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Exploring San Francisco City Hall: Historic Facts and Tips in SF's Civic Center

How Much Do You Really Know About San Francisco City Hall?

San Francisco City Hall is one of the most iconic buildings in San Francisco, but you might not know everything about it. This article will tell you some interesting facts about this modern architectural marvel that you might not already know!

Radiant Bride & Silly Bridesmaids at Legion of Honor

San Francisco's city hall is built on an entire block of land near the Civic Center District. However, it has been speculated that portions of Central America were once where San Francisco now stands. It was named Yerba Buena by Spanish Captain Juan Bautista de Anza in 1776, and was later renamed Saint Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi by Father Luis Gil y Taboada after New Mexico Governor Pedro Fermín de Mendinueta started calling it so in 1777. It became San Francisco officially in 1846, after the Mexican-American war.

San Francisco City Hall is the oldest city hall building west of the Mississippi River still existing, and second oldest city hall overall next to Philadelphia City Hall built in 1901. The number "2" was carved into California's state seal above its entrance to represent being the second state capital, because California has been a state for only about 51 years of U.S. history!

The design of San Francisco City Hall looks very similar to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the United States Declaration of Independence from Great Britain was signed. A bald eagle, wherever you look on both buildings, symbolizes America's freedom from Europe and monarchy rule wherever they may have been at that time. This is why there are bald eagles all over San Francisco City Hall and the U.S. Capitol building and wings of the White House, because these buildings represent America's freedom from European rule!

San Francisco's current city hall was built in 1915 and its original blueprint has been lost to history. Its construction began quickly on December 8th, 1913 after plans were laid out by Victor Hammer (brother-in-law to architect Louis Christian Mullgardt) on July 13th, 1913. It cost $3M USD to build at that time which is equivalent to about $75 million in today's dollars, but it was worth every penny back then considering how much more expensive things used to be before inflation! Although it took less than 3 years to build this building, modern skyscraper construction cycles are more like 7-8 years on average because of increased complexity in planning and approvals.

San Francisco City Hall is one of the most earthquake-resistant buildings in all of California, which is part of the reason why it's still standing 100 years later after its completion! When you come visit San Francisco, please make sure to take a tour inside San Francisco City Hall whenever you get the chance so you can learn even more about this architectural masterpiece!

Why Get Married at San Francisco City Hall?

Getting married at San Francisco City Hall is an excellent idea for two reasons. First, it's the best bargain in the wedding industry.

To wed at San Francisco City Hall, couples must submit their applications three months before the planned wedding date. The expenses associated with getting married here, including a marriage license, depend on the specific services needed. In 2023, a marriage license costs $113, while a civil ceremony is priced at $95. For a Rotunda wedding with no more than six guests, the overall expense amounts to $208.

The second reason to get married at San Francisco City Hall is its world-class appeal as a unique and stunning backdrop for wedding photography without the need for a photography permit. Photographers can make the most of the entire building, capturing memories in various locations regardless of whether couples opt for a small rotunda wedding or splurge on the Mayor's balcony or a 4th-floor North Light Court rental.

Moreover, there are no time limits for weekday photo sessions at San Francisco City Hall (See below for weekend rates). With proper planning, couples can capture hundreds of images in dozens of unique settings.

If you're considering having your wedding at San Francisco City Hall, be aware that San Francisco City Hall is closed on public holidays, which include New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, and Labor Day. It is open on weekdays from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm, and closed on weekends

Weddings can be held Monday through Friday from 9:00 am - 3:30PM. Weekends are available for private rentals only. Here is a summary of costs for weekend weddings at City Hall:

Rental rates vary based on the area desired, guest count, and additional services:

Rotunda and One Light Court (4th Floor) (1-499 guests): $10,000

Rotunda and Both Light Courts (4th Floor)(1-999 guests): $12,500; for larger guest counts, rates increase up to $30,000 for 2,500-3,000 guests

North Light Court (1-870 guests): $5,000, plus $4/guest over 200

South Light Court (1-600 guests): $5,000, plus $4/guest over 200

Late Access (Load-out): $500/hour, subject to approval

Set-up Day: 50% of Rent, subject to approval

For more information please consult City Hallʻs Events page.

