Architecture, San Francisco
This church, on the edge of Chinatown really is quite 'old' for the USA, although it has its name because a 'new' St Mary's Cathedral now exists.
First dedicated in 1854, the church was set up to serve the Catholic community in SF in its post-Gold Rush depression. It was California's first cathedral and its Gothic design was intended to reflect one of the architect's hometown church in Spain.
Amazingly (for me) the granite for the lower levels and 'trim' came from China and was brought to SF by boat. the bricks were made in New England and came as ballast, the sandstone for the interior was locally quarried.
The Chinese community at that time was very poor and badly-treated. The Chinese Mission was set up to help (and, of course, convert). Although not actually part of St Mary's the two were intertwined.
The church survived the 1906 earthquake pretty-much undamaged but the subsequent fire tore through it. It was so hot that the bell melted and all that remained afterwards were the external walls and the bell tower. The decision was made to restore the building and it was rededicated in 1909.
During the Second World War the church was a meeting-place for the many troops in SF, providing entertainment as well as a place to have a coffee or socialise.
I enjoyed the interior of St Mary's. There is some lovely stained-glass and a sense of age and calmness. The new-ish laws requiring earthquake-strengthening requirements are putting a huge financial strain on the church..it's neither easy no chap to strengthen such an old building without affecting its appearance too much.... so I felt it appropriate to make a donation.
If you're in Chinatown..and you almost certainly will be...do take a few minutes to have a look at this church. It's worth the time.
You'll find it on California street (on the California cable car line) at the junction with Grant Street.
'Victorians' is a term used for a specific type of house, dating from Victorian and Edwardian times (roughly mid-1800s to 1915-ish), constructed largely of wood and with lots of architectural 'frills and foibles'. Various styles were used, with the houses generally having 3 storeys.
I was intrigued to find out that you could order a 'Victorian' from a catalogue and that it would be delivered partially ready-made. SF 'Victorians' were made from redwood, which is easy to carve and thus it was easy to mass-produce all the architectural frills.
San Francisco, despite the earthquake and fire, is an excellent place to go 'Victorian-spotting'. There were around 48000 'Victorians' constructed and thousands are still standing, with three main styles: Italianate, Eastlake (also known as 'stick') and Queen Anne. There are also Gothic, Tudor and 'Greek Revival' examples.
Bay windows, steps up to the front door and turrets are commonplace...and many of the houses are now beautifully painted. Not in their original colours, certainly, but the colours used to pick out the details really do add to the attractiveness of the buildings, imo. And nowadays, of course, SF has such very high property values that anyone who owns a 'Victorian' is almost certainly wealthy enough to restore it and keep it in good condition.
The row of Victorians called the 'Painted Ladies' on Alamo Square/Steiner Street is a popular 'tourist sight', of course, but I found it much more interesting to simply Victorian-spot as I travelled around on foot, by cable-car and (so very unlike me!) the hop-on buses.
Given that there are still several thousand examples you don't have to go far out of the immediate downtown area (largely destroyed by the 1906 fire) in order to see 'Victorians'. I saw lots in the area around Alamo Square and Haight-Ashbury and plenty as I rode the California cable-car line. I believe the Pacific Heights area also has a good selection, though I didn't make it that far.
If you are at all interested in architecture the 'Victorians' are one of SF's highlights. More photos in my travelogue.
This tip is very short, but I'd be fascinated to know if my theory is correct.
On my wanderings I noticed a couple...just a couple...of brick buildings which had a sort of 'sub-rustication' going on as an exterior decoration.
Bricks and half-bricks were inserted at random into the courses, so that the exterior walls looked 'ragged'.
But that's not what intrigued me. It was the fact that so many of the sticking-out bricks seemed to have been heat-damaged, with shiny, almost glazed surfaces in some parts.
And I wondered...and I may well be wrong...if these few buildings were constructed using some of the debris from the devastating fire which followed the 1906 earthquake, where I can imagine that the heat of the fire might..might...have 'melted' some brick surfaces.
Maybe I'm over-imagining and these bricks were deliberately created to give a part-glazed effect, but they all seemed pretty random to me.
Anyone know for certain?
As I wandered downtown SF (the Union Square area) I was pleased to find far more older buildings than I thought I'd find. I was particularly pleased by the small architectural details from the 1920s and 30s which I spotted.
There's more architectural interest in the Union Square area than one might expect. It's worth taking a wander along the cross-streets, just looking closely at the older buildings...especially towards the rooflines and around the windows.
More photos in my travelogue
This building caught my eye on my first early-morning walk around SF...it was just a block from my hotel.
It was the sub-Mayan stone decoration I noticed first. I thought it was interesting, but then i saw the information board on the exterior and realised this building was quite important.
450 Sutter was built in 1929 and, at 26 stories, it was the second-highest building in SF at that time. The architect was one Timothy Ludwig Pflueger who, after his death, was described as 'the last of the Big Four architects of the downtown San Francisco skyline'.
The building was named as an SF historical landmark in 1985 and, as was originally intended, it is still home to many medical and dental practitioners.
