Tag Archives: office building

Life Goes On

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of a friend, I recovered all my gear on October 16. In the time since then, I have been out taking pictures of Market Street and the back streets between 5th and 7th. So much change is taking place, I want to capture what remains of the old district before it irrevocably disappears. These shots are among my favorites so far.

Construction Site - Jessie Street

“Construction Site – Jessie Street” (2013)

Federal Hotel

“Federal Hotel” (2013)

Stevenson Street

“Stevenson Street” (2013)

Grant Building

“Grant Building” (2013)

Sunday Morning - Market Street

“Sunday Morning – Market Street” (2013)

Mechanics Savings Bank Building

“Mechanics Savings Bank Building” (2013)


Filed under Mid-Market

Mid-Market in Wall Street Journal

Hale Building

“Hale Building” (2012)

I was recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about tech firms moving into the mid-Market corridor thanks to payroll tax breaks given by the Lee Administration at City Hall. Although volumes of information were omitted, what was published is accurate. Neither the mayor’s office nor District Six Supervisor Jane Kim have thus far responded. “Mid-Market Street, as Seen by One of Its Own”

Hale Building_1905
Source: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

Hale Building, 1905. The Hale Building, rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fire, opened in 1902 as the second of several Hale Brothers Department Stores and is currently home to help-desk software firm Zendesk, Inc.

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Filed under Interviews, Mid-Market

The Parlor Houses of Jessie Hayman

“Her bottom was something to watch.”

Born 1867 in New Orleans, Annie May Wyant showed up in San Francisco sometime in the early 1890s. By 1895, using Jessie Mellon as her house name, she was boarding in Mrs. Nina Hayman’s “lodging house” at 225 Ellis Street, an address that later would become one of the best known in the annals of San Francisco prostitution. Opened in the late 1870s by Dolly Adams — former “Water Queen” of the Bella Union Theater — the Ellis Street establishment was taken over by Mrs. Hayman following Dolly’s retirement from madamship in the 1880s. Near the end of 1898, Nina Hayman retired to marry a wealthy San Francisco lumber dealer. As the house favorite, young Jessie took on her mentor’s name and business, and it was as Jessie Hayman or “Diamond Jessie” that she became famous.

Jessie’s full story has been told with great warmth and wit by Curt Gentry in his book The Madams of San Francisco.¹ Suffice for me to say that she was strict yet fair and generous with her girls, and her parlor houses were the most lavish and fashionable in the district. She was tall and elegant, a shapely redhead and a lover of diamonds whose charms (and prices) were legendary in her own time, as illustrated by the following anecdote.

In the late 1890s, photographer Arnold Genthe introduced Jessie to a Grand Duke of the Imperial Russian Empire, who wanted to take her back to Russia with him. When Jessie politely declined, the Grand Duke commissioned Genthe to make a life-size enlargement of her portrait. At a Newport luncheon honoring the Grand Duke the day before he returned to Russia, His Royal Highness proposed a toast.

To the most beautiful woman I have met in your country. She shall be nameless. Even if she were not many miles away, she would not have been included in this gathering. I ask you all to drink her health.

Thus it was that ladies of unquestioned virtue,* the cream of American society, raised their glasses and drank to a demimondaine, for a request from a Grand Duke was a command.

*or so we must suppose

The ultimate fate of the portrait is unknown. Perhaps it was destroyed by Bolshevik Red Guards during the 1917 October Revolution; or maybe, along with other detritus of the fallen empire, it was hidden in a cellar only to be forgotten and left to molder in darkness. No matter what actually happened to the enlargement, we know the negative was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, and thus the only known photograph of Diamond Jessie is as good as forever lost.

Dawn Over Taylor Street

“Dawn Over Taylor Street” (2003)

(340/14) 136–142 Taylor Street; Dunphy Building. Stores and offices/lofts. 4B stories; brick structure; decorative window frames including third level arches, bracketed cornice and pediment; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: tile floor, sign painted on north wall: “United Railways Telegraph Schools”; alterations: ground floor, storefronts, aluminum windows, vestibule. Original owner: P. Dunphy. Architect: E.A. Bozio. 1906.

Several months after the the 225 Ellis establishment was destroyed by the 1906 fire, Jessie moved with her girls into the top two floors of the newly-constructed Dunphy Building. There they stayed until the fall of 1907, when she acquired a new lodging house on Mason Street and furnished it as a deluxe bagnio.


