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The exterior of the Heineman Building in San Francisco. The facade is white with ornate gold design. Patricia Chang

San Francisco’s most underrated buildings

Overlooked wonders that deserve a second look

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We asked readers to reveal the buildings they love most but don’t get their due—which is to say, buildings other than the Transamerica Pyramid, the Shell Building, Conservatory of Flowers, or the Sentinel. Those structures are already iconic.

Sure, architecture geeks might know about cult favorites, but what about nascent design savvy folks who want to go above and beyond Coit Tower or St. Mary’s Cathedral? If you’re looking to learn more about the under-the-radar structures around San Francisco, this map, selected by Curbed SF readers, is a great place to start.

Note: By no means is this list complete. This list will continue to grow and update as readers add more to the list. Is your favorite building missing? Tell us about it below.

Check out San Francisco’s most iconic buildings. While you’re at it, pore over San Francisco’s most beautiful interiors.

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Presidio Officers' Club

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“Maybe it’s the setting, maybe its nostalgia for climbing on the cannons as a child, but it’s maybe my favorite adobe building I can think of. (It is adobe, right?)” — jwdmeow

[Editor’s note: Yes, it’s adobe style!]

A post shared by Victor Yee (@victorwyee) on

Hilton San Francisco Financial District

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This 27-story hotel located in Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square, which opened in 1971, is a brutalist style beast that, while impossible to ignore, rarely gets its due respect. Pity.

The exterior of the Hilton San Francisco in the Financial District. The facade is white. Photo by Brock Keeling

50 California

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Designed by Welton Becket and Associates and competed in 1972, this minimalist beast has lines vertical lines for days.

The exterior of 50 California in San Francisco. The facade has vertical lines. Photo by Brock Keeling

100 California

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Built by Bethlehem Steel in 1960, this Financial District structure is lauded as one of the first post-war modernist buildings in the area.

The exterior of 100 California in San Francisco. The facade is glass. Photo by Brock Keeling

1641 Jackson

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There are a handful of beautiful auto shop structures in the area, but this is one of the best. Dig that stunning arched facade.

The exterior of 1641 Jackson in San Francisco. The facade is white with an arched entrance. There is a sign on the building that says: BMW Maintenance. Photo by Brock Keeling

101 California

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“I love 101 California. [Designed by] architect Phillip Johnson, I love the way it looks different from different angles, the way it appears to float above its base. Love the view of it from Front Street.” — CESF

The exterior of 101 California in San Francisco. The facade is glass with multiple support structures at the base. Photos by Brock Keeling

155 Sansome

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“I don’t live in your beautiful city, but I fell in love with this when I walked past it.” — Priscilla Lynch

Heineman building

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It’s easy to miss this downtown building. Blocked from a clear view on Market Street by midcentury showstopper One Bush, passersby must veer up the start of Bush Street in order to see and appreciate it in all its trim glory.

“Building is much like toothpick,” read the headline of a 1909 issue of San Francisco Call.

Designed by G.A. Applegarth and christened the Heineman building, 130 Bush began as a necktie, belt, and suspender factory. In fact, it was one of the first buildings in the area, opening in 1910, four years after the 1906 earthquake.

The exterior of the Heineman Building in San Francisco. The facade is white with ornate gold design. Photo by Patricia Chang

One Bush Plaza

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“The Crown Zellerbach HQ, now One Bush Street, is SF’s first international-style curtain-wall building. Completed in 1959 by SOM, it’s a handsome tower with a glass-enclosed lobby. The building is set back from the street with an orderly plaza that features a Jetsons-era round retail space. It all comes together to project cool, mid-century Mad Men vibe.” — Andy Bosselman

The exterior of One Bush Plaza in San Francisco. The facade is glass. Photo by Brock Keeling

Fire Station 35

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“When walking along the Embarcadero, I always appreciate seeing Red’s Java House and Fire Station 35.” — 49Giants

A post shared by Rose Lee (@sideways_ca) on

130 Montgomery

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“I like the art deco front of 130 Montgomery. Lots of nice little buildings like that in the Financial District.” — pinchelobster

The exterior of 130 Montgomery in San Francisco. The facade is tan with sculptural designs. Photos by Brock Keeling

1199 Bush

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This contemporary behemoth at the corner of Bush and Hyde features a slew of medical offices inside.

