by Frank Dunnigan
San Francisco has long prided itself as the financial center for the entire West Coast. Over the years, there have been many changes as local institutions have grown, merged, and sometimes disappeared completely from the landscape. In addition, electronic transactions have greatly reduced the need for customers to visit brick-and-mortar locations, thus resulting in further consolidations and closures of well-known bank buildings. Here are a few examples—both downtown and in some neighborhoods—of historic and memorable structures and what has become of them over the years.
1098 Market Street – 1098 Market Street at the northeast corner of Market and Jones Streets was home to Prager’s Department store in the 1890s. Lost to the events of 1906, Pragers was rebuilt in 1911. By 1925, the owner decided to retire, even though business was good. The Anglo-California National Bank then moved into the space. The name of that banking institution changed several times over the years (Crocker-Anglo, Crocker-Citizens, Crocker Bank, Crocker National Bank), and in 1981, Crocker was acquired by UK’s Midland Bank, which was then acquired in 1986 by Wells Fargo and the branch was closed. Today, a variety of small businesses are among the building’s tenants, including a long-time check-cashing service on the ground floor.
1 Jones Street – Designed by noted architect Albert Pissis and opened in 1892, the ornate marble-clad lobby and enormous vault doors at 1 Jones Street exuded strength and security to customers. The building survived the 1906 Earthquake and Fire and Hibernia was considered a beloved institution in the City’s Irish-American community for decades, even though it was slow to expand its branch network. In later years, however, the location on the edge of the Tenderloin proved problematic, and Hibernia closed the building in 1985, though the green neon signage remained in place above the entrance. Security Pacific Bank acquired Hibernia in 1988, and then Security Pacific itself was acquired by Bank of America in 1992, with 1 Jones remaining vacant. Vandalism of the exterior was commonplace until the site was acquired by SFPD for its Tenderloin Task Force from the 1990s until the year 2000. The building’s ownership subsequently passed through many more hands until 2016 when the site underwent a $15 million preservation and earthquake retrofit, emerging as downtown’s newest event venue. See photos of the restored interior spaces.
Crown-Zellerbach Pavilion – A branch of American Trust Company (later acquired by and renamed Wells Fargo) occupied Crown-Zellerbach Pavilion in 1959. Thought to be the only round, glass-walled bank building in the world with underground vault storage, the Pavilion was constructed as a stand-alone part of the modern adjacent office building, which itself was one of San Francisco’s first post-Depression/post-World War II skyscrapers. The branch was closed in the mid-1980s and replaced by a Sharper Image retail store that was followed in turn by various other tenants—with a brokerage firm as the most recent occupant.
1 Grant Avenue – Built at 1 Grant Avenue in 1910 by the firm Bliss & Faville, this banking temple has housed multiple different financial institutions over the years: Savings Union Bank, American Trust Company, Security Pacific Bank and others. By the 1990s, it was home to clothing retailer Emporio Armani, and in recent times, it has been marketed as an event space, including serving as a recent temporary home to the Ice Cream Museum. Note the terminus for the O’Farrell Street cable car line (discontinued in May of 1954 and subsequently removed) at left.
Columbus Day Parade by First National Bank of San Francisco at Market and Montgomery, October 1980. (wnp119.00143; Meg Oldman, photographer – Meg Oldman Collection / Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project)
1 Montgomery Street – In 1908, architect Wills Polk designed a 12-story office tower with a ground-floor bank branch at 1 Montgomery Street for First National Bank of San Francisco, which was later acquired by Crocker Bank. In the 1960s, the sandstone exterior walls of the upper floors required maintenance, and they were re-clad in a reddish-brown marble. In 1982, an adjacent property at 120 Kearny Street was developed into a high-rise office tower with an adjacent shopping arcade known as Crocker Galleria. Part of that development included the removal of the top ten floors of 1 Montgomery with the new open space converted into a public-access roof garden. The Kearny Street tower (out of sight to the left) is now known as One Montgomery Tower, and the classic old banking temple shown here is currently vacant. See more images of the 1908 Building.
