San Francisco City Hall has often been referred to as "The Crown Jewel" of the finest ensemble of classical architecture in America. It was originally opened in 1915, and is now designated a national landmark. Many regard it as one of the most important buildings in America. The architect was Arthur Brown Jr., who also designed San Francisco"s Opera House, Veterans Building, Temple Emanuel, Coit Tower and 50 United Nations Plaza.
The first thing one notices is the massive size of City Hall, which encompasses 2 full city blocks. Its dome is one of the largest in the world, rising 306 feet above the civic center national historic district. The building itself totals over 500,000 square feet.
In 1989, City Hall, along with many other buildings, was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake. The engineers recommended a base isolation system to strengthen the building against future damage. During an earthquake the massive dome acts as a pendulum. A base isolation system separates the building from the ground, thus interrupting the energy before it enters the structure and accelerates the dome. This is done with the installation of rubber and steel discs (base isolators) under each column. A four-foot moat around the building allows it to move side to side without being attached to the earth. City Hall is now the largest base isolated building in the world and the only isolated national landmark. It has now been designed to remain operational even after a great earthquake. Construction work on the seismic system began in March of 1995 and is now complete.
In 1995 the voters passed a bond providing additional funds to bring the building into the twenty-first century. In addition to the seismic construction, historic restoration, state-of-the art telecommunications and life safety systems were installed. This provided a building largely restored to its original historic character, yet with contemporary functional spaces and a state-of-the art infrastructure system.
The grand public Light Courts on the main floor of the building have been restored to their original design with elegant marble walls and skylights spanning the entire 7,000 square foot spaces. These two light courts will allow for a wide variety of events and exhibits to take place in the building. The inaugural exhibit, "Icons of San Francisco, 1905-1955" is being presented in the South Light Court by the San Francisco Airport Museums. Between these two light courts is the breathtaking marble staircase in its original magnificence which extends through the main lobby.
Where courtrooms were formerly located on the fourth floor, four hearing rooms have been added to allow as many public hearings as possible to be held.
A new City payment center has been added on the main floor which will allow citizens to make most of their necessary financial transactions with the City in only one location.
By the end of January, 1999, one thousand employees and their department functions will have returned to work in the building to provide for a fully working City Hall.