The exterior of 1199 Bush in San Francisco. The facade is red brick and glass. Photos by Brock Keeling

J.P. Morgan Building

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“JP Morgan Chase is a handsome, underrated building.” —  Koyaanisqatsi Weltshmerz

Marines' Memorial Club and Hotel

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“I love that little balcony!” — jwdmeow

The exterior of Marines Memorial Club and Hotel. The door has an elaborately designed frame.

V. C. Morris Gift Shop

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s V.C. Morris Gift Shop at 140 Maiden Lane, whose circular ramp was the prototype design for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, is now an Italian men’s clothing store. “Upon its completion, it electrified the architectural world not only for its architecture, but for its radical interpretation of a retail store,” said the San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission who voted unanimously in 2016 to preserve the interior.

700 Market

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“As an architect, I really like to look at the detailing of 700 Market, which is an historic 1902 Beaux-Arts banking building with sophisticated additions to the right (1964) and left (2010?) somehow match the rhythm of the original without actually copying anything.” — redseca2

“[W]hen coming down Third Street approaching Market, I love seeing the Mutual Savings Bank Building at 700 Market, alongside its modern neighbor to the west—I think they for a make a handsome pair.” — 49Giants

The exterior of 700 Market in San Francisco. The facade is white with an orange roof. Photo by Brock Keeling

PG&E Embarcadero substation

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The now-demolished Embarcadero Freeway used to hide this utilitarian PG&E transformer station. But when the roadway went down and condo and apartment towers started to rise, it came into full view. Urban design critic John King writes that the substation tells of a time when downtown SF was a place to work, not live. (Note: The adjoining park was done by Stanley Saitowitz.)

“Love, love, love the substation. So brutal, in a good way,” said reader 49Giants.

A post shared by Brock Keeling (@brockkeeling) on

Alcazar Theatre

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Built in 1917 as a Shriner’s Temple, the Geary Street building was designed in Exotic Revival style to look like an Islamic temple. The June 1917 edition of Architect and Engineer described the Alcazar Theatre as “an adaptation from Alhambra, a building that stands as the highest mark of Arabian art and civilization.”

Used as a temple until 1970, it is now a theater that shows cabaret and off-Broadway shows.

“I’d love to see it get more love and use,” says QandA.

The exterior of the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco. The facade is tan with ornate design over the windows and door.

Carillon Tower

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Built in the 1960s, this residential tower is delightfully bulbous with stacks of balconies surrounding the circular structure. It pairs nicely with nearby midcentury marvel St. Mary’s Cathedral.

“Many towers radiate self-importance,” notes John King in his book Cityscapes 2: Reading the Architecture of San Francisco. “This one just wants its residents to enjoy life and savor the views, and who can argue with that?

Roosevelt Middle School

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Built in the 1930s, this school was designed by famed architect Timothy Pflueger, who also created the Castro Theater and 450 Sutter.

A post shared by Lovely Films (@lovely.films) on

1019 Market

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Built in 1909 by architect George Applegarth for the Eastern Outfitting Co. department store, this Mid-Market looker is highlighted by a broad five-story bay flanked by two Corinthian columns.

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.

625 Third

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“[A]mid most of SoMa’s generic warehouses, I’ve always appreciated the style of 625 Third Street, the former Rolling Stone offices” — hunterrible

The exterior of 625 Third in San Francisco. The facade is red brick. There is a United States flag on the roof.

