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The Panorama Building on Market that Once Held Bike Races

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Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series Hidden History, where Curbed highlights a Bay Area 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 Bay Area 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.


Photographs are ubiquitous in today's culture with everyone snapping shots of their morning coffee or evening sunset in sepia tone. But long before an Instagram filter made your photos look old timey, people used to flock to special rotunda buildings that would house 360° paintings or photos. One of these buildings belonged to the California Panorama Company, and was located at the southeast corner of Market and 10th streets.

Panoramas were major attractions in cities back in the day when photography was new and very expensive. They usually depicted epic sweeping landscapes, sometimes historical events in lieu of today's TV news. The buildings that housed them were massive rotundas with skylights, domes, or clerestory windows to let in light. The paintings or photos then lined the interior walls, creating a 360° experience. In addition to being a visual attraction, panoramas were used to educated with maps or keys identifying landmarks or people. Eventually exhibits began to include music and 3D props to make the scenes more lifelike.


The exhibits used to travel around to various panorama buildings, so the California Panorama building would host ever-changing photos. The company also took the photos themselves, sending them to other cities to view. The Market and 10th location opened in 1890 and showed scenes like the Battle of Chattanooga or vistas of Yosemite. There were two other viewing rotundas in the city—one at Eddy and Mason designed by Albert Pissis (of Hibernia Bank fame) and another as part of the old City Hall.


Eventually the invention of motion pictures outshined the panorama trend, and they began to wane in popularity by the 1890s. The round buildings were reused mostly for athletic events, like billiard halls or boxing arenas. The California Panorama Company building became a bicycle academy and velodrome in 1896 known as Thomas H.B. Varney's Rambler Biclorama.

Bikes were relatively new at the time, with modern bicycles only dating from 1885. The old Panorama became a shop for the Rambler brand of bikes, as well as a riding academy. The three-story rotunda was outfitted with two velodrome tracks on the upper level, one for each gender. The lower levels were sales and repair shops, along with parlors, smoking rooms, locker rooms, and baths. It also functioned as the headquarters for local bike clubs like the Bay City Wheelmen and the Alpha Ladies Cycling Club.


It was destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, and today the site is home to DPW offices in a building constructed in 1975 the Furniture Mart building that houses the Twitter offices.


· A Brief History of Panoramic Photography [Library of Congress]
· Mid-Market Historic Context Statement [SF History]
· New Biclorama [SF Call via CDNC]