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san francisco columbarium interior Photo by Thomas Hawk

A look at the Richmond District's architectural history

These westside structures deserve a second glance

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Present day Richmond District conjures up thoughts of foggy streets, a wealth of Asian cuisine, and homey Irish bars, but it also has a history reflected in the many buildings throughout the neighborhood.

From an ornate Russian Orthodox Church in Little Russia to a century-old columbarium that holds the remains of some of the city’s earliest pioneers in politics, art, and science, there is no shortage of structures with storied pasts.

The Richmond District’s borders are loosely defined as Golden Gate Park to the south; Ocean Beach to the west; the Presidio, Sea Cliff, and Lincoln Park to the north; and Arguello Boulevard to the east. It is largely residential, with sizable Chinese and Russian populations living in this slightly more affordable part of the city.

Here are a few of our favorite historic buildings in the neighborhood.

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1. Cliff House

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1090 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 386-3330
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Boasting views of the Pacific Ocean and the Sutro Baths, this building was restored to its original 1909 neoclassical style in 2003. It is now owned by the National Park Service, and serves up meals all day with one of the best backdrops in the city.

2. Sutro Baths

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1004 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 426-5240
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Only the foundation remains of what once was an important hub of aquatic activity that included a collection of indoor saltwater pools. Located in an inlet next to the Pacific Ocean, the structure was built in 1896 by Adolph Sutro, a former mayor of San Francisco. An arsonist burned it down in 1966. Today its remains are owned by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

3. Seal Rock Inn

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545 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 752-8000
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"Dawn is coming up in San Francisco now: 6:09 a.m. at the Seal Rock Inn. ... Out here at the far end of Geary Street: this is the end of the line, for buses and everything else, the western edge of America."

Immortalized by the words of Hunter S. Thompson, this hotel and restaurant have been part of the city’s history since 1959. Not much has changed since its peak in the 1970s, and it remains a low-key hotel with an unparalleled view of the Pacific.

4. San Francisco VA Medical Center

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4150 Clement St
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 221-4810
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Often referred to simply as the SF VA Medical Center, this building stands on the border of the Outer Richmond. Built in 1934, it was designed with a California-Spanish-Mayan style, and has a cafeteria with panoramic views of the Marin Headlines and the Pacific.

san francisco va medical center Photo by Aengus Anderson

5. Balboa Theatre

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3630 Balboa St
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 221-8184
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Located in the Outer Richmond, this theater has been a source of entertainment for generations. The two-screen theater is a refreshing change from the movie megaplexs that are more common nowadays. Renowned architect brothers James and Merrit Reid, who helped design some of the city’s iconic landmarks like the Fairmount Hotel and the Cliff House, built it in 1926.

6. Anza Branch Library

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550 37th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 355-5717
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Perched on a steep hill, this tiny library was renovated in 2011, without losing its original architectural design from 1932. There are plenty of materials in Chinese and Russian, reflecting some of the neighborhood’s diverse cliental. This library provides a great respite from the fog that chills this neighborhood year round.

anza library san francisco Photo by Neal Patel

7. Lafayette Elementary School

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4545 Anza St
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 750-8483
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As one of the original public schools in San Francisco, its earliest version was built in 1909. It went through many transformations and the current structure was built in 1927, out of reinforced concrete, and covered in stucco with a terra cotta trim.

my old Kindergarten

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8. George Washington High School

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600 32nd Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 750-8400
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Built in 1936, this school’s lobby features “buon fresco” murals by Victor Arnautoff that depict scenes from the life of George Washington. The architect, Timothy Pflueger (Castro Theater, 450 Sutter), built the school in the style of Art Deco design. Three panels over the front doors feature the heads of Shakespeare, Washington, and Edison, who keep a watchful eye over all who enter these hallowed halls.

9. Presidio Middle School

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450 30th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 750-8435
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Built in 1930, the intricate stone-carved entryway with colorful tile work makes it one of the neighborhood’s most beautiful schools. Its multi-hued Art Deco exterior also makes it easily recognizable, even on the foggiest of days.

presidio middle school san francisco Photo by Cory Doctorow

10. Holy Virgin Cathedral

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6210 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 221-3255
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Also known as the Joy of All Who Sorrow, this Russian Orthodox Church is one of the largest of its kind outside of Russia. Hard to miss with its five onion domes covered in 24-carat gold leaf, the church has an interior that boasts vibrant mosaics, detailed religious paintings, and a crystal chandelier that can only be viewed by those who attend the services inside.

11. Four Star Theater

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2200 Clement St
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 666-3488
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Originally christened the La Bonita Theater, this historic cinema has been holding on despite the advent of Netflix and the neighborhood transformations that have been going on around it. Standing on the corner of Clement and 23rd Avenue, it is a family-run theatre that shows everything from major blockbusters to smaller independent films.

12. Joe's Ice Cream

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5420 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 751-1950
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Recently named by the city as a legacy business, this family-owned diner has been a neighborhood staple since 1959. Its interior feels like traveling back in time, with a retro menu and swivel bar stools. The retro experience makes it worth skipping new artisanal ice cream shops for a serving of neighborhood nostalgia.

