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Architecture Tips (26)

Not recycling after all......

I've done a bit of research since I first wrote this tip and managed to answer my own question. :-)

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.

I initially wondered if these few buildings were constructed using some of the debris from the devastating fire which followed the 1906 earthquake, where I thought that the heat of the fire might..might...have 'melted' some brick surfaces.

I was wrong. This type of brick is called 'clinker brick' and was deliberately fired in a way which produces a part-vitrified (part-glazed) result. Apparently they were made famous in the US by a California architects, Greene & Greene. They were quite popular during the early 1900s, especially during the 'Arts & Crafts' period.

So that explains why I came across some in central SF. The buildings concerned almost certainly dated from the early decades of the 20th century. Maybe the architect was influenced by the 'local' (ish) architects Green & Green?

If you want to read more about 'clinker brick' there's a wiki page here

leics's Profile Photo
Nov 09, 2015

Old St Mary's Cathedral

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'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 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.

leics's Profile Photo
Aug 18, 2013

Go 'Victorian'-spotting.

'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.

leics's Profile Photo
Aug 16, 2013

Look closely....

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

leics's Profile Photo
Aug 16, 2013
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450 Sutter Street

This building caught my eye on my first early-morning walk around 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.

leics's Profile Photo
Aug 16, 2013

Alamo Square

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.

Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
Apr 04, 2011

The Palace Hotel FREE tour

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!!!

sunshine9689's Profile Photo
Feb 28, 2008

155 Sansome Street--Other Architectural Details

The Pacific Stock Exchange Building of which 155 Sansome is simply a side door entrance, has a wonderful art deco lobby right inside the brass framed glass doors. The elevator doors are beautifully copper clad with embossed art deco designs. At the 10th floor, the elevator lobby is full of City Club of San Francisco framed photographs and memorabilia devoted to the early leadership of the club, but don't overlook the chiseled relief in stones set within the wall spaces. The fireplace mantel within the club dining room is worth a particularly long look. The themes in these sculpted architectural details include that of work and the "noble savage" as was often romanticized at the time. Although none of this work is by Diego Rivera, the artists appear to have been influenced by his style of art. If you have not seen the related tips in this series, Pacific Stock Exchange and Art Deco at 155 Sansome Street--Diego Rivera, then check this out before heading to see this wonderful and free exhibition of artwork.

atufft's Profile Photo
Jul 28, 2007

Top 5 San Francisco Writers

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"Bagdad by the Bay"
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"San Francisco - My Favorie City - By Default"
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"San Francisco - "It's a free-for-all up there!""
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davequ's Profile Photo


"SFO ... a declassé love letter to the CITY"
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"San Francisco: Why this heart never leaves"
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Visit one of the octagon houses in SF

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.

emilesc's Profile Photo
Oct 11, 2006

The Transamerica Building

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

IslandGirl10's Profile Photo
Aug 22, 2006

The Castro

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.

richiecdisc's Profile Photo
Nov 15, 2005

Furniture hanging out of windows

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 !

Jeannette1's Profile Photo
Jul 11, 2005

Things To Do in San Francisco

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Barbary Coast Trail

The Barbary Coast Trail is a walking 3.8 mile trail using 170 bronze medallions and arrows embedded into the sidewalks connecting 20 historic sites. The southern end of the Barbary Coast Trail begins...
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Fort Mason

Many people pass by the low water landscaped west side of the Fort Mason grounds, where there is also a wonderful expanse of lawn and great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Here there are two (at...
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Crissy Field

The Former Airfield of the Presidio is now a mixed use area for the public now, Crissy Field is anchored by Marina Green on the east side, and Fort Point on the West. The park is home to a multitude...
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Ripley's Believe it or Not!

I was skeptical. Not much of an indoor explorer. But, I truly wanted to say that I had been to Ripley's in San Fran so we got the ticket and went for an adventure. I was not disappointed. It is one...
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49 Mile Drive

In 1938, The San Francisco Downtown Association created the 49 Mile Scenic Drive to highlight the city's beauty and to promote it as a business and tourist destination, so the route began at City...
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Market Street

What Street has given both history and Modernity in San Francisco than Market Street? Market Street is the back bone of San Francisco. To walk the length of the street is to travel throughout time and...
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Getting to San Francisco


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