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San Francisco County, California Genealogy Trails


Beautiful Buildings That Lie in Ruins – Structures Famous the World Over Destroyed

According to the most authentic reports from San Francisco, the earthquake and following fire destroyed the finest buildings as well as the poorest in the city. The flames went marching up the hill from the downtown sections, where huddled the Chinese by the thousands, to Van Ness Avenue, the Fifth Avenue of San Francisco, destroying some of the most palatial homes. Here are brief descriptions of some of the best-known buildings in the city that were destroyed:

PALACE AND GRAND HOTELS—The Palace Hotel at Market and New Montgomery streets covered two and a half acres of land. It was seven stories high. The building cost $7,000,000 and was projected by the late W. C. Ralston. The Palace was the most famous hotel in the city. It was the rendezvous of many notable men about town, particularly the gourmands of San Francisco. The building was a huge pile of stone and brick, in the centre of which was a court, 84 by 144 feet. It had a bitumen drive for carriages 50 feet in diameter. The floor of the promenade was paved with marble. The west end of the court was encircled by a series of Doric pillars of classic design. The pillars were surmounted by a coping on which were tropical plants and flowers. Tables and settees were usually scattered about the court where men might have an afternoon chat and smoke. The court was covered by a glass roof, and a goodly number of the 850 rooms looked out into this opening which furnished them with a subdued light. The Palace Hotel was connected by a bridge across New Montgomery Street with the Grand Hotel, which was under the same management and which was also destroyed. The Palace Hotel was provided with reading and smoking rooms, social, women’s and men’s parlors, telegraph offices, billiard rooms, five elevators, a restaurant, and a grill room which was considered one of the most elegant dining apartments for men in the world. The outer and inner partitions were of brick from top to bottom. Four artesian wells furnished the hotel with water. From the top of the hotel, a fine bird’s eye view of the city could be obtained. The extent of the corridors amounted to some two and a half miles. The style of the building was peculiarly San Franciscan, bay windows abounding.

THE CLIFF HOUSE—This stood on Point Lobos at the south head of the Golden Gate on the extreme western coast of the peninsula upon which San Francisco was built. It slid into the sea. It was a favorite resort in the summer, attracting thousands from the thickly settled eastern section of San Francisco. One could sit on the veranda and look out over the ocean and watch sea lions playing around the rocks a few hundred yards distant. Out to the south, he could see a long line of sea beach upon which the breakers rolled. On a clear day, Farallone Islands, twenty-six miles distant, can be seen from the spot where stood the Cliff House. The huge structure that slid into the sea was designed after a French chateau of the seventeenth century. Running around it was an enclosed balcony. There were parlors, dining rooms, and halls where photographs of local objects of interest and curios were sold. The Cliff House has suffered several disasters. It was first built in 1863. It was partly wrecked in July 1886 when the schooner Parallel drifted in shore with 80,000 pounds of dynamite on board, which exploded. Having been rebuilt, it was burned to the ground on the Christmas night of 1894. Cliff House was seven miles from the Palace Hotel, and several car lines led to it. Its keepers boasted that Presidents Grant, Hayes, and Harrison had stood on its balconies.

CITY HALL—This occupied a large three-cornered tract of land bounded by Larkin and McAllister streets and City Hall Avenue. It required twenty-five years to erect this building, and San Franciscans learned to designate a long period of time by saying, “As long as it will take to build the City Hall.” It cost between $7,000,000 and $9,000,000. Connected with the City Hall was the Hall of Records, which was surmounted by a dome 134 feet high. The building was surrounded by Corinthian pillars forty-eight feet high. The land upon which the City Hall stood was formerly the Yerba Buena Cemetery, and there once lay the bodies of the early pioneers of the city. The bodies were removed to Laurel Hill and other cemeteries in the early sixties. In the northwest wing of the building was the City Prison. The Receiving Hospital occupied a like position in the southwest wing.

ST. IGNATIUS’S CHURCH—This was the biggest church in the city. It stood in the fashionable district on Hayes Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. It cost $2,000,000 and was the finest Jesuitical church in the world. Its spires, 275 feet high, were the tallest in California. Its organ was the second largest in America and was the only one on the coast operated by electricity. It weighed 100,000 pounds. Its central columns were surmounted by life-sized angels with trumpets, and the outer ones supported huge urns holding burning torches. The organ was presented to the church by Mrs. Welch. The main hall of the church was 200 feet long. Hanging over the altar was a large oil painting representing the reception in heaven of St. Ignatius Loyola.

THE CHRONICLE BUILDING—This was one of the first high buildings erected in San Francisco. Its skeleton still stood at Market, Geary, and Kearny streets at last reports. It was nine stories high, surmounted by a bronze clock tower 210 feet high. The building was of pressed brick and dark brown sandstone that is found in Ventura County. The building was fitted with all modern improvements. It was one the handsome buildings that made Newspaper Corner a centre of no little architectural beauty. The Chronicle occupied the basement, the first floor, and the top floor; all the other floors being rented as offices.

THE EXAMINER BUILDING—Before this collapsed, it was eight stories high, standing on the southeast corner of Market and Third streets, the corner near which were all the big newspaper offices. The offices of The Examiner, Mr. Hearst’s San Francisco paper, occupied the rotunda of the building; the rest being rented for offices. The building was of the Spanish Renaissance style. The severity of its exterior was broken by the ornamented windows of the second story and the loggias with their decorated columns along the top stories.