13. Richmond/Senator Milton Marks Branch Library

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351 9th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 355-5600
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A major restoration in 2009 restored this Carnegie building, and preserved the original design as well as expanded it and made it seismically safe. The Richmond Library, constructed in the Classical Revival style, was the first in the city to be built with Carnegie grant funds in 1914. 

14. Richmond Police Station

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461 6th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 666-8000
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Standing out with a red brick Romanesque Revival style, this remodeled building still holds all the original design elements from 1927. The 1996 renovation allowed for a seismically upgraded building that still retains its century-old charm, and has been a neighborhood landmark for generations.  

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15. Congregation Emanu-El San Francisco

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2 Lake St
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 751-2535
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Influenced by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and technically located in nearby Presidio Heights, this temple is an architectural masterpiece, from its 150-foot dome to its large stained glass windows. Built in 1926 by celebrated architect Arthur Brown Jr., it was rewarded shortly after it was completed by the American Institute of Architects as one of the most beautiful buildings in North America.

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16. St. John’s Presbyterian Church

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(415) 751-1626
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Surrounded by sand dunes when it was constructed in 1905, this historic Presbyterian church was designed in the Gothic Revival Shingle style. Its interior boasts an intricate wooden altar and stained glass windows. It was given a rightfully earned spot in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

17. Roosevelt Middle School

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460 Arguello Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 750-8446
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Known for its towering brick exterior, this Art Deco school was built in 1928 by San Francisco architects, James R. Miller and Timothy Pflueger. The use of brick was a rare choice, since it was not a practical building material after the devastating 1906 earthquake. The choice to build with brick was inspired by the Dutch Pavilion and the Dutch Expressionist buildings at the 1925 Paris Exposition.

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18. Rossi Pool

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600 Arguello Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 666-7014
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Many a neighborhood kid learned to swim in this pool building that was build in 1956 by H.C. Baumann. It was designed in the Modernism style, with Art Deco details like the front entrance lettering. In a former life, the grounds were a victory garden honoring those who fought in World War II. The surrounding playground was built from 1935 through 1936, and was funded by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) program.

19. San Francisco Columbarium and Funeral Home

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1 Loraine Ct
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 771-0717
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For those who want their final resting place to be in the city, this is the last spot where you can be legally interred. This columbarium has been recognized as a significant contributor to the city’s architectural landscape with its large stained glass windows, and blended baroque and neoclassical design. Originally part of the Odd Fellows Cemetery, it was abandoned for decades, then slowly restored to it former glory.

20. St. Ignatius Church

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650 Parker Ave
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 422-2188
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Located on University of San Francisco’s Lone Mountain Campus, this church is a mix of Baroque and Italian Renaissance styles, with a floor plan that mimics those of ancient Roman basilicas. As one of the city’s largest churches, it has become a well-recognized landmark with its twin towers and domed ceiling.

1. Cliff House

1090 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121

Boasting views of the Pacific Ocean and the Sutro Baths, this building was restored to its original 1909 neoclassical style in 2003. It is now owned by the National Park Service, and serves up meals all day with one of the best backdrops in the city.

1090 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

2. Sutro Baths

1004 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121

Only the foundation remains of what once was an important hub of aquatic activity that included a collection of indoor saltwater pools. Located in an inlet next to the Pacific Ocean, the structure was built in 1896 by Adolph Sutro, a former mayor of San Francisco. An arsonist burned it down in 1966. Today its remains are owned by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

1004 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

3. Seal Rock Inn

545 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121

"Dawn is coming up in San Francisco now: 6:09 a.m. at the Seal Rock Inn. ... Out here at the far end of Geary Street: this is the end of the line, for buses and everything else, the western edge of America."

Immortalized by the words of Hunter S. Thompson, this hotel and restaurant have been part of the city’s history since 1959. Not much has changed since its peak in the 1970s, and it remains a low-key hotel with an unparalleled view of the Pacific.

545 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

4. San Francisco VA Medical Center

4150 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94121
san francisco va medical center Photo by Aengus Anderson

Often referred to simply as the SF VA Medical Center, this building stands on the border of the Outer Richmond. Built in 1934, it was designed with a California-Spanish-Mayan style, and has a cafeteria with panoramic views of the Marin Headlines and the Pacific.

4150 Clement St
San Francisco, CA 94121

5. Balboa Theatre

3630 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121

Located in the Outer Richmond, this theater has been a source of entertainment for generations. The two-screen theater is a refreshing change from the movie megaplexs that are more common nowadays. Renowned architect brothers James and Merrit Reid, who helped design some of the city’s iconic landmarks like the Fairmount Hotel and the Cliff House, built it in 1926.

3630 Balboa St
San Francisco, CA 94121

6. Anza Branch Library

550 37th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
anza library san francisco Photo by Neal Patel

Perched on a steep hill, this tiny library was renovated in 2011, without losing its original architectural design from 1932. There are plenty of materials in Chinese and Russian, reflecting some of the neighborhood’s diverse cliental. This library provides a great respite from the fog that chills this neighborhood year round.