Architectural and Historical Significance

  • Beaux-Arts Architecture: San Francisco City Hall is a prime example of American Renaissance architecture, showcasing the Beaux-Arts style. This style is characterized by its grandiose form, classical details, and symmetrical design. The building's design was influenced by the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, reflecting a blend of French Renaissance and classical Roman architecture.
  • Dome Size: The dome of City Hall is one of its most remarkable features, standing 307 feet tall. It is 42 feet taller than the

    Notable Domes Around the World

    Name of DomeLocationHeightDiameterNotes
    San Francisco City Hall DomeSan Francisco, CA, USA307 feet90 feet (27.43 meters)Taller than the U.S. Capitol dome by 42 feet
    United States Capitol DomeWashington, D.C., USA288 feet96 feetDesigned by Thomas U. Walter, constructed between 1855 and 1866
    St. Peter's Basilica DomeVatican City, Rome448.1 feet (total height)139 feet (internal diameter)Tallest dome in the world, designed by Michelangelo
    Hagia Sophia DomeIstanbul, Turkey180 feet (55 meters)102 feet (31 meters)Was the world's largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years
    Taj Mahal DomeAgra, India115 feetNot specifiedThe height of the dome is about the same as the length of the base
    Singapore National Stadium DomeSingapore260 feet (height of dome)1,020 feet (diameter)World's largest retractable roof dome

    Additional Information

    - The **San Francisco City Hall dome** is a significant architectural feature, standing at 307 feet tall, which makes it taller than the dome of the United States Capitol by 42 feet. The dome's diameter is 90 feet, and it is finished with 23.5 Carat gold leaf.
    - The **United States Capitol dome**, on the other hand, is 288 feet in height and 96 feet in diameter, and it was designed by Thomas U. Walter.
    - Other notable domes around the world include **St. Peter's Basilica**, which has the tallest dome at 448.1 feet, and the **Hagia Sophia**, with a height of 180 feet.

    Exploring San Francisco City Hall: Historical Facts and Tips in SF's Civic Center

    San Francisco City Hall stands as a monumental beacon in the heart of the city's Civic Center, encapsulating over a century of rich history, architectural triumph, and sociopolitical significance. This iconic building is not just a seat of government for the City and County of San; it's a testament to the resilience, culture, and ambition of San Francisco itself. This article delves into the historical facts surrounding San Francisco City Hall, explores its architectural elegance, recounts its trials through earthquakes, highlights must-see features, records significant events, and provides practical tips for those wishing to visit this magnificent edifice.

    Why is San Francisco City Hall considered an architectural masterpiece?

    Exploring the Beaux-Arts style of SF City Hall

    The Beaux-Arts style, characterized by its grand scale, intricate detailing, and emphasis on symmetry and order, perfectly encapsulates the grandeur of San Francisco City Hall. Designed by architect Arthur Brown, this architectural marvel was built to awe and inspire. Its façade, adorned with exquisite sculptures and reliefs, its vast spaces designed for the grandiose engagements of city government, and the meticulous attention to decorative arts all contribute to SF City Hall's reputation as a beautiful building that marries form with function in the heart of the city's Civic Center.

    The significance of the dome in San Francisco architecture

    The dome of San Francisco City Hall is not just a striking visual feature; it's an emblem of architectural ambition and prowess. As the tallest dome in the United States, surpassing even that of the United States Capitol by several feet, it showcases San Francisco's desire to assert its significance on both a national and global stage. The dome's intricate detailing, visible both from the grand rotunda inside and the city blocks outside, serves as a beacon of democracy and innovation in city and county of San Francisco.

    Arthur Brown's vision for city hall in San Francisco

    Arthur Brown's vision for the new City Hall was bold and forward-thinking. He envisaged a building that would symbolize San Francisco's rebirth from the ashes of the 1906 earthquake, serve as a seat of government steeped in dignity and grandeur, and accurately reflect the city's optimistic outlook towards the 20th century. Brown's Beaux-Arts masterpiece not only fulfilled these ambitions but also laid the groundwork for modern San Francisco, championing a blend of aesthetic beauty, practical functionality, and symbolic importance.

    Arthur Brown Jr. (1874–1957) was a pivotal figure in shaping the architectural landscape of San Francisco, leaving a lasting legacy through his designs of several iconic buildings, including the San Francisco City Hall. Born in Oakland, California, Brown was deeply influenced by the Beaux-Arts tradition, a hallmark of his architectural style, which is evident in the grandeur and detail of his works.