44 Montgomery Strret – Wells Fargo demolished its 12-story post-1906 building (known at various times as Wells Fargo, Union Trust, Nevada National Bank) at Market and Montgomery Streets in the 1960s, and replaced it with a modern 43-story high-rise and attached low-rise bank branch at the site, both of which opened in 1966. The location is now owned by a real estate investment firm and known as 44 Montgomery Street. The one-time Wells Fargo branch is now a brokerage office.
333 Montgomery Street – The construction of Bank of America’s 52-story tower at California & Kearny in 1969-70 required the demolition of several smaller buildings, the most prominent of which was the 18-story red-brick Pacific National Bank building at 333 Montgomery Street (left of center), owned by financier Louis Lurie.
555 California Street – Bank of America’s 52-story “World Headquarters” at right was constructed in 1969-70 at California & Kearny Streets, along with a dramatic, high-ceilinged branch banking office at the corner of California & Montgomery, known as “San Francisco Main”. In the mid-1980s, the office tower was sold to a real estate firm and became known as “555 California” after Bank of America was acquired by NationsBank in 1998, which then took the Bank of America name. In recent years, Bank of America relocated its San Francisco Main Branch to smaller quarters at nearby 315 Montgomery and the marble-glass structure shown here at the far end of the plaza has been vacant and available for rent. Note the GW logo on another building in the distance—the site of Golden West Savings, which was acquired by Wachovia in 2006. Two years later, Wachovia became part of Wells Fargo.
1 Powell Street – The imposing edifice at 1 Powell Street was built as the new headquarters of Bank of Italy in 1921, and re-branded as Bank of America in 1929. The Ground Floor was home to the Bank’s Day & Night branch which offered extended hours for customers until late in 20th Century, while the 2nd Floor housed the Women’s Banking Department, with an exclusively female staff that served women customers until the World War II era. For more than 40 years beginning in 1967, the upper floors were occupied by the Bank’s Travelers Cheque operations—a long-gone banking product. Early in this millennium, the ground floor was converted into retail space (telephones, clothing, and various other tenants over the years) while the upper floors are now home to 44 rental apartments.
400 Castro Street – Built by Bank of Italy in 1922 in a design very similar to its building at 1 Powell Street, and then expanded after World War II (an addition marked by a 3rd set of tall arched windows to the left of the main entrance), the 400 Castro Street building has anchored the corner of Castro and Market for a full 100 years. When the old Hibernia Bank branch one block away at 18th & Castro became vacant after Bank of America acquired Security Pacific Bank in 1992 (following Security Pacific’s acquisition of Hibernia in 1988), Bank of America relocated this branch to the old Hibernia location. The rooftop signage here was always enormous, even in Bank of Italy days, until the early 1980s when Bank of America installed a much smaller sign that wrapped around the roofline. This space has since been home to multiple different retail outlets since before the turn of the millennium..
1450 Noriega Street – Hibernia Bank built one of its first branches at 1450 Noriega Street at 22nd Avenue in the Sunset District in the late 1950s, and the modern building featured an enormous detailed panorama photo of the western neighborhoods on the entire wall behind the teller line, thus fascinating the waiting customers who searched for their own homes in the image. The building later housed a branch of Security Pacific Bank after that firm’s takeover of Hibernia in 1988, and the branch was later rebranded Bank of America after that firm’s 1992 takeover of Security Pacific. The bank branch was closed in the 1990s, replaced by an ATM where the two people are standing, and the building is now home to a health clinic. Among locals, the site will forever be remembered as the location where Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) robbed the Hibernia Bank branch on April 15, 1974, just two months after her Berkeley kidnapping.
