San Francisco’s historic Hallidie Building

The Hallidie Building seen from Crocker Galleria Garden Terrace.
The Hallidie Building seen from Crocker Galleria Garden Terrace.

Among the historic buildings of San Francisco is the Hallidie Building, located at 130 Sutter Street, between Montgomery and Keary Streets in the Financial District. It was listed as a Designated San Francisco Landmark in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Though named in honor of Andrew Smith Hallidie, the early promoter of the cable car system, for whom Hallidie Plaza is also named, the building was designed by an equally notable San Franciscan, architect Willis Polk. Completed in 1918, it was Polk’s last major work.

Kenneth Frampton, in Modern Architecture, 1851 to 1945, called the building “the first application of a pure curtain wall to any building in America” (in a glass curtain wall, the glass is hung beyond the structural elements) and a structure of “extraordinary precision and lightness.” While the first claim is disputed—though certainly at least it is among the first—the second should not be. The seven-story facade, traditional in composition and gothic in gold-painted cast iron detail, remains a triumph.

Street-level view of Hallidie Building, showing ornamented fire escapes.
Street-level view of Hallidie Building, showing ornamented fire escapes.

The building was restored for safety reasons in a two-year project that was completed in April 2013. The firm of Page & Turnbull writes of the restoration,

The deteriorated ornamental metal on the 130 Sutter Street façade was of prime concern at the Hallidie Building, which features the first high-rise glass curtain wall assembly in the United States. Deferred maintenance had taken its toll on the façade, and several components were deteriorating, causing water and air leakage, thermal variation on the interior, and an unusable means of fire egress. With the rehabilitation, repairs were made to maximize retention of the historic fabric. This landmark was made new again, including its original blue and gold color scheme, initially selected for its building’s patron, the University of California, Berkeley.

On the same website, Page & Turnbull also provide some stunning photos of the result of the restoration. The building was originally an investment property of the Regents of the University of California.

Detail of Hallidie Building facade.
Detail of Hallidie Building facade.

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