San Francisco Federal Building

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Andy Bosselman says of the polarizing Federal Building in SoMa:

“Perhaps the most hated new building in San Francisco, the San Francisco Federal Building by Thom Mayne / Morphosis, is unquestionably underrated. Whatever you think of its look, its creativity and idealism are a radical change from the safe, boring, minimally functional architecture that the federal government produced in the decades after World War II. In the ’90s, people within the federal bureaucracy created the Design Excellence Program. These people successfully turned around decades of banal buildings and even found a way to take significant risks in the name of design. This may be one of the program’s most extraordinary accomplishments. If you are among the building’s haters, take the free, self-guided walking tour. It might grow on you.”

1234 Howard

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Stanley Saitowitz, arguably the city’s most important living designer, deserves several mentions on this list. But 1234 Howard is one of the firm’s best designs, and the most emblematic of his vision for in-fill architecture. Most notable here is his use of louvered shades. In a word, stunning.

The exterior of 1234 Howard in San Francisco. The facade has gray shades that can be moved up and down the front of the building. Photos courtesy of Natoma Architects

Mangrum and Otter Building

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“I do love the tile work on 1235 Mission Street” — hunterrible

The exterior of the Mangrum and Otter Building in San Francisco. There is elaborate inlaid design around the windows and doors. Photos by Brock Keeling

1081 Haight

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One of many—many—stunning Victorians in the neighborhood.

A post shared by Sharon Kille Jenkins (@skj59) on

450 South Street Garage

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The abstract-modern garage at 450 South Street, noted for its perforated white aluminum and winner of the 2010 AIA San Francisco Excellence in Architecture Award, can be found next to the upcoming Chase Stadium.

CJN Nogueiro Dentistry

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In a sea of vapid renovations and residential hig-hrises, this little midcentury facade on Mission Street never fails to delight.

The exterior of CJN Nogueiro Dentistry in San Francisco. The facade has glass and orange panels. Photo by Brock Keeling

Hua-Zang Si

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“For years, I lived half a block up from the Hua Zang Si temple at 3134 22nd St. The red and grey color combo is badass and the building is just so damn striking. Its fierceness is softened by the lovely monks(?) who sweep the street everyday and the chill Buddha holding court behind the building’s glass front doors.” — 49Giants

Forest Hill Station

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Originally christened Laguna Honda Station (lettering with its old name remains carved on the station headhouse), the station was designed in the classical revival style. At the surface level, period pilasters and archways remain. The coffered ceiling and crown moldings are also a treat to behold. And the platform level subway tile in white, black, and red checker pattern is some of the finest in the entire system.

The metro station, which turned 100 this year, is San Francisco’s oldest Muni station.

The exterior of Forest Hill Station in San Francisco. The facade is tan with an orange roof. There is a fire truck in front of the station. Photo by Patricia Chang

Forest Hill Clubhouse

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“This may not be a home, but I’ve always loved the Forest Hill Clubhouse by Maybeck,” noted reader lane7.

Indeed, the home was designed in 1919 by acclaimed architect Bernard Maybeck, famous for his Palace of Fine Arts. It’s one of the city’s best examples of the Arts and Crafts style, featuring a great room with a soaring beamed ceiling, detailed original woodwork, and original light fixtures with mica shades.

“After extensive renovations from April to October of 2013, the Clubhouse shines again in its original glory—but outfitted with modern-day amenities like a brand-new state-of-the art catering kitchen and ADA accessible restrooms,” notes the clubhouse’s website.

Merced Manor Reservoir

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Built in 1936 and designed by Willis Polk, this classical structure is a 9.5-million gallon water facility. Highlights here include such embellishments as fish and Neptune’s trident. Over the entrance door there are several sculptures as well as the inscription “Let they fountains be dispersed abroad and rivers of waters in the streets.”

Glen Park Station

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Stunning. Daring. Yuck. No public transit station in the Bay Area elicits more varied responses than this concrete beauty in Glen Park. Designed by Corlett+Spackman and Ernest Born, the station is noteworthy for adopting Brutalism. But don’t let the aggressive name fool you—this concrete-loving midcentury architecture style has produced some of the finest works in San Francisco and the world over. (So much so that architects and preservationists go to battle when a Brutalist work is in danger of demolition.)

