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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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Cliff House

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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.

Sutro Baths

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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.

Seal Rock Inn

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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.

San Francisco VA Medical Center

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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

Balboa Theatre

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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.

Anza Branch Library

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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

Lafayette Elementary School

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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

A post shared by Raymond (@sfrayj) on

George Washington High School

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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.

Presidio Middle School

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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

Holy Virgin Cathedral

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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.

Four Star Theater

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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.

Joe's Ice Cream

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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.

Richmond/Senator Milton Marks Branch Library

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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. 

Richmond Police Station

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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.  

A post shared by CeritaSF (@ceritasf) on

Congregation Emanu-El San Francisco

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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.

A post shared by Amy_SF (@magnoliawhawha) on

St. John’s Presbyterian Church

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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.

Roosevelt Middle School

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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.

A post shared by Svetlana Eilart (@jaaniussikene) on

Rossi Pool

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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.

San Francisco Columbarium and Funeral Home

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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.

St. Ignatius Church

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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.

Cliff House

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.

Sutro Baths

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.

Seal Rock Inn

"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.

San Francisco VA Medical Center

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.

san francisco va medical center Photo by Aengus Anderson

Balboa Theatre

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.

Anza Branch Library

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.

anza library san francisco Photo by Neal Patel

Lafayette Elementary School

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

A post shared by Raymond (@sfrayj) on

George Washington High School

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.

Presidio Middle School

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.

presidio middle school san francisco Photo by Cory Doctorow

Holy Virgin Cathedral

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.

Four Star Theater

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.

Joe's Ice Cream

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.

Richmond/Senator Milton Marks Branch Library

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. 

Richmond Police Station

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.  

A post shared by CeritaSF (@ceritasf) on

Congregation Emanu-El San Francisco

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.

A post shared by Amy_SF (@magnoliawhawha) on

St. John’s Presbyterian Church

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.

Roosevelt Middle School

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.

A post shared by Svetlana Eilart (@jaaniussikene) on

Rossi Pool

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.

San Francisco Columbarium and Funeral Home

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.

St. Ignatius Church

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.