  • Education and Early Career
    Brown's architectural journey began at the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated in 1896. His talent and passion for architecture were nurtured under the mentorship of Bernard Maybeck, a prominent Bay Area architect. Brown's academic excellence and dedication led him to further his studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, graduating in 1901. This education laid the foundation for his Beaux-Arts architectural approach, characterized by classical forms and elaborate detailing

    Professional Partnerships and Achievements
    Upon returning to San Francisco, Brown established a partnership with John Bakewell Jr., forming the firm Bakewell and Brown. Their collaboration was instrumental in designing several notable buildings in the Bay Area, including the San Francisco City Hall, completed in 1915. This partnership lasted until 1927, after which Brown continued his practice independently

    San Francisco City Hall stands as a testament to Brown's architectural genius and his ability to integrate Beaux-Arts principles with the civic and cultural aspirations of San Francisco. The building's design was selected through a competition, and its completion coincided with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, symbolizing the city's recovery and renewal following the devastating 1906 earthquake.

    Legacy and Recognition
    Brown's contributions to architecture extended beyond San Francisco City Hall. His portfolio includes the War Memorial Opera House, Veterans Building, Coit Tower, and the Federal Building at 50 United Nations Plaza, among others. Each project showcases his commitment to detail, the use of classical elements, and the integration of art and architecture.

    Arthur Brown Jr.'s work earned him widespread acclaim and several honors, including election as a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects in 1930 and membership in the National Academy of Design. His legacy is preserved not only in the buildings he designed but also in the influence he had on the architectural identity of San Francisco and the broader Bay Area.

  • The Legacy of the Bay Area's Homegrown Architect

  • Arthur Brown Jr.'s architectural vision has left an indelible mark on San Francisco, with the City Hall serving as a crowning achievement. His mastery of the Beaux-Arts style, combined with a deep understanding of the city's cultural and civic needs, has contributed to the enduring beauty and significance of San Francisco's architectural heritage. We encourage to take a tour and learn more from City Hall's excellent docents.

    The destruction of the old city hall in the 1906 earthquake

    The 1906 San Francisco earthquake, one of the most devastating natural disasters in the history of the United States, resulted in the complete loss of the Old City Hall. This catastrophic event highlighted the vulnerability of monumental architecture to the forces of nature and underscored the need for new methodologies in construction and urban planning. The subsequent reconstruction efforts were not just about building the new city hall; they were about signaling San Francisco's resilience and determination to come back stronger.

    Rebuilding efforts: The new building post-1906 earthquake

    In the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, the decision to erect a new City Hall was met with unanimous agreement. The reconstruction represented not only a commitment to restore the seat of government but also an opportunity to rethink architectural and engineering approaches in the face of seismic threats. The current City Hall, completed in 1915, incorporated advanced construction techniques of its time, including the innovative use of a flexible steel frame, which would later prove instrumental in its survival of subsequent earthquakes.

    San Francisco City Hall's resilience during the Loma Prieta earthquake

    When the Loma Prieta earthquake struck in 1989, San Francisco City Hall stood its ground, a testament to the city’s innovative approaches to seismic reinforcement introduced in the early 20th century. However, the quake underscored the ongoing need for vigilance and adaptation in architectural design and city planning to safeguard historic landmarks against future seismic events. The building's resilience speaks volumes about the city's commitment to preserving its heritage, culture, and governance structures against the unpredictable forces of nature.

    What are the must-see features of SF City Hall?

    The grandeur of the grand staircase and rotunda

    The grand staircase and rotunda within San Francisco City Hall exemplify the architectural grandiosity that Arthur Brown envisioned. The staircase, with its wide steps, elegant balustrades, and decorative flourishes, leads visitors up to the second floor, offering an immersive experience of the building’s Beaux-Arts charm. The rotunda above, crowned by the inner dome, draws the eye upwards, inviting visitors to admire the intricate frescoes and detailing that adorn this central space, serving as a focal point for civic and ceremonial gatherings.

    Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio's visit to SF City Hall

    The marriage of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio at San Francisco City Hall in 1954 remains one of the most storied events in the building's history, highlighting its role not just as a governmental hub but also as a cultural icon. The event attracted global attention, casting the spotlight on San Francisco City Hall and affirming its status as a significant venue for memorable occasions beyond the daily workings of city government.

    The tallest dome in the United States: A closer look

    A closer examination of San Francisco City Hall’s dome reveals a marvel of architectural engineering and aesthetic beauty. It's not just its height that makes the dome significant; it's the structural ingenuity and artistic detailing that exemplify the zenith of Beaux-Arts architecture. Inside, the dome is supported by a network of steel and concrete, a testament to the innovative construction techniques of the early 20th century, while its exterior, adorned with intricate sculptures and gold leaf, symbolizes San Francisco's enduring spirit and ambition.

