Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A monument of glorious grandeur

As night falls over the City, the bright lights of San Francisco City Hall beam proudly over the Civic Center. Its rotunda is both a beautiful sight to behold and a monument of glorious grandeur.

Beaux Arts beauty:
San Francisco City Hall at twilight
Lately, I've become a grand admirer of San Francisco City Hall and of its rotunda. Maybe, it's because its architectural beauty reminds me of Paris.

I have attended three City Arts & Lectures events in the past two weeks (lectures by Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, dance choreographer Mark Morris, and author Michael Lewis) at the Herbst Theater, located next to the War Memorial Opera House and across Van Ness Ave. from City Hall in the City's Civic Center district.

The brisk, five-minute walk up Grove Street from the Civic Center BART station passes directly by the Main Library, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and San Francisco City Hall en route to the Herbst.  So, it's impossible not to admire City Hall's Beaux Arts beauty, whether up close or from across the street.

A plaza view:
San Francisco City Hall (2009).
At more than 500,000 square feet, San Francisco City Hall occupies two city blocks and is surrounded by Van Ness Ave., McAllister St., Polk St. and Grove St.  Its spectacular rotunda dome is reminiscent of Mansart's Baroque dome of Les Invalides in Paris. According to Wikipedia, the City Hall rotunda is the fifth largest dome in the world and it is 14 inches taller than the United States Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C.

Arthur J. Brown Jr., of Bakewell & Brown was the principal architect of San Francisco City Hall, which re-opened in 1915, in time for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.  The original City Hall building, which was completed in 1899 after 27 years of planning and construction, was destroyed by the 1906 Earthquake.

Glorious grandeur:
San Francisco City Hall at night as seen from
outside the Herbst Theater.

San Francisco City Hall is full of history, some of it joyful, some of it tearful.  Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were married at San Francisco City Hall in 1954.  Mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk were slain inside the City Hall building in 1978.

In recent years, San Francisco City Hall has been the site of scores of same-sex marriage ceremonies, and it was also prominently featured in the 2008 film Milk. The inside grandeur of the City Hall building is showcased during annual galas for the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony, while the spacious outside plaza (across from the Polk St. entrance) has hosted public events, such as large-screen gatherings for the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament and the San Francisco Opera.

The medallions in the vault of the rotunda sum up City Hall's virtues best: Equality, Liberty, Strength, Learning, Progress.

At night or in daylight, San Francisco City Hall is a glorious monument to a city beautiful.

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2009, 2010.

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