by Sofia Properties, Coppola's real estate holdings company named after his daughter.