THE CALL BUILDING—This was the tallest building on the Pacific Coast and was occupied by The San Francisco Call, having in it, besides, 272 offices. It was erected in 1896-7 at the southwest corner of Market and Third streets. From the basement to the top of the dome was 300 feet. There were sixteen floors. It was constructed entirely of marble, sandstone, and steel, and was considered fireproof. It was of no little architectural beauty. It was one of the first buildings seen when one entered San Francisco.

THE CROCKER BUILDING—This stood on the gore made by Post, Montgomery, and Market streets. It was erected in 1891-2 at a cost of $1,000,000. It was eleven stories high, made of Rocklin granite and light-pressed brick with terra cotta ornamentations. The ground floor was occupied by the Crocker-Woolworth National Bank and Shreve & Co., jewelers. The upper floors were divided into 250 offices. The building was 130 feet in height and was one which the San Franciscan always pointed out to the visitor.

THE FAIRMOUNT HOTEL—It was just about ready for occupancy. It was seven stories high and of white stone. It required two years to construct it, and it was one of the very finest structures in the city, situated right across the street from the Mark Hopkins Art Institute on California Street between Mason and Powell streets. Its cost was $2,000,000. Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs had traded it for two buildings downtown, both of which were destroyed.

MARK HOPKINS INSTITUTE—This was formerly the magnificent private residence of Mark Hopkins, one of California’s pioneer citizens, at the southeast corner of California and Mason streets. It was given to the city in 1893 by E. F. Searies of Methuen, Mass. It had been used for illustration and instruction in the fine arts. It contained many fine specimens of painting and sculpture. A spacious gallery had recently been added to the institute. The interior of the house was finished with rare woods and beautiful frescoes.

THE LICK HOUSE—This was one of the quiet family hotels of San Francisco on Montgomery Street between Sutter and Post streets. The building was completed in 1861; it was one of the very old hotels. When it was first completed, its dining hall was considered one of the finest in the world. The site of the Lick House was once a sand dune and the ground sold for $300.

THE GRAND OPERA HOUSE—This stood on the north side of Mission Street between Third and Fourth streets near Market Street, the main thoroughfare. Its stage, which was 100 by 120 feel, was the largest on the other side of the Rockies. It seated nearby 2,000 people and cost $500,000 when it was opened in 1876 as Wade’s Opera House.

MERCHANTS’ EXCHANGE—This three-story building was on the south side of California Street between Montgomery and Sansome streets. It was surmounted by a clock tower 120 feet high. Incorporated in 1868 by the state, the Merchants’ Exchange had for its object the acquirement, preservation, and dissemination of information concerning commercial and maritime exchange. The United States Hydrographic Office was in the building.

THE OCCIDENTAL HOTEL—This hotel was a sort of headquarters for army and navy officers in San Francisco and visitors from the Pacific Islands. It occupied the entire block on the east side of Montgomery Street between Sutter and Bush streets, and was a rather old-style four-story building with cement facings, though its table was noted in the city.

THE BUSS HOUSE—This was a merchants’ and farmers’ hotel. It was one of the old-style, low, rambling buildings, being only three stories high but covering the entire block on the west side of Montgomery Street between Bush and Pine streets. It was erected in 1862 by Christian Russ, who bought the site in 1847.

THE HALL OF JUSTICE—This was one of the newest, if not the newest, public buildings in the city. It was situated on the east side of Kearny Street between Washington and Merchant streets, opposite Portsmouth Square. The cornerstone was laid in 1896. It contained police headquarters, the police courts, and the criminal departments of the Superior Court. It stood on notorious ground. It was in that neighborhood that the most famous gambling dens were once located, and there, later on, the Jenny Lind Theatre was burned down and rebuilt.

PARROTT BUILDING—This big seven-storied building occupied the site of the old Jesuit Church on the south side of Market Street between Fourth and Fifth streets. The two lower floors were occupied by the Emporium, one of the biggest department stores in the world. This store used nine acres of floor space, maintained sixty departments, and employed 2,000 persons. Its shelves were of mahogany with marble bases. A dome 100 feet high surmounted the building.

PHELAN BUILDING—Situated at the gore of Market and O’Farrell streets and Grant Avenue, this large, five-story building was conspicuous in the sight of one walking up the main thoroughfare of Market Street. It was the headquarters for the California Department of the United States Army.

HIBERNIA BANK—This bank stood at the junction of Market, Jones, and McAlister streets and was one of the handsomest buildings in San Francisco. It was constructed of white granite with Corinthian columns. A massive dome surmounted the roof, and the entrance at the corner was ornamented by graceful columns of granite.

CALIFORNIA HOTEL—This hotel was situated on the north side of Bush Street above Kearny. It was eight stories high, made of carved stone and pressed brick. It was opened in 1890 and was one of the first-class hotels of the city.

GRACE CHURCH—This was one of the older churches of the city, having been built in 1866, the cornerstone being laid by Bishop W. I. Kipp. It stood at the southeast corner of California and Stockton streets on the eastern slope of the hill of California Street and was a conspicuous object from downtown. It cost $125,000.

ORPHEUM THEATRE—This theatre presented the best class of varieties in the west. It had the largest seating capacity of any playhouse in San Francisco, seating 2,500 people. It stood on the south side of O’Farrell Street between Powell and Stockton streets.

THE COLUMBIA THEATRE—This was a pretty little playhouse situated on the west side of Powell Street above Market Street opposite the Baldwin Hotel. It seated 1,400 people and was first opened as Stockwell’s Theatre.

MECHANICS PAVILION—The pavilion stood at Larkin and Grove streets, and there every years the Mechanics Institute gave an industrial exhibition.

[New York Times, 4-20-1906. Submitted by K. Marynik]


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