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San Francisco City Hall

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San Francisco City Hall

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Date Posted:August 7th, 2005
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Description: From Wikipedia: The City Hall of San Francisco California, opened in 1915, in its mall site in the city's Civic Center, is a Beaux-Arts monument to the brief "City Beautiful" movement that epitomized the high-minded American Renaissance of the period 1880-1917.

The architect was Arthur Brown Jr., whose attention to the finishing details extended to the doorknobs and the typeface to be used in signage. Brown also designed San Francisco's Opera House, Veterans Building, Temple Emanuel, Coit Tower and the Federal office building at 50 United Nations Plaza.

The building is vast, totalling over 500,000 square feet (46,000 m²) and occupying two full blocks of San Francisco. Its dome, which owes a lot to Mansart's dome of Les Invalides, Paris, is the fifth largest dome in the world, rising 307.5 feet (94 m) above the Civic Center national historic district. It is fourteen inches (356 mm) higher than the United States Capitol.
President Warren G. Harding lay in state at City Hall after dying of pneumonia at the Palace Hotel in 1923. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were married at City Hall in 1954. Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated there in 1978, by former Supervisor Dan White.

The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 damaged the structure, and twisted the dome four inches (102 mm) on its base. Afterwards work was undertaken to render City Hall earthquake resistant through a base isolation system. In an earthquake, the mass of the dome acts as a pendulum, rocking the building's structure and tearing it apart. The base isolation system of hundreds of rubber and stainless-steel insulators inserted into City Hall's underpinnings has the effect of disrupting seismic waves before they can affect the structure. San Francisco's City Hall is currently the world's largest base-isolated structure—a triumph of seismic retrofitting.

The city is trying to recruit peregrine falcons to nest in aeries outside the vast dome. Pigeon droppings have to be periodically cleaned from the pair of glass-covered light wells (formerly covered with concrete at the height of modernism).

Brown's blueprints are preserved at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley

The grand plaza, partially seen in the image above, has undergone several extensive rennovations, with radical changes in its appearance and utility. Prior to the 1960's there were extensive brick plazas, few trees, and a few large, simple, raised, and circular ponds with central fountains, all in a style that discouraged loitering. The plaza was then extensively excavated for sorely needed underground parking. At this time a central rectangular pond, with an extensive array of water vents (strangely, all in several strict rows and all pointing east, with identical arcs of water, and completely without sculptural embellishment), was added, with extensive groves of trees (again, in 60's modernist style, planted with absolute military precision on rectangular grids). In the 1990's, with the rise of the problem of homeless persons the plaza was once again remodeled to make it somewhat less habitable - although the most significant change, the replacement of the pond and pumps with a lawn, could be reasonably justified on the basis of energy and water conservation.

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