The exterior of Glen Park Station in San Francisco. The facade is grey with a sloped roof. Photo by Patricia Chang

Crown Towers Apartments

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The Art Deco/Gothic high-rise in the Tendernob, built in 1925 by John C. Hladik, originally opened as a space for men who wanted a pied-a-terre near the neighborhood’s gentlemen-only clubs (e.g., the Bohemian Club, the Olympic Club). The building is also noted for its crimson hue (aka Downing Street red) as well as its Satan-tinged address at 666 Post.

Hallam Street condos

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Amid a sea of warehouses and Victorians in South of Market, these modernist condos hidden on Hallam Street, just off Folsom, are a sight to behold.

Ocean Park Motel

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Opening in 1937, this Streamline Moderne motel in the Outer Sunset, designed by Conrad Kett, was honored by the Art Deco Society in 1987 for preservation. It’s also noted for its nautical whimsy and neon signage.

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Presidio Officers' Club

“Maybe it’s the setting, maybe its nostalgia for climbing on the cannons as a child, but it’s maybe my favorite adobe building I can think of. (It is adobe, right?)” — jwdmeow

[Editor’s note: Yes, it’s adobe style!]

A post shared by Victor Yee (@victorwyee) on

Hilton San Francisco Financial District

The exterior of the Hilton San Francisco in the Financial District. The facade is white. Photo by Brock Keeling

This 27-story hotel located in Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square, which opened in 1971, is a brutalist style beast that, while impossible to ignore, rarely gets its due respect. Pity.

The exterior of the Hilton San Francisco in the Financial District. The facade is white. Photo by Brock Keeling

50 California

The exterior of 50 California in San Francisco. The facade has vertical lines. Photo by Brock Keeling

Designed by Welton Becket and Associates and competed in 1972, this minimalist beast has lines vertical lines for days.

The exterior of 50 California in San Francisco. The facade has vertical lines. Photo by Brock Keeling

100 California

The exterior of 100 California in San Francisco. The facade is glass. Photo by Brock Keeling

Built by Bethlehem Steel in 1960, this Financial District structure is lauded as one of the first post-war modernist buildings in the area.

The exterior of 100 California in San Francisco. The facade is glass. Photo by Brock Keeling

1641 Jackson

The exterior of 1641 Jackson in San Francisco. The facade is white with an arched entrance. There is a sign on the building that says: BMW Maintenance. Photo by Brock Keeling

There are a handful of beautiful auto shop structures in the area, but this is one of the best. Dig that stunning arched facade.

The exterior of 1641 Jackson in San Francisco. The facade is white with an arched entrance. There is a sign on the building that says: BMW Maintenance. Photo by Brock Keeling

101 California

The exterior of 101 California in San Francisco. The facade is glass with multiple support structures at the base. Photos by Brock Keeling

“I love 101 California. [Designed by] architect Phillip Johnson, I love the way it looks different from different angles, the way it appears to float above its base. Love the view of it from Front Street.” — CESF

The exterior of 101 California in San Francisco. The facade is glass with multiple support structures at the base. Photos by Brock Keeling

155 Sansome

“I don’t live in your beautiful city, but I fell in love with this when I walked past it.” — Priscilla Lynch

Heineman building

The exterior of the Heineman Building in San Francisco. The facade is white with ornate gold design. Photo by Patricia Chang

It’s easy to miss this downtown building. Blocked from a clear view on Market Street by midcentury showstopper One Bush, passersby must veer up the start of Bush Street in order to see and appreciate it in all its trim glory.

“Building is much like toothpick,” read the headline of a 1909 issue of San Francisco Call.

Designed by G.A. Applegarth and christened the Heineman building, 130 Bush began as a necktie, belt, and suspender factory. In fact, it was one of the first buildings in the area, opening in 1910, four years after the 1906 earthquake.