“Famous Polo’s” (2004)

(341/7) 34-48 Mason Street; The Glenwood (1906); parlor house (1907); Polo’s Restaurant (1952). Storefront and loft. 3B stories; brick structure; decorative brickwork including rusticated piers, galvanized iron cornice; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vertical neon blade sign. Alterations: ground floor remodeled. Architects: Meyers and Ward. 1906.

From 1907 till 1912, when she moved her girls and furnishings to Eddy Street, the Glenwood was Jessie’s parlor house. Much later it would become Polo’s Stadium Club, for many years one of San Francisco’s most popular meeting spots for fine food and drink.


“Crystal Hotel” (2011)

(331/7) 128-132 Eddy Street; The Gotham Lodgings, parlor house, Belva Hotel, Crystal Hotel. Rooming house with forty-seven rooms and twenty-eight baths. 4B stories; brick structure; rusticated second level, upper level with decorative panels, bands, window surrounds, galvanized iron cornice; two-part vertical block; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation. Alterations: ground level completely remodeled, lobby remodeled. Original owners: Daniel O’Neil, contractor, and Cora M. Twombly. Architect Charles R. Wilson. 1908.

130 Eddy was the last of Diamond Jessie’s brothels, from 1912 until her retirement in 1917. The first floor was leased out as a saloon, the parlors and madam’s suite were on the second floor, and the girls’ suites, dining room and kitchen were on the upper floors. With the help of Jessie’s backing, one of her girls later became a leading Hollywood madam under the name Beverly Davis. In her autobiography Call House Madam,² Ms. Davis devotes several chapters to her mentor that include a description of the Eddy Street brothel.

Jessie’s prices were staggering. She had a champagne cellar with wines from all parts of the world. Whoever furnished the house knew his Place Pigalle stuff. There was the red room, the gold room, the Turkish room, the French room, the blue room. oriental couches and shaded lamps, plush parlors one after the other with deep carpets on the floor. The bedrooms upstairs were done in the best style. It reflected ‘tone’ for a parlor house all the way through.

When she died in 1923, Jessie’s net worth in diamonds and Tenderloin real estate was one hundred thousand dollars, the equivalent in 2009 dollars of well over one point two million.


“Joy of Life” (2003)

Crystal Hotel, 128-132 Eddy Street.

One of my germinal photographs, the Crystal Hotel viewed from Mason Street is also one of my favorites. It captures the essence of the Tenderloin as a many-layered source of fascination. I was captivated by these walls long before I had a camera to photograph them. The faded advertisements afforded a glimpse of the past, but the peculiar, limpet-like annex was a real enigma. Could it have been a meat locker for the brothel’s kitchen? No one seemed to know. Near the end of 2005, an acquaintance told me of a former tenant who had used the tiny space as an extra bedroom by cramming a folding camp bed into it. Alas, this anecdote is all I have gleaned. The little annex and lovely ghost signs are now largely hidden, eclipsed by a new housing development, thus bringing to a close this page in Tenderloin history.

Joy Eclipsed

“Joy Eclipsed” (2011)

1. 1964, Doubleday and Company.
2. 1942, Martin Tudordale Corporation

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Filed under Local Characters, Tenderloin

Marshall Square

Source: California State Library

City Hall, circa 1900. As photographed from the rooftop of the bygone Mechanic’s Pavilion at Hayes and Larkin, the old City Hall is bounded in front by the diagonal slash of City Hall Avenue extending rightward to Leavenworth and McAllister from Larkin Street on the left.

Marshall Square was a plaza that connected Market Street with City Hall Avenue,* a parallel frontage road for the old City Hall. When the old City Hall was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire, the design for a new Civic Center demanded the redrawing of grid lines. City Hall Avenue was completely obliterated and Marshall Square became part of the Hyde Street extension to Market. The Spanish Moorish office building and theater at the corner of Hyde and Market is the namesake of Marshall Square, though anymore it is known only by the name of its theater, the Orpheum.

*originally named Park Avenue.

Source: Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

San Francisco Business District Map (detail), 1904. Marshall Square is circled in red.

Source: California State Library

City Hall, circa 1890. Shot from Eighth Street just below Market, this view looks straight across the Pioneer Monument in the middle of Marshall Square to the old City Hall. Crowning its Baroque dome is the Goddess of Progress, an iron statue with a corona of electric light bulbs.

Designed piecemeal by seven different architects, shoddily constructed with compromised materials over a period of twenty-seven years at a cost of six million dollars, the old City Hall was a disgraceful mess, the malodorous* embodiment of municipal graft. Nine years after its completion, it was all but destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire.

