AKA: Flood Building, Downtown, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Pissis, Albert, Architect (firm); Albert Pissis (architect)

Dates: constructed 1903-1904

12 stories, total floor area: 293,837 sq. ft.

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870 Market Street
Tenderloin, San Francisco, CA 94102-3002

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The Flood Building contained the storefront addresses of 870-898 Market Street.


Like the 20-story Call Building (1898), the James Clair Flood Building possessed a steel frame that enabled it to withstand the tremors caused by the Great Earthquake of 04/18/1906 and remain standing. It was one of the few buildings in the area to survive both the shaking and subsequent fire.

Building History

Before 1901, James Leary Flood (1857-1926) acquired the site and remains of the Baldwin Hotel and Theatre, an enterprise owned by Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin (1828-1909), a large-scale building that burned (like so many other hotels of the late nineteenth century) in 1898. Flood built a large office building named for his late father, James Clair Flood (1826-1888), who, as a partner in the Consolidated Virginia Mining Company, made a fortune in the Comstock Lode Silver Rush of the 1860s.

Construction on the Flood Building was mentioned to be imminent, according to a mid-year real estate survey published by the San Francisco Chronicle on 06/08/1901. (See "Record of Realty and Building Operations," San Francisco Chronicle, 06/08/1901, p. 7.) About a month later, the San Francisco Call reported: “The first contract for the construction of the Flood office building to stand on the old site of the Baldwin Hotel has been awarded by James L. Flood. This is for bulk heading, pumping, grading, trenching, refilling and paving. Albert Pissis is the architect. The City Street Improvement Company has the contract for the preliminary work, the cost being $11,1515. This is the most significant move of the week relating to realty. The Flood and Crocker hotel buildings will be under construction simultaneously.” (See “Realty Prices Continue Good,” San Francisco Call, 07/14/1901, p. 32.)

Architect Albert Pissis (1852-1924) designed the building with a steel-frame, a feature that enabled the Flood Building to withstand the severe shaking experienced on 04/18/1906, the day of the Great San Francisco Earthquake. A firestorm later enveloped the city, but Pissis's building withstood much of its effects as it had fire-resistant, brick curtain walls sheathed in Colusa sandstone. Some damage occurred on the first two floors of the Flood Building, requiring about a year's worth of restoration and rebuilding.

From about 1907-1917, the Southern Pacific Railroad leased the largest amount of space here.

The Flood Building underwent interior alterations thereafter, transforming it into a office building for dental and medical professionals. The Spanish Influenza Pandemic occurred at this time, emphasizing the need for more medical space.

The Woolworth Department Store chain took over the Flood Building's first, second and basement levels in 1945. Woolworth experienced good sales at the location and offered, six years later, to buy the building. Woolworth wanted to raze the Flood Building and erect a new, three-story, retail space designed specifically for its needs. The coming of the Korean War ended this plan, as the Federal Government took over much of the building for its Price Stabilization and Civil Defense offices between 1951-1953. Between 1945-1992, Woolworth operated its largest US outlet in the Flood Building, but this changed after 1992, when the store became smaller due to significant financial losses for the parent company. (Woolworth halved its number of US outlets in 1993 by 400, and closed completely by 1997. It left the Flood Building in diminished form in 1996.) In 2011, the Flood Building accommodated more than 250 tenants, including large retail stores, such as Urban Outfitters, and four foreign consulates.

Building Notes

The Flood Building had a notable flat-iron shape, occupying the corner of Market Street and Powell Street. Its main corner had a rounded form, which in the nineteenth century would have been topped by a turret. The building's exterior had the paired columns of French Beaux-Arts architecture and other Neo-Classical details. Four generations of "James Floods" owned the building, which was still in family hands in 2003. (See Patricia Yollin, SFGate.com "Flood of memories: Like the family that built it, the Flood Building has endured the changing fortunes of San Francisco history," published 07/04/2003, accessed 11/21/2011.)

About one week before the Great Earthquake and Fire 04/18/1906, a story appeared in the San Francisco Call indicating the possibility that the Flood Building, an office and retail building, might be renovated into a hotel. "It was common report on the streets yesterday that the new James Flood Building at Powell, Market and Ellis streets is to be remodeled and made into a large, medium-priced hotel. It is also rumored that James Flood has instructed his architect, Albert Pissis, to draw up the plans for the interior changes which must be made to convert this great office structure into a modern hotel. There are now over 1000 rooms in the James Flood building. On account of the fireproofing, the cost of installing baths and toilets will be tremendous. The location, however, is one of the best in the city for a hotel.”(See "May Remodel Flood Building" San Francisco Call, 04/11/1906, p. 5.) This transformation did not occur.

In 1907, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company occupied extensive office space in the Flood Building. The Claims Depot was in Room #310, Paymaster's Office in Room #608, Treasury Department in Room #618, Freight Department in Room #728, Customs Attorney in Room #748, Hospital Department in Room #811, Secretary's Support Office in Room #815, Law Department and Tax Attorney's Office in Room #828, Purchases and Supplies Department in Room #868, Storekeeper's Department in Room #876, Land Department in Room #877, Lease Department in Room #878, General Passenger Department and Passenger Traffic Department in Room #928, Advertising Bureau in Room #944, Superintendent of Transportation's Office in Room #1010, Secretary's Office (J.C. Willcutt) in Room #1017, General Manager's Office in Room #1028, Commissary Department in Room #1070, Telegraph Department in Room #1075, Consulting Geologist in Room #1105, Maintenance Way Department in Room #1136, and Motive Power Department in Room #1186. In addition, the offices of E.H. Harriman (president), J.C. Stubbs (vice-president), J. Kruttschnitt (vice-president), E.H. Calvin (general manager of lines west of El Paso), and C.H. Redington (treasurer) were all located in the Flood Building, likely on upper floors. (See Crocker-Langley Directory Company's San Francisco, California, City Directory, 1907, pp. 1496-1497.)

From at least 1907 until his death in 1914, the noted San Francisco architect Albert Pissis (1852-1914) had his office in the Flood Building. Oftentimes, architects took up office space in buildings of their own design, in part as three-dimensional advertising, and, in some cases, may have gotten breaks on rent costs in lieu or in addition to payment.


The Flood Building was finished in 1904; its first two floors were damaged by fire in the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 04/18-19/1906; the architect of the original building, Albert Pissis, set about rebuilding the Flood Building's interior, completing the job in 1907. (See "History: Early Days,"Accessed 02/27/2011.)

The Flood Building underwent large-scale changes in c. 1918, 1952, and in the early 1990s. A renovation lasting over one year in the 1990s aimed to return the building to its original early-twentieth-century appearance, removing the signs of the 1952 alterations.

San Francisco Historic Landmark (Listed 1982-07-10): 154

PCAD id: 1350