The exterior of the Heineman Building in San Francisco. The facade is white with ornate gold design. Photo by Patricia Chang

One Bush Plaza

The exterior of One Bush Plaza in San Francisco. The facade is glass. Photo by Brock Keeling

“The Crown Zellerbach HQ, now One Bush Street, is SF’s first international-style curtain-wall building. Completed in 1959 by SOM, it’s a handsome tower with a glass-enclosed lobby. The building is set back from the street with an orderly plaza that features a Jetsons-era round retail space. It all comes together to project cool, mid-century Mad Men vibe.” — Andy Bosselman

The exterior of One Bush Plaza in San Francisco. The facade is glass. Photo by Brock Keeling

Fire Station 35

“When walking along the Embarcadero, I always appreciate seeing Red’s Java House and Fire Station 35.” — 49Giants

A post shared by Rose Lee (@sideways_ca) on

130 Montgomery

The exterior of 130 Montgomery in San Francisco. The facade is tan with sculptural designs. Photos by Brock Keeling

“I like the art deco front of 130 Montgomery. Lots of nice little buildings like that in the Financial District.” — pinchelobster

The exterior of 130 Montgomery in San Francisco. The facade is tan with sculptural designs. Photos by Brock Keeling

1199 Bush

The exterior of 1199 Bush in San Francisco. The facade is red brick and glass. Photos by Brock Keeling

This contemporary behemoth at the corner of Bush and Hyde features a slew of medical offices inside.

The exterior of 1199 Bush in San Francisco. The facade is red brick and glass. Photos by Brock Keeling

J.P. Morgan Building

“JP Morgan Chase is a handsome, underrated building.” —  Koyaanisqatsi Weltshmerz

Marines' Memorial Club and Hotel

The exterior of Marines Memorial Club and Hotel. The door has an elaborately designed frame.

“I love that little balcony!” — jwdmeow

The exterior of Marines Memorial Club and Hotel. The door has an elaborately designed frame.

V. C. Morris Gift Shop

Frank Lloyd Wright’s V.C. Morris Gift Shop at 140 Maiden Lane, whose circular ramp was the prototype design for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, is now an Italian men’s clothing store. “Upon its completion, it electrified the architectural world not only for its architecture, but for its radical interpretation of a retail store,” said the San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission who voted unanimously in 2016 to preserve the interior.

700 Market

The exterior of 700 Market in San Francisco. The facade is white with an orange roof. Photo by Brock Keeling

“As an architect, I really like to look at the detailing of 700 Market, which is an historic 1902 Beaux-Arts banking building with sophisticated additions to the right (1964) and left (2010?) somehow match the rhythm of the original without actually copying anything.” — redseca2

“[W]hen coming down Third Street approaching Market, I love seeing the Mutual Savings Bank Building at 700 Market, alongside its modern neighbor to the west—I think they for a make a handsome pair.” — 49Giants

The exterior of 700 Market in San Francisco. The facade is white with an orange roof. Photo by Brock Keeling

PG&E Embarcadero substation

The now-demolished Embarcadero Freeway used to hide this utilitarian PG&E transformer station. But when the roadway went down and condo and apartment towers started to rise, it came into full view. Urban design critic John King writes that the substation tells of a time when downtown SF was a place to work, not live. (Note: The adjoining park was done by Stanley Saitowitz.)

“Love, love, love the substation. So brutal, in a good way,” said reader 49Giants.

A post shared by Brock Keeling (@brockkeeling) on

Alcazar Theatre

The exterior of the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco. The facade is tan with ornate design over the windows and door.

Built in 1917 as a Shriner’s Temple, the Geary Street building was designed in Exotic Revival style to look like an Islamic temple. The June 1917 edition of Architect and Engineer described the Alcazar Theatre as “an adaptation from Alhambra, a building that stands as the highest mark of Arabian art and civilization.”

Used as a temple until 1970, it is now a theater that shows cabaret and off-Broadway shows.

“I’d love to see it get more love and use,” says QandA.