*The stench of raw sewage frequently permeated the superstructure’s poorly ventilated chambers and corridors, a consequence of faulty plumbing.

Source: California State Library

City Hall Avenue, 1899. Looking northwest from atop the Odd Fellows Building at Seventh and Market, we see the east end of City Hall Avenue intersecting with McAllister and Leavenworth Streets, opposite the Hall of Records on the left.

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

Pioneer Monument, Marshall Square, 1906. A view looking north, with the ruins of the old City Hall in the background.

Erected in 1894 with money bequeathed by real estate magnate James Lick, sculptor Frank Happersberger’s Pioneer Monument mythologizes the story of San Francisco’s supposed “manifest destiny.” It is an unabashedly romanticized story of empire building ss told by the empire builders themselves,* that depicts Native Americans as a docile and subservient people conquered by the Argonauts, nom de guerre of pioneering gold miners. Contrary to both reality and Lick’s final wishes, the monument also places mining ahead of agriculture, both in order of importance, and sustainability. Taken from the Great Seal of California, the figure that crowns the monument is Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom and sponsor of arts, trade and technology. As a goddess born fully grown, she symbolizes California’s direct attainment of statehood without first becoming a U.S. territory.

*Lick was a founder of the ultra-exclusive Society of California Pioneers.

City Hall Avenue, 1910
Source: San Francisco History Center, S.F. Public Library

City Hall Avenue, 1910. Looking southwest from Leavenworth Street, all that remains of the old City Hall is the domed Hall of Records, which was finally razed in October 1916 by the Dolan Wrecking Company.

Illustration, SF Call, 29 May 1912
Source: California Digital Newspaper Collection

Illustration, San Francisco Call, 29 May 1912. “Scheme B” plan for the Civic Center. Chaired by John Galen Howard, the consulting architects included Frederick H. Meyer, and John Reid, Jr. Note the extension of Hyde Street, where the site of Marshall Square has been circled in red. Also of interest are the proposed sites for a library, art gallery, opera house and state building.

The new City Hall and the Civic Auditorium were the only Civic Center structures completed by 1915, just in time for the opening of the Panama Pacific International Exposition. The Civic Auditorium was in fact specifically designed for the PPIE and is one of the few exposition buildings still remaining. It was renamed the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in 1992, in memory of the City’s renowned concert promoter. The beaux-arts Main Public Library was built in 1917 on the site proposed for the opera house. Following extensive remodeling under the direction of Italian architect Gae Aulenti, the building became home to the Asian Art Museum in 2003. The new Main Library, erected 1993-95 and opened in 1996, was built on the site originally proposed for a library. 1922 saw the opening of the California State Building at 350 McAllister, proposed site of the art gallery. Today, the beaux-arts granite structure is home to the Supreme Court of California. Opened in 1932, both the beaux-arts War Memorial Opera House and its twin sister, the War Memorial Veteran’s Building (home to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art until 1994), were constructed on Van Ness Avenue, opposite City Hall. The site proposed for a state building, now part of the United Nations Plaza, is where the beaux-arts Federal Office Building was constructed between 1934 and 1936.

As composed of these seven beaux-arts buildings, the San Francisco Civic Center is widely considered as one of the most successful manifestations of the City Beautiful Movement. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in October 1978, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

City Hall

“City Hall” (2011)

Civic Auditorium

“Civic Auditorium” (2011)

Asian Art Museum

“Asian Art Museum” (2011)

Market & 8th, 1912
Source: Bancroft Library, Jesse B. Cooke Collection

Market and Eighth, 1912. The view is to the northeast along Market Street as photographed from the southwest corner of Eighth Street, opposite Marshall Square. On the left is the Hall of Records on City Hall Avenue.

Marshall Square, 1914
Source: Bancroft Library, Jesse B. Cooke Collection

Marshall Square, 1914. When this photograph was taken, Marshall Square and City Hall Avenue were little more than artifacts of former times. The old City Hall had been demolished and construction of the new City Hall and Civic Auditorium was nearing completion. Together with its associated infrastructure and architecture, City Hall Avenue was anomalous to the evolving urban fabric. Soon, every trace of it would be expunged. Marshall Square as a plaza would also disappear, though its eastern pavement would endure as part of the Hyde Street extension. The Pioneer Monument remained in place until 1993, when it was moved to the orphaned block of Fulton Street between Hyde and Larkin, to make way for the new Main Library.

Source: San Francisco History Center, S.F. Public Library (R.J. Waters & Co.)