2601 Mission Street – At 2601 Mission Street, on the southwest corner of 22nd and Mission, the 9-story structure once known as the Bay View Federal Savings building—the tallest building in the area, then and now—was built as that company’s headquarters in 1962-63, thus provoking a lot of discussion about the possibility of more high-rise construction in the neighborhood. The east-facing wall (not shown here) has floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular views toward downtown and the East Bay, while the south-facing wall was deliberately left blank—allegedly to allow for easy expansion at a later date. US Bank bought Bay View’s retail branch network in 2002, and the above structure then contained a ground floor retail branch of that institution, but it has been closed for some time, and US Bank’s signage removed from the roofline. The building’s upper floors are occupied by a mix of small business tenants, including several non-profits. As a neighborhood high-point, it is also the site of multiple cell-phone towers.
by Arnold Woods
The annual celebration of Easter by many Christian denominations is upon us. While we typically think of the day as one spent dressing up and going to a church for an Easter mass, for many locals, it is a day spent dressing up and taking a hike to the highest spot in San Francisco. For almost 100 years, an Easter service has been held by the cross at the summit of Mt. Davidson.
On April 1, 1923, Sunset District resident George Decatur, who worked at the Western Union Telegraph Co. and was a director of the YMCA, organized an Easter sunrise service at the top of Mount Davidson, the highest point in San Francisco.1 Decatur raised $1,100 in donations to build a 40-foot wooden cross for the service.2 Over 5000 people made the hike up for the Easter mass despite rainy weather. Boy Scouts camped out the night before and kept bonfires burning along the path to the top.
The 1923 Easter service was well-received and Decatur got further donations to build a bigger and more permanent cross for the 1924 service. However, that 87-foot cross burned down a year later and Decatur found himself having to solicit donations yet again for a third cross. At the same time, various people and organizations were advocating for a city park to be established on Mount Davidson.
There was a huge grassroots campaign seeking the city park. In 1927, San Francisco appropriated $15,000 to purchase and preserve 20 acres on Mount Davidson as a park. The new city park was dedicated in 1929. Decatur also raised enough funds for a new 76-foot cross to be erected in time for Easter that year. The new cross was set in concrete and covered in stucco and 300 lights.
Despite the improvements to the new cross, it also burned down after two years. A temporary cross was quickly built, but the Native Sons and Native Daughters of the Golden West went into action to fundraise for a new and hopefully more fire-resistant cross. At the 1932 sunrise service, former San Francisco Mayor and current California Governor James “Sunny Jim” Rolph dedicated the cornerstone for the new cross. Placed inside the cornerstone was a transcript of the first deed of title to Mount Davidson that had been signed by the first Mexican governor of California.
This new cross was dedicated on Saturday, March 24, 1934, a week before Easter. It was built out of concrete and steel and was 103-feet tall, tapering from 10 feet wide at the base to 9 feet at the top. The arms measured 39 feet across. It sat on top of a foundation that extended down 16 feet into solid rock. Clearly, they were not going to have a cross that would burn down again. For the dedication, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a telegraph switch in Washington, D.C. that turned lights on the cross where a crowd of 50,000 people had amassed to watch.
As was intended, this cross proved sturdy and remains in place today. Legal issues eventually arose because of the presence of a cross on public land, so the land where the cross sits was sold to the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California for $26,000 at an auction on July 12, 1997.3 They maintain the cross to this day. Each year, the tradition of an Easter service being held at the cross at sunrise continues.
3. “Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California,” Mt. Davidson Cross organization website.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of Playland in 1972. That means that most of us never got a chance to visit San Francisco’s own amusement park by the beach and, for those still around who did, few got to see it in his heyday. And there is likely no one or very few left who visited it when it was called Chutes at the Beach before morphing into Playland around the end of the 1920s. So for the benefit of all, here’s an OpenSFHistory Top Ten look at the attractions at Chutes at the Beach.
