AKA: San Francisco Public Library, Main Library #5, Civic Center, San Francisco, CA; Asian Art Museum of San Francisco #2, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - social and civic buildings - libraries

Designers: Aulenti, Gae, Architect (firm); Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum (HOK) (firm); Laughlin, Diaz, and Arrigoni, Architects (firm); Wong, Robert, Architect (firm); Robert V. Arrigoni (architect); Gaetana Aulenti (architect); Diaz ; George Francis Hellmuth (architect); George Edward Kassabaum (architect); George William Kelham (architect); Laughlin ; Gyo Frederick Obata (architect); Robert Wong (architect)

Dates: constructed 1915-1917

100 Larkin Street
Civic Center, San Francisco, CA 94012

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Building History

In 1901, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) gave the City of San Francisco $750,000 to build a new central library and several branches, if the city's citizens would match his donation. Carnegie money paid for seven branch libraries: Richmond (1914), Mission (1915), Noe Valley (1916), Sunset (1918), Golden Gate Valley (1918), North Beach, now Chinatown (1921) and the Presidio (1921). A San Francisco Library Commission was formed in 1901 to coordinate the gift and rally public support. Two years later, the voters passed a bond issue raising the needed matching capital ($780,000) to build the main library. City Beautiful architect, Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912), who had designed the celebrated "White City" at Chicago's Columbian Exposition (1893), began to design a new master plan for San Francisco in 1903, an unrealized scheme that included a grand civic center. Before action could be taken on Burnham's plan, the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 04/18-19/2014, destroyed much of the city, and cast Burnham's plan into limbo. Construction on George Kelham's 1914 plan began in 1915 and continued through 1916. This grand, Beaux-Arts palace of public education opened in 1917.

In 2003, the building was reoccupied by the Asian Art Museum Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture.

Building Notes

A competition for this grand central library was staged in spring 1914; it was won by George W. Kelham (1871-1936) who came to San Francisco as a representative of the New York architectural firm, Trowbridge and Livingston, during the construction of the Palace Hotel #2. An article, "The San Francisco Public Library Competition," by B.J.S. Cahill, appeared in the 05/1914 issue of The Architect and Engineer of California, (vol. 37 no. 1).


In 1987, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the Asian Art Commission decided to re-use the soon-to-be vacant San Francisco Public Library Main Branch as a new home for the Asian Art Museum.

LEM/DPR Construction and architects HOK, LDA, Robert Wong and Gae Aulenti collaborated on the renovation of San Francisco's main library into the city's Asian Art Museum; the 185,000 square-foot museum was designed to display nearly 2,500 works of art, and cost $1.3 billion spread out over a decade; This renovation was completed between 1999 and 2003.

PCAD id: 3063

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