AKA: Clay-Montgomery Street Building, San Francisco, CA; 552 Montgomery Street Office Building, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - banks (buildings)

Designers: Shea and Shea, Architects (firm); Frank T. Shea (architect); William Dennis Shea Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1907-1908

8 stories

552 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94111-2533

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Building History

Amadeo Peter Giannini (1870-1949) located the first Bank of Italy Headquarters in a space previously occupied by a bar in the Drexler Building on Montgomery Street (now Columbus Street) in San Francisco's Little Italy Neighborhood. The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 04/18-19/1906 destroyed the Drexler Block, and Giannini was forced to relocate his bank to two makeshift locations, a crude operation at the Washington Street Wharf and to his brother's intact residence at 2745 Van Ness Avenue. Later in 1906, the Bank of Italy rented space at 632 Montgomery Street, where it remained until 1908, when this new headquarters (#3) at 552 Montgomery Street opened on 08/17/1908. Frank D. Shea (d. 1929), of the firm Shea and Shea, designed the new building, but, as the National Register of Historic Places Inventory Form indicated, A.P. Giannini took a very active, supervisory role in the design and construction processes. Giannini pioneered the concept of branch banking, creating his first Bank of Italy Branch in San Jose, CA, in 1909, a philosophy that rapidly expanded the organization's size. Giannini, who came from a working class background, also gained customers through his respectful, liberal and inclusive banking practices, catering to all levels of society. By 1918, his institution had 24 branches throughout CA, the largest state-wide system in the US. Due to this growth, Giannini moved the headquarters again to a new 7-floor building at 1 Powell Street (Bank of Italy Headquarters #4) that opened 06/27/1921. To accelerate growth in Southern CA, Giannini sought out Orra E. Monnette (1873–1936), President of the six-year-old, Los Angeles-based Bank of America, in 1928 to consider and merger. This merger took place in 1929, with the larger bank, the Bank of Italy, taking on the more general name of Monnette's institution. Despite the Depression, the Bank of America continued to grow throughout the 1930s, so much so that another San Francisco Headquarters (#5) was needed. It opened in a new 12-story building at 300 Montgomery Street on 12/09/1941. The charismatic Giannini led the Bank of America until his death in 1949, becoming one of the most widely-respected business success stories in American history.

Building Notes

A Renaissance Revival Style building, the Bank of Italy Building, in San Francisco, CA, also known as the Clay-Montgomery Building, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, level of significance: National. See the National Register of Historic Places Inventory form:Accessed 02/16/2011.

National Register of Historic Places (June 2, 1978): 78000754 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 7710