Heart of Old San Francisco 2

California, San Francisco Guide (A): Heart of Old San Francisco 2

This audio tour is the second of two in San Francisco's central area where notable historic and modern structures literally lie just above sunken relics from the Gold Rush era. The magic of discovery here is in hearing and seeing the very palpable bond between these very different eras. You can take a virtual trip in a Wells Fargo stage coach or visit the Merchants Exchange, with its dramatic interior complete with maritime murals.
This article is featured in the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" on iTunes App Store and Google Play. You can download the app to your mobile device to read the article offline and create a self-guided walking tour to visit the attractions featured in this article. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and it works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Walk Route

Guide Name: Heart of Old San Francisco 2
Guide Location: USA » San Francisco
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 1.0 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 km
Sight(s) featured in this guide: 456-60 Montgomery Street   Wells Fargo History Museum   Kohl Building   475-85 California Street   Merchants' Exchange Building   Leidesdorff Street   Bank of California   The Newhall Building   Tadich Grill   101 California Street   PG&E Building   Matson Building   New Federal Reserve Bldg.   Old Southern Pacific Bldg.  
Author: Jackson Fahnestock
Author Bio: I am an architect (now retired) and urban planner with over 35 years in these fields. My career travels to projects across the globe have made me a shameless observer and critic of the design of urban places. It has been my good fortune to live in San Francisco for over 25 years and my affection for it only grows stronger with time.
Author Website: http://www.jacksonfahnestock.com
456-60 Montgomery Street

1) 456-60 Montgomery Street

Hi there! Welcome to this tour of one of my favorite parts of Old San Francisco—which, by the way, has a good many new parts. The headline for your first stop could be "New big building swallows old little buildings." Actually this is a good example of how older buildings can be saved—at least in part—and contribute to the interest and texture of the city. 456-460 Montgomery is a 24-story tower that has been set back in deference to two historic banking façades: that of the...
Wells Fargo History Museum

2) Wells Fargo History Museum

Here's your chance to get up close and personal with a fascinating bit of history. The stagecoach you see in the window is an original and is over 100 years old. Due to its rather fragile state you can only look but upstairs is one you can sit in. In that one the rocking motion gets you in the mood to hear all about a real journey taken by a young man in 1859 from St. Louis to San Francisco. There is also a free audio tour of the museum inside.

During the 1860's Wells Fargo...
Kohl Building

3) Kohl Building

This is the only building that survived the 1906 earthquake and avoided a total gutting of its interior. Built in 1901 of sturdy fire resistive construction, it served as a command post during the post-quake fire. The architectural firm of Percy & Hamilton acquired the project through their long time client, Alvinza Hayward in 1900. Willis Polk—who designed many of San Francisco's great buildings—joined the firm in 1900 and carried on the project after the deaths of both Percy and...
475-85 California Street

4) 475-85 California Street

Another example of the great banking edifices of its era this building was designed by George Kelham in 1922. Kelham's other notable projects in the City include the old Federal Reserve Bank and the Old Main Library in the Civic Center. Similar styling is found here in the impressive colonnade on the California Street side. Head inside to check out the banking hall that was modeled after a Roman basilica interior—one more metaphor for the sacredness of the institutions of finance. Head on...
Merchants' Exchange Building

5) Merchants' Exchange Building

You should now be at 465 California Street which is known as the Merchants Exchange. As its name implies it was built as a central congregation point for traders and merchants during the Gold Rush. Built in 1903 it was one of the few buildings that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire with its walls intact—thanks to its Chicago style skyscraper construction of steel and masonry. Willis Polk—you may remember him from the Kohl Building—designed what is actually the third Merchants Exchange...
Leidesdorff Street

6) Leidesdorff Street

Here we are at one of the oldest streets in San Francisco. This section extending south to Pine Street was known as "Pauper Alley" in the 19th century. This label may have resulted from the losses piled on stock speculators by curbstone brokers or from those losing horse racing bets made in the local pool halls. But now it has been converted into a more upbeat place with outdoor tables and seating.

Now take a glance directly across California Street. Before the Wells Fargo Bank...
Bank of California

7) Bank of California

You're now looking at one of the prime landmark buildings in the heart of the Financial District. In 1864 the Bank of California opened here. The original two-story building was built of blue sandstone quarried from Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. The bank's early success was mostly owed to the financing of several gold mining operations. The volatile nature of this lending led to the collapse of the bank in 1875. However, it ultimately regained its stature and became a leading...
The Newhall Building

8) The Newhall Building

This modest looking building is one of those important background buildings in the district. Designed by Lewis Hobart in 1911, it maintains a scale and texture that stands up well to other nondescript buildings on the street. Its lobby is especially appealing and reflects the styling of its time.

Hobart was active in the rebuilding efforts following the 1906 earthquake. He is best known for implementing the design of Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill. Other notable structures of his include the...
Tadich Grill

9) Tadich Grill

This is one of my favorite facades in the city. Tadich Grill is said to be the oldest restaurant in the city and the state. It dates to 1849 when it was a tiny stand called the New World Coffee Saloon during the Gold Rush era. It occupied the site where the Transamerica Pyramid now stands. Three Croatian immigrants, including John Tadich, started something the city and hoards of tourists still find irresistible. In 1928 John sold the business to the Buich family. Mike Buich started working at...
101 California Street

10) 101 California Street

We're now in one of the more pedestrian friendly plazas in the city. It provides a natural setting for the art shows and concerts often held here. It almost seems to borrow from Mayan architecture with its stepped banks of seating, lush plantings, and fountain. If you're ambitious you can scale the forms and reach your very own patch of sunny cushioned turf. The plaza also serves as an important path from California Street and the heart of the Financial District to Market Street.

PG&E Building

11) PG&E Building

As you headed across Market Street you hopefully got that good view of two prominent buildings that give a definitive boldness to this broad and important thoroughfare: the PG&E and Matson Buildings. Constructed in 1925, the PG&E Building, named for the local energy company, was designed by the firm Bakewell & Brown—a name you probably wouldn't have chosen for a bakery. It was enlarged in 1949 and a tower added in 1971. After the PG&E and Matson buildings were damaged by...
Matson Building

12) Matson Building

Like its beefy cousin, the PG&E building next door, the Matson Building holds its own at the beginning of Market Street where the two offset city grids meet. Here the terra cotta material that covers the façade does not pretend to be granite but literally gleams with its shiny multi-colored glazed surface. And here, the ornamentation is less sculptural than inlaid like a Renaissance Palace. In a light touch a colonnaded belvedere with a cupola graces its roof.

Designed by Bliss &...
New Federal Reserve Bldg.

13) New Federal Reserve Bldg.

You're now looking at the building that houses the Federal Reserve Bank for the twelfth district. This structure, designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill, was built in 1982. Operations at that time were transferred from the old Federal Reserve building at Sansome and Sacramento Streets.

This district, services nine western states along with American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marinara Islands. The largest of the twelve districts, it covers 35 per cent of the...
Old Southern Pacific Bldg.

14) Old Southern Pacific Bldg.

This building gives a sturdy anchor to this end of Market Street. Bliss & Faville, architects of the Matson Building you just saw, designed it in 1916. It cost a mere $1.5 million back then and was one of the earliest major corporate headquarters buildings in the city. The rhythmic arched base and engaged colonnade at the uppermost level give a unifying coherence to the whole.

Two office towers were added to the older building in 1976: the 27-story tower on the Steuart Street side and the...

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