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Head Indoors with 10 of the Bay Area's Most Spectacular Interior Landmarks

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Interior landmark designations are notoriously tricky, because you have to try and balance preservation of significant spaces without stepping on the toes of private property owners and preventing them from upgrades. No surprise then that most of the spaces on this list are publicly owned. San Francisco only has 12 official local interior landmarks (compare that with New York City's 117), so we've expanded our list to include other parts of the Bay Area as well. Here are 10 of the region's most spectacular protected interiors.

Beach Chalet:

Beach Chalet murals, via Flickr/Kevin Dobo-Hoffman (click to enlarge)
While the Beach Chalet was designed by Willis Polk in 1925 as a lounge with changing rooms and a restaurant, the landmark building is also known for the murals, mosaics, and wood carvings added a decade later. Funded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration, Lucien Labault painted the frescoes depicting life in San Francisco, including Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Park, Downtown, and Chinatown.

City Hall:

In what should be a surprise to no one, the city's most famous interior has been home to weddings, political protests, and everything in between. Louis Bourgeois designed the interior and Henri Crenier created the sculptures in the rotunda. The grand staircase, gilded dome, and classical balustrades surrounding the rotunda at each of the upper floors make this landmark interior a tourist destination for a reason.

Rincon Post Office Annex:

The 1940 post office annex was also sponsored by the WPA. Gilbert S. Underwood's Streamline Moderne building is cool enough on its own, but the interiors are landmarked too thanks to Russian painter Anton Refregier's 27 murals in the lobby depicting the history of California. The murals became controversial due to their realistic portrayal of the hardships and struggles of early California instead of romanticized versions. The idealism of the New Deal era had faded and in 1953 Refregier was accused of being a Communist and the murals were threatened with removal. This website gives a detailed breakdown of the themes of the different murals.

Palace Hotel Garden Court:

When the Palace Hotel opened in 1875, it was one of the biggest and grandest in the country. The original hotel featured an ornamental entry area for horse drawn carriages known as the Grand Court. It was converted to a "Garden Court" filled with palms, but the entire hotel burned down in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. The hotel was completely rebuilt from the ground up, including the Garden Court. This is a rare landmark where the Garden Court is the only part landmarked—the rest of the building isn't.

VC Morris:

Former V.C. Morris gift shop, via Šarūnas Burdulis
The Frank Lloyd Wright art gallery on Maiden Lane is one of the few FLW-designed buildings in the Bay Area and the only one in San Francisco. Built in 1948, the store was Wright's physical prototype for the circular ramp his 1958 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City (though both were designed at the same time). The interiors are considered part of the landmark even though they are not called out specifically in the designation. The whole building was restored in 1998 by former FLW associate Aaron Green, including the reinstallation of some original furnishings and fixtures and reproduction of others.

Carnegie Library–Chinatown Branch:

Chinatown Branch Library (with seismic bracing visible), via Active Rain
There are seven Carnegie libraries in San Francisco, but only two of them have interiors included in their landmark designation. The Mission Branch is the other, and both were designed by Gustave Albert Lansburgh. Known as the North Beach branch until that other one was built in 1958, the landmark designation calls out the spatial volume of the Main Reading Room and its ornamental ceiling.

Oakland Museum:

On the other side of the Bay, the Oakland Museum of California is considered a quintessential example of Midcentury Modernism. Kevin Roche's 1969 design integrates the building with landscape by Dan Kiley and gardens by Geraldine Knight Scott. It was listed as a local Oakland landmark in 1995, including certain interior features, only 25 years after it was built.

Paramount Theatre:

Hearst Memorial Mining Building:

Hearst Memorial Mining Building at UC Berkeley, via Flickr/Joe Parks
Over on UC Berkeley's campus, ask any student or alum for their favorite interior space and you're likely to get different answers. But one of the most stunning buildings has got to be the Hearst Memorial Mining Building. Home to the university's Materials Science and Engineering Department, it was designed in 1902 by John Galen Howard with an assist from Julia Morgan (of Hearst Castle fame) in honor of successful miner and major whale George Hearst. With tile-covered domes, steel lattice columns, and blue-green cast-iron railings around atrium balconies, it's a knockout local Berkeley landmark (in Berkeley any public buildings that are on the landmark list have at least their public-function interiors protected).

Marin Civic Center:

Frank Lloyd Wright's 1957 Northern California masterpiece is listed as every kind of landmark imaginable—National Register, National Historic Landmark, California Historical Landmark, and it's been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Marin County Civic Center's landmark status includes both the exterior and interior of the building as well as part of the whole campus site. The interior is full of cool details, like gold-anodized columns, barrel-vaulted roofs, entrances with gold vertical grills instead of doors. It houses county administration offices and the Hall of Justice—if only all jury duty was located in interiors like this.

Many thanks to Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and the Marin County Department of Cultural Services for information included in this post.

San Francisco City Hall

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