AKA: San Francisco City Hall #4, San Francisco, CA; City of San Francisco, Public Library (SFPL). Main Library #2, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - city halls

Designers: Laver, Augustus, Architect (firm); Shea and Shea, Architects (firm); Edward Angus Hatherton (architect); Augustus Laver (architect); Frank Thomas Shea (architect)

Dates: constructed 1878, demolished 1906

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McAllister Street and Larkin Street
Tenderloin, San Francisco, CA 94102

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In 1883, the "New" City Hall of San Francisco stood on the southeast corner of McAllister and Larkin Streets in what became known as the Tenderloin.

Building History

San Francisco architect Augustus Laver (1834-1898) won an 1871 competition for this commission. Laver, born in England, designed the NY State Capitol in Albany, NY, before winning the San Francisco commission. (See "The New City Hall, The Commissioners choose Augustus Laver as Architect," Daily Alta California, vol. 42, no. 13824, 07/07/1887, p. 8.) Due to alterations to the original design made by various politicians over time, the building took over twenty years to complete.

Slow progress and cost overruns led the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors to convene hearings into the "Seale Contract," the contract with the stone quarry contractor, a man named Seale, in 1875. Laver was not in CA when he wrote City Hall specifications, including those for its granite walls. Controversy about the cost of the stone and its quality soon developed, bogging down construction. The Daily Alta California wrote on 10/24/1875 of Laver's testimony during the Board of Supervisors' inquiry: "At the time of writing the specifications, which was in New York, he was not aware that there were no sheet quarries in this State; the specifications were sent out to San Francisco, and the clause about the Angel Island quarry was added here without his knowledge, and before he came out; it was understood that the stone as taken out of quarry would be adopted; the mode of measurement was to be that ordinarily used in rubble stone; it was so explained to all bidders who made inquiries, but there was no understanding as to the mode to conform to the usual way of measuring rubble-stone; it would have been impossible to have piled up the stone when delivered so it was measured in the wall. In measuring he had allowed eight per cent. Since then, after consulting authorities, he was of the opinion that twelve per cent should have been added on the final measurement of the stone in the wall to make it conform to the measuring in the pile; Mr. Seale furnished 710 tons of granite, and some San Bruno quarry stone, which was of greater value than Angel Island stone." (See "The Seale Contract," Daily Alta California, vol. 27, no. 9334, 10/24/1875, p. 1.) Laver was not present in CA when he wrote the construction specifications, and his lack of local knowledge about measurement practices and materials sources complexified a municipal building process already prone to governmental graft and insider corruption.

In 1883, the following departments occupied space in the building's basement: the City and County License Collector and Board of Election Commissioners; on the first floor, these departments operated: Board of Water Commissioners, City and County Assessor, City and County Auditor, City and County Clerk, City and County Tax Collector, City and County Treasurer, and City and County Recorder; the Board of Equalization and Board of Supervisors utilized space on the second floor; the third floor was used by the Board of Commissioners Funded Debt, Board of Education (office and committee rooms), City and County Attorney, City and County Superintendent Common Schools, and the City and County Surveyor. Additionally, the Board of City Hall Commissioners had offices somewhere in the building, but their locations were not indicated in the San Francisco City Directory 1883.

In 1896, Frank T. Shea (1859-1929) worked as the architect of New City Hall; his office was on the second floor at that time. (See Crocker-Langley San Francisco, California, City Directory, 1896, p. 1418.)

Building Notes

In 1878-1879, the City of San Francisco spent $14,275.25 on furniture for the new City Hall. In 1888, the San Francisco Public Library #2 took over space in the City Hall's Larkin Street wing; a year later, it became a federal depository library, receiving all US Government publications. The third main SFPL location was on the City Hall's third floor of its McAllister Street wing, where it moved in 1893. From 1893-04/18/1906, the SFPL's Main Library existed here. The San Francisco Main Library #3 lost 24% of its 166,344 books in the Earthquake and Fire of 04/18-19/1906. In 1907, a new temporary main facility (San Francisco Main Library #4) was opened between Van Ness and Franklin, Fell and Hayes Streets. It functioned until the grand, new Civic Center library, (San Francisco Main Library #5) partially paid for by a Carnegie grant, opened in 1917.

Demolished. This City Hall burned in the Earthquake and Fire of 04/18/1906.

PCAD id: 4488