There's More To San Francisco Than Financial Institutions & Cable Cars

The Palace Hotel San Francisco

People travel to San Francisco from all over the world for various reasons and one that most likely doesn’t make the top 10 is for its architectural beauty.

John King with the San Francisco Chronicle shares some jewels that deserve your attention.

Ferry Building, 1898 with extensive 2003 renovations, A. Page Brown. This one’s a favorite, and not just for the glorified food court on the ground floor. “Of course, the Ferry Building was very important to me as a child,” Doris Madden recalls. “We used to drive our car on the ferryboat and go to the East Bay for a picnic every year during the summer.”

Hyatt Regency Hotel, 1973, John Portman, 5 Embarcadero Center. Full disclosure: I’m not big on this atrium-centered showcase that saw its glory days a generation ago. But its admirers include Tanu Sankalia, chair of the University of San Francisco’s department of art and architecture. “The Hyatt is about spatial experience that is memorable and unique,” she writes, singling out such details as “its continuous, cascading balconies” and “the slot-like skylight that washes the pre-cast concrete surfaces.”

Palace Hotel, 1909, Trowbridge & Trowbridge, 2 Montgomery St. And now for something completely different, hotel-lobby-wise: this dowager’s Garden Court with its marble columns and stained-glass dome. Mark Katzenberger calls it “glorious but not gaudy … no place in San Francisco (better) expresses the grace of our gilded past.”

JPMorgan Chase Building, Pelli Clarke Pelli, 2002, 560 Mission St. It’s hard in words to convey the attention to details that sets apart this “retro green office tower,” in the words of Charles Belov. In person, you understand.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1994, Mario Botta, 151 Third St. Museum officials didn’t call Botta when they sought architects to design an equally large addition, but the Swiss modernist’s “little gem” has fans such as Susan Schneider: “The interior horizontal finishes convey solidity and even perhaps tradition, while the peekaboo staircase with its dark-to-light aspect leading to the cylindrical steps from the fourth to fifth floor is nothing but fun.”

Xanadu Gallery, 1949, Frank Lloyd Wright, 140 Maiden Lane. This one received as much love as the Ferry Building, especially from architecture buffs who love how its circular interior ramp was a test run for the Guggenheim Museum, which opened a decade later in New York.

Sing Chong Building, 1908, T. Patterson Ross and A.W. Burgen, 601 Grant Ave. There’s a reason for the colorful, overtly “Oriental” tone of this and other older Chinatown buildings, points out Drew Bourn: They were commissioned after the 1906 earthquake by Chinese merchants and landowners who grasped that making their neighborhood a tourist attraction would keep it from being shipped to the south edge of town – the proposal of some city leaders at the time.

Grace Cathedral, various architects, 1964, 1100 California St. “By simply going inside the cathedral, I immediately am at peace with the world,” writes Ann Dolyniuk. Afterward, “I take my friends outside and gape at the Nob Hill hotels and enjoy the passing cable cars. … What could be a better site to bring visitors to?”

City Hall, 1915, Arthur Brown, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, A favorite of Michael Zonta, who notes “at one time we really thought this place was something special.” Haven’t we always? And the interior is as impressive as the 308-foot-tall dome.

The Armory, 1909, Woollett & Woollett, 1800 Mission St. The formidable clinker-brick walls – the better to keep out rioting mobs – alone are worth a visit. But consider the social angle: After this massive structure sat empty for 30 years, impervious to all development schemes, it was bought by … an Internet pornography company that set up shop in 2008. Or as Zonta puts it, “bulwark of democracy restored by Kink. com.” How Ess Eff is that?

Tom Costello is the CEO, Partner & Co-Founder of Groups International, a company that provides marketing, consultative services, and technology solutions to the group and leisure travel markets.  Connect with him on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook or contact him by email.

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