We begin with the ride that was the centerpiece at the amusement park’s beginning. Before it was even named Chutes at the Beach, the area by the Great Highway and Fulton Street had a number of carnival games and refreshment stands. In 1913, Charles Looff, who was a builder of carousels, brought one to this burgeoning play area. He enclosed it in what he called the Looff Hippodrome. Later, it would just be called the Merry Go Round. The carousel itself still exists today. It returned to San Francisco in 1998 and was installed at Yerba Buena Gardens.
After Charles Looff’s death in 1916, his son Arthur took over the carousel operation and soon began plotting with John Friedle, a concessionaire, to expand operations. With the acquisition of some additional land nearby, they built a water ride called Shoot the Chutes, which we wrote about in greater detail here. The ride was built at the north end of the amusement area by Balboa Street. Because of the popularity of prior Chutes rides in San Francisco, Looff and Friedle named the area Chutes at the Beach. As other, more exciting rides were built, the Shoot the Chutes ride became less attractive and it was torn down in 1950.
An early coaster ride at Chutes at the Beach was the Bob Sled Dipper. It was designed to emulate a toboggan ride where riders sat one in front of another.1 From the loading platform, the sleds were pulled up to the top from where one got a fast ride to the bottom. After a serious accident on April 16, 1929, which injured seven people, Friedle declared that he wanted it gone.
Chutes at the Beach also had a scenic railroad type of roller coaster called the Figure 8 that had three levels for a longer rider. When it was built around 1919 or 1920, scenic railroad roller coasters were already dated as more exciting and faster roller coasters were coming to prominence. As a result, the Figure 8 only lasted a few years before being demolished for something better.
The Golden Age of rollercoasters was the 1920s, when newer, faster ones spread to amusement parks around the world. Looff and Friedle got on board with the craze and in 1922, after demolishing the Figure 8, they replaced it with the new style rollercoaster. It was called the Big Dipper. It quickly became the biggest attraction at Chutes at the Beach. A number of accidents and injuries over the years led to new safety regulations that essentially required the closure and demolition of the Big Dipper in 1955.
A staple of the earlier Fulton and Fillmore Chutes parks was a large swing ride called the Circle Swing, which, as the name suggested, spun in a circle swinging cars around and out. Chutes at the Beach replicated this ride with their version called the Aeroplane Swing. However, the cars only held two people, so it was later replaced by a newer version with larger cars to hold more people called the Seaplane Ride.
The Whip ride involved barrel cars on a swivel that were attached to a chain that traveled around an oval turntable. Centrifugal force would push riders into the back of their cars as they were “whipped” around the end of the turntable. We imagine there may have been a few people who lost their lunch when riding the Whip.
A regular feature of boardwalks and amusement parks are bumper car rides. Chutes at the Beach was no different with their version of the ride called Dodg’Em. It had a charged sheet metal roof and a grounded metal floor which powered the cars. While the stated purpose of Dodg’Em may have been to “dodge” other cars, it couldn’t have been long before kids made it their purpose to target other cars.
The Whirlpool was another turntable ride. Washtub like cars on casters with a friction mechanism would be spun and flung out and up the sides of the turntable bowl as it spun around. Then the washtub would drift back to the center of the turntable being getting flung out again. This is another ride that likely was stomach churning.
George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. debuted his Ferris Wheel at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The organizers of the 1894 Midwinter Fair in Golden Gate Park couldn’t get Ferris to bring his wheel to San Francisco, so they persuaded J. Kirk Firth, owner of the local Phoenix Iron Works, to replicate it. The Firth Wheel spent about six months at the fair and then was bought by Adolph Sutro, who installed it on Merrie Way above the Sutro Baths, where it only lasted a short time. Finally, an actual Ferris Wheel was installed at Chutes at the Beach by the early 1920s.
Some of these rides survived into the Playland-era, which also brought on even more rides. We’ll take a look at some of those at a later date.
1. “San Francisco’s Playland At The Beach: The Early Years,” by James R. Smith, Craven Street Books, 2010.