Tag Archives: blade sign

Cultural Imperatives and the Riviera Hotel


“Cultural Imperatives” (2003)

(324/12) 420 Jones Street; Avon Hotel, Riviera Hotel (1982). Stores and hotel with thirty-eight rooms and seventeen baths. 4B stories; brick structure; molded brick around windows, galvanized iron cornice; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: decorative frame, mosaic floor, cornice molding; lobby: wood paneling, decorative iron elevator; corner blade sign with neon removed; alterations: security gate, storefronts. Owner: Mrs. Barbara Neff of Seattle (1907), Conard House (1983). Architects: Crim and Scott. 1907.

And now, here is something a bit off the beaten path. The Riveira (sic!) Hotel is the brown building with white trim in the background of this photograph, one of my favorite images. Approaching the hotel from the entrance side on Jones Street, I was searching for an engaging perspective when I heard a clangorous but muffled sound of drums and gongs being pounded in erratic syncopation, much like Chinese lion dance music. I was irresistibly drawn around the corner onto Ellis Street to the music’s source, an odd little building that had often piqued my curiosity.

A drab, one-story storefront had been transformed by a porte-cochere that imitated traditional Chinese architecture. From a distance the illusion was fairly convincing. Closer scrutiny revealed a sagging patchwork of the cheapest and strangest materials. Blue barrel tiles were contrived of aluminum soft drink cans covered by sheets of some indeterminate material, and the peeling, red-painted plywood was clearly interior grade. Above the entrance, golden Chinese pictographs affirmed a cultural animus, but the facade was otherwise inscrutable and any clues to the building’s function were concealed behind curtained windows. Adding to the mystery was the ritualistic music now emanating from within. Compelled to photograph the peculiar structure, I thereby found the way to frame the Riviera. A short time after I captured this image, the little building was leveled by a bulldozer. The lot has remained empty ever since.

Sunday Morning_Riviera Hotel.

“Sunday Morning – Riviera Hotel” (2012)

(323/6) 415 Jones Street; Mendel Apartments. Apartment building with seventy two-room units. Original owner: Dr. Louise C. Mendel. Architects: Frederick H. Meyer, 1912; addition Grace Jewett, 1919.

(324/12) 420 Jones Street; Riviera Hotel.

(324/11) 380–386 Ellis Street; empty lot.

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“Hotel Elm” (2003)

(333/11) 364 Eddy Street; Hotel Eaton (1911), Hotel Rand, Hotel Elm (1929). Rooming house with eighty-seven rooms and forty-eight baths. 5B stories; brick structure with glazed brick veneer; four-story galvanized iron bay windows and cornice; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: marble walls, paneled ceiling, tile and marble floor; lobby: desk space with Ionic columns and beams. Alterations: marquee at entry, security gate. Original owners: R. J. Sullivan and George Gale. Architect: L.M. Gardener. 1911.

The Tenderloin’s architectural character—its personality, if you will—is defined as much by its blade signs as it is by the buildings themselves.


“Night Sign – Elm” (2003)

The Elm’s neon blade sign had been restored just a few days before I took this photograph, so it was absolutely pristine. The bluish tint of the tubes spelling out “hotel” indicates that the tubes are brand-new. As white tubes age they become yellowed, so that blue tells a little story of its own.


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Allen Hotel


“Allen Hotel” (2011)

(337/1) 401-411 Eddy Street; Holckele Hotel (1907), Allen Hotel. Rooming house with twenty-nine rooms and eight baths, and stores. 3B stories; brick structure; brickwork quoins and flat arches, galvanized iron cornice; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: pedimented entry, tile floor; lobby: cornice molding; signs: neon blade sign “Allen Hotel”. Alterations: security gate, storefronts. Original owner: L. Holckele. Architect: Julius E. Krafft. 1906.

Born in Germany and educated at Stuttgart, Julius E. Krafft immigrated to America in 1872, spent a couple of years in Chicago, and moved to San Francisco in 1874. For twelve years he ran the drafting department for T.J. Welsh (Welsh and Carey)* after which he opened his own business. Among the buildings designed by Krafft are the St. George Apartments, Hotel Verona, and the Allen Hotel in the Tenderloin, St. Paulus Lutheran Church at 999 Eddy, a Lutheran church in Alameda, and numerous private residences. G. Albert Lansburgh, architect of the Warfield and Golden Gate Theaters, worked for Krafft while studying at UC Berkeley.

*Buildings in the Tenderloin designed by Welsh and Carey include the Rocklin (Western) Hotel, Hotel Proctor (Pacific Bay Inn), and an apartment building at 965 Geary.


“Allen” (2004)

Note how the pediment above the entrance is reflected in the shape of the blade sign.


“Night Sign – Allen” (2003)

Blade signs were once a dominant feature of central city streetscapes. Of those that remain in the Tenderloin, some still have neon fixtures and many of these in recent years have been restored.

Source: San Francisco History Center, S.F. Public Library

Eddy above Leavenworth, 1947. In the mid-40s, the Tenderloin’s biggest problem was double-parked cars. The tracks are for the 31 streetcar line, which was discontinued two years after this photo was taken and is now the 31 Balboa trolley line.

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Page Hotel


“Page” (2004)

(345/1) 151-169 Leavenworth Street; Page Hotel. Stores and rooming house with sixteen rooms and four baths per floor. 4B stories; brick structure; brick quoins, galvanized iron belt course and cornice; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: arched and pedimented entry, paneled walls; neon blade sign at entry: “Page Hotel”. Alterations: security gates and grilles, remodeled storefronts, partly remodeled vestibule. Original owner: A. G. Page. Architect: Martens and Coffey. 1907.

The ornamental details of some buildings are so simple and understated that the aesthetic of the buildings’ entries, often further obscured by security gates and bad paint jobs, is lost in the visual chaos that all too often exists at street level. Under the grime and the mismatched colors, the entrance to the Page is actually very handsome.

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