San Francisco City Hall

Bakewell and Brown, architects, 1912-1915

(Photo by Nick Shanks)

Aerial view of city hall and civic center plaza, looking west

(photo: Toby Harriman)

SAN FRANCISCO'S OTHER (AND WOULD-BE) CITY HALLS

Early photograph of San Francisco's Current City Hall and the James P. Rolphe Junior Civic Center

Early photograph of San Francisco's Current City Hall and the James P. Rolphe Junior Civic Center

The path to San Francisco’s present City Hall — the sixth — was not an easy one. 

The first was the result of conquest. After the American victory in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the victorious Americans in the village of Yerba Buena (the first name of San Francisco) commandeered the adobe Mexican customs house (originally constructed in 1844),  and transformed it into the first seat of municipal government for the local populace:

Later, the city moved its headquarters to the Parker House Hotel — pictured here as it was besieged by the Vigilance Committee of 1856:

 

The second city hall burned to the ground in one of the many conflagrations that swept through San Francisco during the Gold Rush era:

After much discussion and argument over funding, the city’s governing officials and their records moved into the old Jenny Lind Theater, an entertainment spot located next to the infamous El Dorado gambling saloon:

 

Feeling that such a location was beneath the dignity of the growing city, a new site for a new city hall — the fourth — was chosen on a triangular lot bordering Market Street:

Time delays, bond failures, graft and corruption delayed the completion of this city hall for many years. Finally, it was pronounced completed in 1905. Less than a year later, it collapsed and burned into an irrecoverable ruin in April of 1906:

For several years following the disaster of 1906, the Whitcomb Hotel would serve as a temporary city hall from 1912-1915:

 Finally, under the leadership of Mayor James P. “Sunny Jim” Rolphe, new funds were voted, and a competition took place in which the winning design was submitted by the firm of Bakewell and Brown:

The competition offers fascinating glimpses into concept structure that might have arisen to symbolize the soul of the newly rebuilt city. In addition to the design on the main page of this site, here are two more offerings from local firms:

Few people would argue that one of these also-rans should have won the honor to become San Francisco’s sixth city hall.