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Ten Best Buildings Built from San Francisco’s 1906 Earthquake

October 10th, 2009 · 1 Comment · Activities

Merchant's Exchange Building  San Francisco

Merchant's Exchange Building San Francisco


From Flickr cc 2.0 / shywriter55
The 1906 earthquake that wreaked havoc on San Francisco was one of the most devastating natural disasters in the history of California. It was also one of the best things to happen to the city of San Francisco. Although the damage that the 1906 earthquake did was extensive and horrifying, what happened in its wake was a burst of creative energy that renewed the city and helped to make it the amazing place that it is to this day. In the wake of the 1906 earthquake, the city worked hard to rebuild. The buildings that were constructed at this time were designed to impress people and to draw them back to the city in spite of all of the fear caused by the quake. Some of the city’s most architecturally interesting buildings were built at this time and many of them are still standing as historic landmarks today.

If you get the chance to explore the architecture of San Francisco today, make it a point to check out the following ten building. These are the ten most interesting buildings constructed in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and still standing today. Some of them may surprise you.

Fairmont Hotel. This amazing Nob Hill hotel was all set to open its doors when the 1906 earthquake struck. The building was ruined by the fires that followed the quake but it didn’t take long for rebuilding to begin. A new interior for the building was designed by Julia Morgan, a leading Bay Area architect known not only for her exquisite work but also for her role as one of the first women in her field. Some of her best work began in the wake of the 1906 earthquake which we can see when we visit the Fairmont Hotel today.

Merchants Exchange. Another building that was repaired by the artistic hand of Julia Morgan in the wake of the quake was the Merchant’s Exchange. This had been an important building before the earthquake and it was critical for the image of the city that it be quickly rebuilt after the quake. The building was one of the city’s first skyscrapers and one of the only buildings left standing after the earthquake struck. There was severe damage done to the building though and city officials believed that rapid repair would help to generate a feeling of hope that would make San Franciscans feels safe once again. It remains an architecturally impressive building to this day and one to stop in and check out.

428 Capp Street Arts and Crafts Home. Another building that was damaged in the fire but quickly rebuilt was this residence. In fact, this mansion is reported to be the very first home to be rebuilt after the quake in 1906. The home was mostly destroyed but the original basement was preserved and renovated into the existing first floor of the home. As of fall 2009, this home is on the market with an asking price of one-and-a-quarter million dollars. Check out this historical landmark before new owners buy it up and make some changes!

Wells Fargo Bank. Julia Morgan is well-known for launching the best years of her career in the wake of the 1906 earthquake. But there is another architect whose work during this time reflected a much later stage in his career. Willis Polk was an established architect who was in his third decade of work when the quake hit. His career took a new turn as he became a leading voice in the rebuilding of the city. One of the most interesting buildings that he created was the Crocker Bank which is now the Wells Fargo Bank located at One Montgomery. This terrific building has a number of beautiful architectural features from the past. It also has some neat modern touches including a rooftop garden from which you can photograph many other historic buildings in the area.

Fuller Co. Glass Warehouse. Another building constructed by Willis Polk during this time was this warehouse. In comparison to some of the other buildings on this list, it may not stand out as particularly stunning in appearance. However, its brick and glass exterior was an interesting departure from typical warehouses. This building remains an interesting part of the waterfront architecture to this day.

Mechanics’ Institute. No list of buildings from this time would be complete without a building designed by Albert Pissis. This architect played an important role in San Francisco’s architecture, single-handedly bringing the Beaux-Arts style of architecture to the city. One of his most interesting post-quake projects was the Mechanics’ Institute. He had a great eye for detail, importing very specific materials (sandstone from Utah, black marble from Belgium) to make sure that every piece of this building was perfect. The building remains nearly perfect to this day and is certainly worth a visit.

City Lights Bookstore. This building often gets overlooked by people who are reviewing the reconstruction of the city after the 1906 earthquake. That’s because its history as a famous building didn’t really begin until the 1950’s when Lawrence Ferlinghetti opened his bookstore there and the Beat poets came around to make it famous. However, the building itself was actually constructed in 1907. It was called the Artigues Building. City Lights was originally just one store in the multi-store building but kept growing in size as it took over other stores that became vacant. Today it’s a three-story bookstore where you can spend hours immersing yourself in books and San Francisco history.

Victoria Theatre. One of the most fascinating aspects of San Francisco’s history is its performing arts history. The Victoria Theatre has played a major role in that history. It opened first as a vaudeville house then served as a movie theatre and then made another revival when burlesque performances became popular. Today it stands as the oldest operating theatre in San Francisco. Built in 1908, it is one of the most interesting post-quake buildings to be constructed outside of the financial district (in the Mission neighborhood).

>Sing Chong Bazaar. Another area of town that often gets overlooked in historical accounts of this area is Chinatown. That’s because the history here isn’t pleasant. The city of San Francisco had realized even before the quake that Chinatown existed on prime real estate and they were making arguably racist efforts to relocate the people who lived here. After the quake there was a strong push for that relocation. However, the Chinese people held on to their history and it was soon agreed that Chinatown would rebuild. The catch was that the new buildings that were constructed here were much more Disneyfied versions of Chinese buildings designed with colorful buildings, dragon motifs and other “Chinese” features that Americans might want to see as tourists. Some of the buildings that tourists frequently photograph here today were built in the wake of the 1906 earthquake. One example is the former Sing Chong Bazaar located at California and Grant Streets which now houses other residences and stores.

San Francisco’s City Hall. This building wasn’t completed until 1915 which is a bit late in the era of post-quake building. However, the timing was perfect. One of the major goals of rebuilding the city so quickly was to have the city perfectly rebuilt in time for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo that was to take place there. The completion of this outstanding government building that year marked the success of all of the building efforts that came in the preceding years. At the time it was the tallest building in the city and it remains one of the most interesting buildings in San Francisco today.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Faylene

    THANK YOU THANK YOU MY INTERMIEDITE CLASS ARE DOING RESEARCH PAPERS AND MINE WAS ON THIS
    PARTICULAR EARTHQUAKE SO WE MADE UP 6 QUESTIONS AND I PICKED “DID THEY REBUILD WHAT WAS
    DESTROYED?” AND YOUR THE ONLY WEBSITE I FOUND THAT GAVE ME THE ANSWER THANK YOU SOOOO
    MUCH I WILL REMEMBER THIS DAY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!!!!!!!!! (BECAUSE TODAY IS THE LAST DAY
    OF RESEARCH AND IT HAS BEEN 4 DAYS I THINK) O THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH!!!!!

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