AKA: Phelan Block, Market Street, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Curlett, William, Architect (firm); Mahony Brothers, Building Contractors (firm); McIlvaine, Andrew J., Contractor (firm); William F. Curlett (architect); Jeremiah O. Mahony (building contractor); John J. Mahony (building contractor); Andrew J. McIlvaine (contractor)

Dates: constructed 1907-1908

11 stories, total floor area: 267,400 sq. ft.

view all images ( of 4 shown)

760 Market Street
Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102-2514

OpenStreetMap (new tab)
Google Map (new tab)
click to view google map
Google Streetview (new tab)
click to view google map
The Phelan Building #2 had the storefronts given address numbers between 760-784.


Like the Phelan Building #1, the Phelan Building #2 was a valuable investment property for the Phelan Family and became an prominent symbol of San Francisco's architectural sophistication and prosperity. In the wake of the demoralizing destruction of the Great Earthquake and Fire of 04/18-19/1906, James Duval Phelan (1861-1930), Bay Area philanthropist, Mayor of San Francisco, and Senator from CA, demonstrated for his contemporaries the tenacity and ambition to rebuild on the same site, and to build a second tower taller and larger than its predecessor. A writer for the San Francisco Call wrote in 12/1907: "The new structure will differ from the old in floor area as well as height and it will eclipse its predecessor so far that there will be no comparison. It will have a street frontage in Market Street of 328 feet 9 1/4 inches, or 25 feet more than the old building. Its depth from Market street to O'Farrell along the western wall will be 295 feet 11 3/4 inches. Its total foundation area will be 31,000 square feet, 1,000 more than the old building." (See "Work Begun on Handsome Thirteen Story Steel Successor of the Old Phelan Building," San Francisco Call, accessed 04/24/2015.) Like the first building, the second office block maintained a flatiron shape and housed some of the most prestigious professionals of the period just after it was completed.

Building History

James D. Phelan commissioned William Curlett (1846-1916), one of San Francisco's most experienced architects, to design his new, steel-frame office tower. The Mahony Brothers worked with Curlett as building contractors. After the earthquake, San Francisco's building codes changed, becoming more stringent about seismic strength. In fact the study of earthquake engineering, in general, took a rapid leap forward after 04/18/1906, particularly on the Pacific Coast. Interest in steel-framing techniques for tall buildings greatly expanded among West Coast architects and engineers. Curlett designed this steel frame to accommodate 13 floors rather than just the 11 built. The 12/1907 SF Callarticle described the framing: "It will be class A, with steel columns and floor beams. The interior and exterior columns will be connected by deep plate girders, specially designed angle connections and knee bracings. The floor slabs will be of reinforced concrete and all the columns and structural steel will be embedded in concrete. Not an inch of steel will be left uncovered and the building will be completely fireproof." (See "Work Begun on Handsome Thirteen Story Steel Successor of the Old Phelan Building," San Francisco Call, accessed 04/24/2015.)

The second Phelan Building's exterior demonstrated how much simpler tastes in commercial architecture became between 1881 and 1907. The Call observed: "The plans have followed lines of great simplicity. The simplicity, though, will be marked by chaste beauty of line and attractive contour. Metal of ornamental design will be used in the finish of the two lower floors, and the rest of the structure to its top, 160 feet above the pavement, will be faced with cream colored enameled terra cotta." Gone were undulating contours of bay windows and dense encrustations of eclectic ornamentation. The new rooflines displayed none of formal or decorative variety of its predecessor.

Building Notes

San Francisco Historic Landmark #156; the Second Phelan Building in San Francisco, CA, stood 11 stories tall and contained 267,400 square feet of office space.

In the wake of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of the year before, a writer for the San Francisco Call underscored the strength and durability of the new highrise in an article discussing its construction: "Up to date, 6,208 tons of steel have been put into the Phelan building at O'Farrell and Market streets. It has required 211 freight cars to bring this steel from Pittsburg. [Pittsburg, CA, had become a steel-making center for the West Coast, by this time.] Work is going ahead rapidly on the structure and its huge steel frame has become a landmark in Market street. it will be of the class A steel case type, with none of the steel work exposed and absolutely fireproof. The first three stories will be faced with ornamental metal and above that to the top, 160 feet from the sidewalk, the building will be faced with cream colored terra cotta. The lot on which it is built containes 31,000 square feet, and the building will have a frontage of 328 feet in Market street, where its principal entrace will be. Plenty of light will be given the 690 offices by a court 124 by 108 by 80 fee in size. There will be 14 stores on the ground floor and a restaurant or rathskeller in the basement." (See "Huge Phelan Building Already Is a Landmark," San Francisco Call, 12/29/1907, p. 40.) The Phelan Building served as a particularly large and visible reminder of San Francisco's will to rebuild bigger and better than before.

Tel: 415-392-7552 (2008);

San Francisco Historic Landmark: 156

PCAD id: 1344