The “Palace of the People”. This is what city hall is nicknamed by San Franciscans, and it´s true! If you ever make your way to the “City by the Bay”, you will miss out if you do not pay visit to one of the most beautiful landmarks that Frisco has to offer!
Even though today´s building is not the original construction, it took altogether only two years to complete it. Its predecessor was destroyed by the infernal 1906 earthquake and city leaders saw a great chance to rebuild a new and even more opulent state government headquarter made of steel, granite and four floors full of white marble.
Constructions began back in 1913 and were finished just for the opening of the 1915 World´s Fair. Architect Arthur Brown, Jr. even managed to build it 42 feet taller than the Capitol in Washington D.C. . This was only possible as a national law restricts only State capital governmental buildings to remain below the Washington landmark. But as San Francisco is not California´s capital, a quite sneaky and successful loophole!
But as glorious as the times went for City Hall, unfortunately, it had been the scenery for the assassination of former mayor George Moscone and his Supervisor Harvey Milk back in November 1978. Both were shot by the previous Supervisor Dan White who was declined by Moscone to reapply for his position that he had before resigned from.
This story being absolute Hollywood material, City Hall also functioned as filming location for blockbusters such as Dirty Harry, Indiana Jones or Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Interesting to know is that the building itself cost a few million dollars when it was erected in the early 1910´s, but after the last major earthquake back in 1989, repair and restoration works swallowed a few hundred million dollars as the entire building needed to be enhanced by an earthquake safety base isolator system. This absorbs shocks and movement at the foundation, protecting the structure above. Works took over 10 years and the City Hall itself remained closed for four full years.
The blueprints are still preserved today at the University of California in Berkeley. It is faced with Madera County granite on the exterior and sandstone from Indiana within. Most of the marble originates from Alabama, Colorado and Vermont.
It is a public building still in service today and it was amongst the first (if even not the primary) location worldwide to marry same gender marriages. One of the most prominent marriages that had taken place here was the one of Hollywood actress Marylin Monroe and Joe DiMaggio in 1954. There also have been records and a photo found of Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who seem to have applied for a legal marriage certificate. Yet, no signed papers have ever been found.
Legal marriages are still being conducted today and City Hall is one of the most popular sites to say Yes in San Francisco. With that astonishing architecture in the backdrop, who wonders, right?
While access to the building is free during operational hours, you should know that they also offer several tours a day, also free of charge, which give great insights and provide interesting information about the history and background of City Hall.
They operate on a first-come-first-serve base and my tour today with guide Mary was an absolute fun thing to experience. We did not get to see the Manchurian Oak paneled Board of Supervisor´s Room (it is used on Tuesdays for Public Meetings), but we got to take a look inside the mayor´s reception area of his office. Not too bad either.
A fantastic place to pass some time surrounded by exhilarating architecture and craftsmanship while learning a bit of San Francisco history. Can absolutely recommend it!
While being located in not the most inviting part of Market Street, an ideal location to see something of the city apart from Fisherman´s Wharf or Alcatraz Island. And maybe, you combine it with a marriage?
Enjoy here a few more snapshots of mine. A wonderful artwork that I simply did not get tired of photographing….