Old City Hall

San Francisco 1906
San Francisco's old City Hall was the crown jewel of the West.  It stood on Market Street, just short of Van Ness Avenue, a great fortress with five seperate towers and two great domes, one elevated over the central entrance and a larger, lower dome off to one side over the Hall of Records.

City Hall was not the tallest building in the West -- the Call Building held that honor -- but it was the largest, sprawling over two city blocks. It was built on land that had been the city's first cemetery, a triangle bounded by Market, McAllister and Larkin.

Tourists posed for photos next to the Pioneer Monument in the plaza that separated City Hall from Market Street, with the Goddess of Progress atop the central dome towering above them.

Our City Hall had taken over 20 years to build because the city refused to borrow money, preferring pay as you go, which meant construction stopped when money was short. The cornerstone on the building said 1872 -- the year after construction started -- but by the time it was destroyed on the morning of April 18, 1906, it was still not quite finished.

So-called historians like to say that the ruins of old City Hall were a symbol of the corruption that Mayor Schmitz and his attorney Mr. Reuf fell prey to.But in fact old City Hall was completed long before Mayor Schmitz took office.  If the destruction of City Hall is to be blamed on corruption, it was not the corruption of the Schmitz administration or of his Union Labor party, but of those that came before them.

The ruins of Old City Hall were left standing for over three years after the earthquake while the city fathers argued over whether to rebuild on the same site, or start fresh in a new location.  The new City Hall was eventually built three blocks over on Van Ness Avenue.

Three photos above courtesy of the Bancroft Library,  University of California, Berkeley.
Photo links:    Domes of City Hall and Hall of Records,  Pioneer (Lick) Monument in front of City Hall DomeCity Hall in Ruins 1909

Today:  Tour and Explore

Find What Remains of Old City Hall
Today, the new San Francisco Public Library stands on part of this site of Old City Hall.  The Library's Grove Street Entrance has an exhibit of artifacts from Old City Hall found when they excavated the site.

On the Fulton Street side of the Library,  you'll find the Pioneer Monument shown in the second photo above, that used to stand in the plaza in front of Old City Hall.

The only other remnant of Old City Hall that remains is the head of the Goddess of Progress which used to crown the dome of Old City Hall.  It's in a display case inside the new City Hall, across Civic Center from the Library.

SF City Guides offer FREE walking tours of Civic Center and City HallTours last about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Tour Guides carrying clipboards dependably show up at designated starting points rain or shine.  Consider making a small donation at the end of the tour to help keep the program going.  Find a complete schedule of City Guides tours at: sfcityguides.org

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