I liked the exterior decoration but was wowed by the lobby area (open to the public). Still with a Mayan theme, its shiny golden surfaces are intricately decorated and simply amazing ...and also very difficult to photograph, because of all the bright lights and reflective surfaces.
It's well worth having a close look. Sutter Street is one block uphill from Union Square; you'll find 450 between Powell and Stockton Streets.
For those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s, the television show Full House was a cultural icon. Sure it seems like a stupid show today, but who doesn't remember the corny jokes and the 80s hair? Who doesn't remember the opening scene with the kids sitting in a park in a big city in front of their house?
Who knew that big city was San Francisco? Who knew that park was Alamo Square? The big mansions along Steiner Street (known as the Painted Ladies) form the backdrop for the opening sequence to Full House.
Alamo Square Park was established in 1858, and the famous Victorian mansions were constructed in the 1890s.
SF City Guides has been offering walking tours to the public for over 30 years. Nowadays, more than 20 thousand people participate in it annually.
It is run by locals, who have to pass an exam in order to qualify and become a tour guide.
Anyway.. I would like to talk about the tour of Palace Hotel that I took today. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon. :)
DURATION: 1.5 hours.
LOCATION: Lobby of the hotel. 2 New Montgomery Str at Market.
TIME: At 2pm every Thursday.
Our guide was very knowledgeable, told many interesting stories, showed copies of old pictures, hotel lobby, spectacular restaurants and halls. There were only 10 people total on the tour, so it was convenient for both - our guide and us.
NOTE: Do not forget to donate some cash at the end of the tour. It helps to keep the City Guide organization alive!!!
If you're going to shop on Union Street in Pacific Heights, consider starting your stroll at Gough and Union for a bit of architectual and San Francisco history. On the southwest corner, at 2645 Gough, is one of San Francisco's two remaining octagon homes. A national landmark known as the McElroy House, the home was built in 1861 (click here for a photo taken after the 1906 earthquake). Amateur architect and phrenologist Orson Squire Fowler popularized the style, arguing that octagonal shaped homes had better ventilation and were therefore "healthier."
This house is now a museum with very limited hours (open only on the second Sunday and the second and fourth Thursdays of each month from Noon to 3:00 p.m.).
You can take the 41 or 45 buses to get to Gough and Union.
By the way, the other octagon house is at 1067 Green Street in Russian Hill. Keep in mind that is a private residence.
Every trip to San Francisco should include seeing the Transamerica Building. It's pretty unusual looking but seems to blend in to San Francisco just fine! Should you want to take pictures, the best vantage point to do it is the hike up to the Coit Tower
The Castro is a colorful part of the city most often associated with San Francisco’s sizable gay community. It makes for a dramatic entrance when you approach from the south via the Mission area that is decidedly more run down. The Castro became popular with gays in the 1970s when their influx resulted in a much needed facelift to the area’s neglected but promising homes. It wasn’t long before it became one of the most vibrant parts of town, with its own café scene and infamous Castro Theater. In the distance of this photo, you’ll see the peak of Corona Heights Park.
South of Market street, on the corner of 6th and Howard, there is this strange building which has been decorated with furniture hanging out from the windows.
Here is the story behind this building:
"On March 9, 1997, hundreds of people came together to celebrate the opening of Brian Goggin's Defenestration installation. Over 30 pieces of furniture and home appliances are welded and rigged to the two sides of a currently-empty 3-story building at 6th and Howard Street in San Francisco. "
If you want to know more about this building and its artist, look up the website:
Most interesting !
You won't find too many tall buildings in San Francisco. The Transamerica Pyramid, at 48 stories high, is the tallest building in the city. At least, that's what we were told. That may not sound impressive, especially in comparison to the 100 plus story skyscrapers in other large US cities. But for a city that's prone to earthquakes, it is a pretty tall structure.
We were also told that the larger structures are built on ball bearings to prevent them from toppling over in the event of a quake. The bearings are supposed to allow the building to shake and then fall back into place. Its an interesting theory, but I wouldn't want to be on the top floor checking its veracity.
San Francisco is not as sculpture intensive as, say, Chicago, where various atristic structures are scattered throughout the city like hidden treasures. But it does contain its fair share of impressive forms. The Bank America Building, located in Union Square,is an impressive sight in itself, if for no other reason than the fact that a towering structure in a city prone to earthquakes appears to be tempting fate. Outside the Bank of America building you'll find this large oddly shaped block. It is designed to resemble a bankers heart, cold as stone. Or so we were told.
In the Alamo Square District, you'll find this row of restored Victorian homes each painted a different color. This area contains the largest concentration of Victorian homes within the city. Many burned during a fire and others were demolished because, I was told, the city felt they were not salable.
This row of houses known as the Painted Ladies is somewhat famous. This is another one on those San Francisco spots considered a sight to see. The exterior houses featured here were used as the setting for several television shows, including Full House, a fact that seemed to make everyone even more excited about viewing them.
At the summit of the highest hill in San Francisco called Mount Davidson, overlooking the entire Bay Area, stands a majestic cross, 103 ft. tall. Built in 1934 as a place to celebrate Easter Sunday mass.