AKA: Parrott's Granite Block, Financial District, San Francisco, CA; Well's Fargo and Company, Headquarters Building #2, Financial District, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Peyton, Bernard, Building Contractor (firm); Williams, Stephen H., Architect (firm); Bernard Peyton (building contractor); Stephen Hedden Williams Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1851-1852, demolished 1926

3 stories

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414 Montgomery Street
Financial District, San Francisco, CA 94104

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The Parrott Building occupied the northwest corner of California Street and Montgomery Street.

Overview

The Parrott Building was one of San Francisco's most important commercial buildings of its early days, attracting important banks and other financial institutions from its earliest days. In an age when most buildings were small-scale, fabricated simply of wood and were highly flammable, the construction of fire-proof buildings in 1850 San Francisco was notable and worthy of publicity. A writer for the Daily Alta California wrote on 08/07/1852: "Mr. John Parrott is the owner of the granite block, which will consist of three stores in uniform style. The fronts on California and Montgomery streets will be of granite, cut in China, according to plans drawn by Mr. Williams, of this city. The contract for this building has been taken by a Chinaman, and judging from the appearance of the stone, which is now in great part on the ground, we should say it will be quite an ornament to the city. As a specimen of Chinese workmanship, it will be very creditable. The entire building will be seventy six by sixty sic feet." (See "Local Matters," Daily Alta California, vol. 3, no. 218, 08/07/1852, p. 2.) While this contemporary ariticle indicated that a Chinese contractor had the commission for the work, architectural historian Harold Kirker indicated that a Euro-American contractor, Bernard Payton of San Francisco, finished the building in ninety days. (See Harold Kirker, "The Parrott Building, San Francisco, 1852," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 18 No. 4, 12/1959, p. 161.)

Building History

Building owner John Parrott (1811-1884), a Tennessee-born banker and importer, retained architect Stephen H. Williams (1816-1880) to design his project, which ultimately cost an immense $117,000. Architectural historian Harold Kirker stated of Parrott's original requirements: "In his specifications Williams followed faithfully John Parrott's insistence upon a basement of stone embedded in cement, a superstructure of twenty-inch brick walls, and the protection of all openings by doors and shutters of one-quarter-inch cast iron." (See Harold Kirker, California's Architectural Frontier, [Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith Publishing, Incorporated, 1986], p. 79.) Kirker expanded on this in an article prepared for the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians: "There is no better description of the building than that given by John Parrott in a letter to Hon. T. Buller King, date 2 May 1852 and preserved along with the architect's drawing in the collections of the California Historical Society: 'The walls are to be 20 inches thick laid with Chinese Brick in cement, the two fronts on California and Montgomery Streets as per drawings herewith accompanying are to be Chinese granite smoothly polished and fitted in the best manner. The openings are all to be secured by four fold iron doors and shutters, made of boiler iron 1/4-inch thick, set in frames and anchors worked in the walls, each to have from five to eight fastings.'" (See Harold Kirker, "The Parrott Building, San Francisco, 1852," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 18 No. 4, 12/1959, p. 160.)

Seen from Montgomery Street, Parrott's three-story building had smooth cut-stone walls and a rectangular form devoid of much ornamentation. An arcade of blind arches carried on pilasters distinguished the first floor exterior. An emphatic belt course separated the first from the upper two floors. Second floor windows had sedate segmental stone lintels carried on brackets, while third floor windows had segmental stone lintels without brackets. Parrott undertook great expense to build his office building with granite facing, bluestone foundations and iron shutters rather than wood. At a time of catastrophic urban conflagrations, the novelty of its fire-resistant construction distinguished Parrott's office building in the marketplace and enabled it to command higher rents. The novelty of its materials was even acknowledged in its popular name, "Parrott's Granite Block." Kirker noted: "The legendary granite walls of the Sierra Nevada notwithstanding, stone was hardly used in frontier California building. As late as 1869 only six of more than twenty thousand structures in San Francisco were of stone. When granite was used in the early fifties, as in Parrott's Granite Block, it was generally imported from China because of the lack of a local extractive industry and the inadequacy of inland transportation." (See Harold Kirker, California's Architectural Frontier, [Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith Publishing, Incorporated, 1986], p. 61.) Unlike its granite-sheathed walls, the bluestone of the foundations was produced locally by Joseph Emery's quarry on Goat Island in the San Francisco Bay.

Adams and Company, a leading express service/bank in CA, moved to the building in late 1852. Anotice in the Daily Alta California read: "Removal--the subscribers will remove about the 15th of October to the splendid stone building now erecting by John Parrott, Esq., on the corner of Montgomery and California sts. Adams & Co." (See "General Notices," Daily Alta California, vol. 3, no. 261, 09/21/1852, p. 3.)

John Parrott started his own bank on 09/10/1855 in the Parrott Building; he opened this venture in the wake of a series of bank failures that occurred in San Francisco earlier in 1855 that wiped out Page, Bacon and Company and other leading banking houses of the time in the city. An advertisement for Parrott and Company's bank ran in the Daily Alta California on 10/20/1855. It read: "We have this day [09/10/1855] opened our Banking House for the transaction of business, and prepared to draw Exchange at Sight and time on Messrs. Howland & Aspinwall of New York; to purchase Exchange, Gold Dust, Bullion and Mint Certificates at current rates; ship Treasure for account, under our policies of insurance, and make liberal advances on Gold Dust sent to our charge for coinage or assay. We shall have our credits established at an early day on all the other principal Atlantic Cities, Europe and China, of which due notice will be given." (See Parrott and Company Bankers, Daily Alta California, vol. 6, no. 259, 10/20/1855, p. 3.)

Building Notes

The Parrott's Granite Block was erected by pitifully-compensated Chinese laborers, with granite brought from China. David Williams has written about the Parrott Building's granite: "Built in 1852, it was one of the first stone buildings in the city. I know that the builders of the building were Chinese and have read that the stone came from Hong Kong. One source [Harold Kirker] says that the building was built in Hong Kong, dismantled and then sent to San Francisco. I believe that the stone for the Parrott block was acquired by Bernard Peyton through the firm of Jardine, Matheson and Co. The stone that was acquired was then put on the barque Dragon, which arrived in San Francisco on August 4, 1852. I think it took 52 or 54 days to cross the ocean, which means it left Hong Kong around June 14 or so." (See David Williams, Industrial History of Hong Kong Group, "29 The Parrott Building, built in HK, re-constructed in San Francisco?" accessed 08/25/2016.)

The Wells Fargo and Company Bank moved its second San Francisco office to the Parrott Granite Block in 1855 and remained there until 1876; the company required different quarters at that time, as it divided its banking and stage coach express businesses.

In c. 1860, the American Building and Trust Company and the New Amsterdam Casualty Company also had their offices in Parrott's Block.

After the 1906 Earthquake and Fire that destroyed its fourth headquarters at 532 California Street, the San Francisco Savings Union took up occupancy in the Parrott Block.

Demolition

The Parrott Building survived the San Francisco Earthquake of 04/18/1906 and stood for another two decades before it was razed to make room for the Financial Center Building, later transformed into the Omni Hotel.

California Historical Landmark: 89

PCAD id: 5129