A Palace for the People
About the Building
The City Hall you see today took two years to build. Steel, granite, and four floors of white marble interiors make up San Francisco's symbol of resilience, built after the previous City Hall was destroyed in the Great Earthquake and Fire of April 18, 1906.
Civic leaders were determined to demonstrate the city's rebirth in time for the start of the World's Fair of 1915. Designed by architect Arthur Brown, Jr. and begun in 1913, natives and the world were suitably awed by the gilt exterior detailing, the sweeping grand staircase, and the massive dome. At 307 feet in height, the dome is a full 42 feet taller than the dome of the nation's capitol.
During the past century, the building has seen major political upheavals and demographic shifts in the makeup of its legislators. City Hall is often a focus of drama: the tragic assassinations of 1979; and jubilation, when same-sex marriages were first performed in 2004. Once the repository of records and a site for smaller courts, current debates and decisions about labor, land use, and public policy issues take place inside on a regular basis. City Hall has been a location for movies from Dirty Harry and Indiana Jones to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
An earthquake of 7.1 magnitude struck on October 17, 1989 and damaged City Hall severely enough that the dome itself moved four full inches. Repair and restoration, completed in 1999, included an earthquake safety enhancement called a base isolator system. This absorbs shocks and movement at the foundation, protecting the structure above.
The Real Estate Division of San Francisco manages the building, a National Historic Landmark. For decades, adjusting the tint of the exterior lights required walking through legislators' offices to change the colored gels by hand. Starting in 2016, a computer-controlled LED lighting system adds themed colors to the plaza façade with some energy savings. City Hall is still a favorite site for weddings, and cheers regularly echo through the rotunda.
You have in San Francisco this magnificent Civic Center crowned
by a City Hall which I have never seen anywhere equaled.
- Joseph Strauss