New City Hall, circa 1915. Looking south from Larkin and McAllister, the new Civic Auditorium is in the background to the left. The block-long excavation in the foreground marks the site of the California State Building, completed in 1922.

Old Main Library

“Asian Art Museum and Federal Buildings” (2008)

Old Federal Building

“Old Federal Office Building” (2008)

Now occupied by the General Services Administration, the old Federal Office Building was constructed near the site of the former Hall of Records. In 1975, the building became an integral part of the newly-constructed UN Plaza, a 2.6 acre pedestrian mall designed by Lawrence Halprin to commemorate the 1945 signing of the United Nations Charter at the War Memorial Opera House. The plaza was rededicated by visiting members of the UN General Assembly in 1995. Following much-needed renovations, it was again rededicated during World Environment Day in 2005. The new Federal Office Building is on Mission, across Seventh Street from the Ninth Circuit Appellate Court.

Bolivar Monument

“Bolivar Monument” (2006)

At the west entrance to the United Nations Plaza, aligned with the Pioneer Monument and City Hall, stands a monument to Simon Bolivar, the founder of Bolivia and liberator of Columbia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela. Dedicated on 06 December 1984 by Dr. Jaimie Lusinchi, President of Venezuela, the monument is a copy of Adamo Tadolina’s original nineteenth-century sculpture that stands in the Plaza del la Constitucion in Lima, Peru. On the left of this photo is the new Main Library.


“UN Plaza Farmers Market” (2008)

One of the nicest things to flourish in the central city in more recent years is a farmers market, which takes over the United Nations Plaza every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.


“Produce Stand” (2008)


Flower Stand” (2008)

Marshall Square Building, 1926
Source: Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

Marshall Square Building, 1926.

Completed in 1926, the Marshall Square Building is located on the northeast corner of Hyde and Market. Until the early 1990s, the building’s storefront arcades were occupied by a pharmacy on the corner and various small businesses that added much to the character and color of Market Street. One business I particularly remember bore the name of its proprietor, “Mister San Francisco,” a dapper fellow with an extraordinarily long, waxed, and elaborately curled Snidely Whiplash mustache, who conducted off-the-beaten-path tours of the local night life.

Source: Bancroft Library, Jesse B. Cooke Collection

Marshall Square Building, 1928. Revealed in this view is a corner of the Pioneer Monument at the foot of the Hyde Street extension on the left.

After the Marshall Square Building was purchased by its current owners, tenants were forced to leave, some sooner than others. Last to go was the corner pharmacy. While the theater thrived, the Marshall Square Building itself was neglected; characterized by darkened storefronts, empty save for odd bits of debris left behind by departed businesses. By the time the Pioneer Monument was moved to Fulton Street, every storefront was vacant and soon would be sealed and stuccoed-over. Where once were variety and commerce, there now are anonymous windows and blank wall, prosaic and drear. Marshall Square has faded from civic memory, and with antecedents thoroughly obscured, its namesake is only known as the Orpheum Theater.

Marshall Square Building

“Marshall Square Building” (2011)

In the lower left of this photo is a corner of the new Main Library.


“Orpheum” (2008)

1192 Market Street. Marshall Square Building; office building, theater, and storefronts. 4B stories, steel frame and concrete construction; cast concrete and stucco facade, two-story bays with casement windows and spandrels; three-part vertical composition; Spanish Moorish/Spanish Baroque design. Alterations: remodeled theater entrance; new blade sign and marquee; decorations stripped from spandrels; finials removed; storefronts filled in and stuccoed. Current owner: Shorenstein Hays Nederlander Organization. Architect: B. Marcus Priteca. 1926.

Upon its opening in 1926, the theater was christened the Pantages, a vaudeville house that replaced the original Pantages Theatre at 939 Market Street. A few years later, it was sold to RKO and soon thereafter reopened as the Orpheum, a first-run movie house. From the premiere of This Is Cinerama! on Christmas Day 1953 until the final showing of Ice Station Zebra early in 1970, the Orpheum was San Francisco’s foremost Cinerama cinema. The theater was closed for a short time and then reopened in 1977 as a venue for live theater, but the conversion was unsuccessful and the theater was closed once again. It was purchased in 1981 by the Shorenstein Hays Nederlander Organization and since then has been a successful showcase for traveling Broadway shows.

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

Orpheum Theater, 1931.

Source: San Francisco History Center, S.F. Public Library (Photo: Larry Moon)

Orpheum Theater, 1962.


Filed under Civic Center, Mid-Market