The Architecture of San Francisco

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(©Nan Palmero/Creative Commons, Flickr)

The Painted Ladies, made famous by the sitcom "Full House," were built from 1892 to 1896. 710-720 Steiner St., across from Alamo Square Park

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(©Shubert Ciencia/Creative Commons, Flickr)
Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral is the third largest Episcopal cathedral in the nation and was constructed in the Gothic Revival style, particularly the French Gothic style, echoing Notre Dame in Paris. 1100 California St., 415.749.6300

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(©James Faulkner/Creative Commons, Flickr)
Palace of Fine Arts

The only remaining structure from the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts is a classic example of beaux-arts architecture. 3301 Lyon St., 415.563.6504

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(©John Zacherle/Creative Commons, Flickr)
St. Mary's Cathedral

Named one of the 10 most beautiful churches in the United States, St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Assumption offers a modernist interpretation of the traditional Catholic cathedral. 1111 Gough St., 415.567.2020

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(©Mark Doliner/Creative Commons, Flickr)
Cathedral of Christ the Light

Another beautiful modernist cathedral is the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, which was designed to evoke the parable of the loaves and fishes from the Bible. 2121 Harrison St., Oakland, 510.496.7280

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(©debaird™/Creative Commons, Flickr)
Coit Tower

Coit Tower was designed in the art deco style, and built to commemorate the volunteer firefighters who died in the five major fires of San Francisco’s history. 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd., 415.249.0995

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(©Luis Villa del Campo/Creative Commons, Flickr)
Malloch Apartment Building

The Malloch apartment building is a classic example of streamline moderne style and was also featured in the film “Dark Passage” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. 1360 Montgomery St.

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(©Davitydave/Creative Commons, Flickr)
Transamerica Pyramid

Still one of the tallest buildings west of the Mississippi, the Transamerica Pyramid was designed in the neo-Futurist style by William Pereira & Associates. 600 Montgomery St., 415.829.5423

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(©Scott Vachalek/Creative Commons, Flickr)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The most striking example of postmodern architecture in San Francisco, SFMOMA is currently the largest modern art museum in the United States. 151 3rd St., 415.357.4000

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(©Vicki MacLeod/Creative Commons, Flickr)
Vaillancourt Fountain

Possibly the most hated fountain in San Francisco, Vaillancourt Fountain has survived several proposals to demolish it, and is a striking example of brutalist architecture. Justin Herman Plaza, at Market St. and Embarcadero

For more examples of brutalist architecture, visit the Glen Park BART Station or the Berkeley Art Museum and Film Archive.

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(©Daniel Ramirez/Creative Commons, Flickr)
San Francisco Federal Building

The SF Federal Building is a deconstructivist building and attempts to “democratize the workplace” while maximizing energy efficiency. 90 7th St., 415.436.7950

Visit the Contemporary Jewish Museum for another example of decontructivist architecture.

By Emily Sisco

If you say “San Francisco” and “architecture,” the first thing most people think of are the Painted Ladies, the pastel row of Queen Anne houses made famous in the opening credits of the sitcom "Full House." But San Francisco’s architecture is much more diverse than that, and spans over 200 years of architectural history.

Starting in the 1840s, San Francisco was at the center of the California Gold Rush, bringing an influx of people and with it, an explosion in construction. In 1859, the silver rush began, cementing San Francisco as one of the major cities of the West Coast. But in 1906, a devastating 7.8 earthquake caused a fire that raged for four days and destroyed much of San Francisco (25,000 buildings in total). A massive reconstruction effort was undertaken to restore San Francisco to its former glory. The late 20th century saw San Francisco become a safe haven for the counter culture and a hotbed of experimentation. This history of growth and destruction, coupled with San Francisco’s challenging topography, means today you can find buildings ranging from neoclassical and Victorian architecture to modern and postmodern construction.

Emily Sisco
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