550 37th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

7. Lafayette Elementary School

4545 Anza St, San Francisco, CA 94121

As one of the original public schools in San Francisco, its earliest version was built in 1909. It went through many transformations and the current structure was built in 1927, out of reinforced concrete, and covered in stucco with a terra cotta trim.

4545 Anza St
San Francisco, CA 94121

8. George Washington High School

600 32nd Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121

Built in 1936, this school’s lobby features “buon fresco” murals by Victor Arnautoff that depict scenes from the life of George Washington. The architect, Timothy Pflueger (Castro Theater, 450 Sutter), built the school in the style of Art Deco design. Three panels over the front doors feature the heads of Shakespeare, Washington, and Edison, who keep a watchful eye over all who enter these hallowed halls.

600 32nd Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

9. Presidio Middle School

450 30th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
presidio middle school san francisco Photo by Cory Doctorow

Built in 1930, the intricate stone-carved entryway with colorful tile work makes it one of the neighborhood’s most beautiful schools. Its multi-hued Art Deco exterior also makes it easily recognizable, even on the foggiest of days.

450 30th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

10. Holy Virgin Cathedral

6210 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

Also known as the Joy of All Who Sorrow, this Russian Orthodox Church is one of the largest of its kind outside of Russia. Hard to miss with its five onion domes covered in 24-carat gold leaf, the church has an interior that boasts vibrant mosaics, detailed religious paintings, and a crystal chandelier that can only be viewed by those who attend the services inside.

6210 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121

11. Four Star Theater

2200 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94121

Originally christened the La Bonita Theater, this historic cinema has been holding on despite the advent of Netflix and the neighborhood transformations that have been going on around it. Standing on the corner of Clement and 23rd Avenue, it is a family-run theatre that shows everything from major blockbusters to smaller independent films.

2200 Clement St
San Francisco, CA 94121

12. Joe's Ice Cream

5420 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

Recently named by the city as a legacy business, this family-owned diner has been a neighborhood staple since 1959. Its interior feels like traveling back in time, with a retro menu and swivel bar stools. The retro experience makes it worth skipping new artisanal ice cream shops for a serving of neighborhood nostalgia.

5420 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121

13. Richmond/Senator Milton Marks Branch Library

351 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

A major restoration in 2009 restored this Carnegie building, and preserved the original design as well as expanded it and made it seismically safe. The Richmond Library, constructed in the Classical Revival style, was the first in the city to be built with Carnegie grant funds in 1914. 

351 9th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94118

14. Richmond Police Station

461 6th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

Standing out with a red brick Romanesque Revival style, this remodeled building still holds all the original design elements from 1927. The 1996 renovation allowed for a seismically upgraded building that still retains its century-old charm, and has been a neighborhood landmark for generations.  

461 6th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94118

15. Congregation Emanu-El San Francisco

2 Lake St, San Francisco, CA 94118

Influenced by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and technically located in nearby Presidio Heights, this temple is an architectural masterpiece, from its 150-foot dome to its large stained glass windows. Built in 1926 by celebrated architect Arthur Brown Jr., it was rewarded shortly after it was completed by the American Institute of Architects as one of the most beautiful buildings in North America.

2 Lake St
San Francisco, CA 94118

16. St. John’s Presbyterian Church

San Francisco, CA 94118

Surrounded by sand dunes when it was constructed in 1905, this historic Presbyterian church was designed in the Gothic Revival Shingle style. Its interior boasts an intricate wooden altar and stained glass windows. It was given a rightfully earned spot in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

17. Roosevelt Middle School

460 Arguello Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

Known for its towering brick exterior, this Art Deco school was built in 1928 by San Francisco architects, James R. Miller and Timothy Pflueger. The use of brick was a rare choice, since it was not a practical building material after the devastating 1906 earthquake. The choice to build with brick was inspired by the Dutch Pavilion and the Dutch Expressionist buildings at the 1925 Paris Exposition.

460 Arguello Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94118

18. Rossi Pool

600 Arguello Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

Many a neighborhood kid learned to swim in this pool building that was build in 1956 by H.C. Baumann. It was designed in the Modernism style, with Art Deco details like the front entrance lettering. In a former life, the grounds were a victory garden honoring those who fought in World War II. The surrounding playground was built from 1935 through 1936, and was funded by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) program.

600 Arguello Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94118

19. San Francisco Columbarium and Funeral Home

1 Loraine Ct, San Francisco, CA 94118

For those who want their final resting place to be in the city, this is the last spot where you can be legally interred. This columbarium has been recognized as a significant contributor to the city’s architectural landscape with its large stained glass windows, and blended baroque and neoclassical design. Originally part of the Odd Fellows Cemetery, it was abandoned for decades, then slowly restored to it former glory.

1 Loraine Ct
San Francisco, CA 94118

20. St. Ignatius Church

650 Parker Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

Located on University of San Francisco’s Lone Mountain Campus, this church is a mix of Baroque and Italian Renaissance styles, with a floor plan that mimics those of ancient Roman basilicas. As one of the city’s largest churches, it has become a well-recognized landmark with its twin towers and domed ceiling.

650 Parker Ave
San Francisco, CA 94118