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

Designers: Curlett, William, Architect (firm); Kuss, P.N., Building Contractor (firm); William F. Curlett (architect); P. N. Kuss (building contractor)

Dates: constructed 1892-1894, demolished 1906

6 stories, total floor area: 47,000 sq. ft.

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532 California Street
Financial District, San Francisco, CA 94104

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This fourth headquarters for the San Francisco Savings Union Bank, stood at 532 California Street, in the heart of the city's Financial District. It stood six stories tall, and contained about 47,000 square feet, not including its extensive basement that housed the building's advanced mechanical services. A contemporary newspaper report focused on the bank building's state-of-the-art heating and ventilating systems, as well as its new type of elevators: "The basement is not calculated but for the ordinary purposes of the building, such as the heating, ventilation and steam making, being occupied by the steam-boilers, water compressors for the elevators, pumps, air and steam pipes and other paraphenalia for running the building and affording the tenants ease and rapidity of access to upper floors and the ordinary comforts when there." (See "Is a Solid Bank," San Francisco Call, 04/29/1894, p. 7.) The bank rested on deeply-sunk foundations, important both structurally and metaphorically for a bank; it aimed to provide a solid image for the security of both tenants and depositors.

Building History

The noted Irish-born, San Francisco-based architect William Curlett (1846-1914) designed this fourth headquarters for the San Francisco Savings Union Bank at 532 California Street in the city's Financial District. The San Francisco Call noted that a nearly two-year-long building campaign had resulted in a "Greek style building [which]... is pervaded by the classical ideal." The newspaper called the new bank "... one of the most prominent architectural features of our city." It stated in its issue of 04/29/1894: "The new structure, which is located on the corner of California and Webb streets, occupying the site of the old, which had been increased by the purchase of an adjacent lot, embraces a ground surface of 124 feet on Webb street by 63.4 feet of frontage on California street. On this space has been erected the largest bank building in the State...." (See "Is a Solid Bank," San Francisco Call, 04/29/1894, p. 7.)

A six-story building, it contained various high-tech features for its day, including a new type of elevator mechanism operating without counterweights using a pump and compressor system, and a "Vacuum system" heating and ventilating network, "...the first that has been successfully applied to any building in San Francisco...." (See "Is a Solid Bank," San Francisco Call, 04/29/1894, p. 7.) The elevator contractor was the Cahill and Hall Elevator Company, of 214-216 Mission Street., while A. Baumsteiger and Company, of 1503 Geary Street, installed the new Vacuum System for heating and ventilation. J.G. Grannis, a junior partner in the Baumsteiger firm, designed the heating and ventilation system. P.N. Kuss, a building contractor with offices in Oakland and San Francisco, erected the building.

At the beginning, the bank occupied the first floor for its banking room operations and administrative offices. The San Francsico Call writer described it at its opening: "One enters through the marble vestibule into the bank and must receive a cheerful impression from the light and airy appearance of the great room. The ceiling, which is divided into panels, is beautifully frescoed and adorned in white and gold, and is supported by iron pillars beautifully proportioned. The walls are shaded a delicate cream color, and the wainscoting and woodwork is all of curly maple, the desks even being made of that beautiful wood. The vestibule and bank with the hall of the [rear] stairway are beautifully paved with mosaic." (See "Is a Solid Bank," San Francisco Call, 04/29/1894, p. 7.)

Floors two through five accommodated 65 offices, each equipped with marble basins, quarter-sawn oak panelling and closets, while the San Francisco Bar Association rented the entire sixth floor in 1894. "[The Bar Associaton's space] is divided into library, reception and dining rooms, with parlors and kitchen, all of which are handsomely fitted up and provided with every convenience. A stairway in the rear affords access when the elevators have ceased to run." (See "Is a Solid Bank," San Francisco Call, 04/29/1894, p. 7.)

Building Notes

The bank's front facade on California Street had the main entrance located centrally within a three-bay composition. The recessed center bay was the widest, with the front door flanked by two impressive, freestanding columns. Architect Curlett clad the first floor in Inyo marble, while the upper floors had a skin of cream-colored brick. The second floor elevation largely echoed the composition of the first. Two large windows lit each side bay, while the central bay contained two large pilasters that stood directly above the main floor's columns. Floors three through five had pairs of colossal pilasters on each end bay, while the central bay had a pattern of 1-3-1 double-hung windows. The top floor had arched openings, its composition echoing floors three through five. The parapet was crowned by a grand central pediment rising above all other features and two smaller pediments embedded in the complex Italiante compositions of each side bay.

PCAD id: 21378