    Significant events in the history of San Francisco City Hall

    The 1915 exposition and its impact on San Francisco City Hall

    The completion of San Francisco City Hall in 1915 coincided with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a world's fair celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal and showcasing San Francisco's recovery from the 1906 earthquake. City Hall, with its newly minted dome and grandiose architecture, served as a symbol of the city's resurgence on the world stage, reinforcing its position as a center of culture, innovation, and governmental leadership.

    From 1906 to present: Key historical milestones

    From its inception to the present day, San Francisco City Hall has been a witness to, and participant in, numerous historical milestones. It has seen the city's reconstruction post-1906 earthquake, served as a gathering point for civil rights movements, celebrated victories and milestones (such as the legalization of same-sex marriage), and hosted state funerals for significant political figures, including Harvey Milk. Each of these events has left an indelible mark on the fabric of San Francisco, with City Hall at its center.

    Historical figures and the mayor of San Francisco's role

    San Francisco City Hall has been the office for many mayors who have played pivotal roles in shaping the city's destiny. From James Rolph, who oversaw the city's reconstruction, to current incumbents, the mayor's office within City Hall has been a site of decision-making, leadership, and governance that has steered San Francisco through times of prosperity and challenge alike. The building thus not only serves as a physical seat of government but as a symbol of civic leadership and public service.

    Visiting SF City Hall: Tips for tourists and locals

    Best times to visit city hall in San Francisco

    For those planning to visit San Francisco City Hall, weekdays during morning hours are ideal, offering an opportunity to witness the city government in action and explore the building without the crowds typical of ceremonial events. Guided tours provided by San Francisco City Hall docents offer insightful perspectives into the building’s history, architecture, and role in the civic life of San Francisco, making for a fulfilling visit.

    Navigating SF's Civic Center: Transportation and tips

    The Civic Center area, with San Francisco City Hall at its heart, is easily accessible via public transportation, including MUNI and BART with stops at Civic Center/UN Plaza. For those driving, parking can be found along McAllister and Van Ness Avenue. Visitors should also be aware of civic events and demonstrations, which can affect access to City Hall and surrounding areas. Taking public transit is encouraged, enriching the experience of visiting this hub of cultural, civic, and architectural significance.

    Nearby attractions: Asian Art Museum and Civic Center Plaza

    Adjacent to San Francisco City Hall are noteworthy attractions that visitors can explore to enrich their experience of the Civic Center area. The Asian Art Museum, boasting an extensive collection of Asian art and artifacts, and the Civic Center Plaza, a public space hosting events and providing a breath of green in the urban environment, offer diverse experiences complementing a visit to City Hall. Exploring these nearby attractions provides a well-rounded appreciation of San Francisco’s cultural and historical landscape.

  • Seismic Retrofitting: Following damage from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, City Hall underwent a major seismic retrofit to make it one of the most earthquake-resistant buildings in California. This retrofit included the installation of a base isolation system, which allows the building to move independently of ground motion during an earthquake.

Cultural and Social Relevance

  • Historic Events: City Hall has been the site of many significant events, including the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978. These events have left a lasting impact on the city's political and social landscape
  • Civic and Cultural Hub: Beyond its role as the seat of government, City Hall serves as the cultural heart of San Francisco, hosting various ceremonies, celebrations, and public demonstrations

Weddings at City Hall

  • Affordability and Accessibility: Getting married at City Hall is considered a great bargain in the wedding industry. The costs associated with a civil ceremony and marriage license are relatively low, making it an attractive option for couple
  • Iconic Photography Backdrop: Its architectural beauty and historical significance make City Hall a sought-after location for wedding photography. Couples can utilize various parts of the building for their photos, capturing memories in a setting that's both beautiful and meaningful
  • Ceremony Options: City Hall offers different packages for weddings, from simple one-hour ceremonies on the Mayor's Balcony or Fourth Floor Galleries to larger, more elaborate events during evenings and weekends. These options provide flexibility for couples to choose a setting that best fits their vision and guest count

  • Special Celebrations: The building also hosts special ceremonies, such as LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations, highlighting its role in supporting and celebrating the diverse communities of San Francisco

Practical Information

  • Location and Accessibility: Situated in the Civic Center area, City Hall is easily accessible by public transportation. Its central location makes it convenient for guests attending weddings or other events
  • Public and Private Spaces: While City Hall is open to the public during weekdays, certain areas can be privatized for special events, including weddings. This allows couples to have a more intimate ceremony within a public landmark.

San Francisco City Hall stands as a testament to the city's architectural ambition, resilience in the face of natural disasters, and commitment to civic and cultural engagement. Whether as a venue for weddings or a subject of architectural study, it continues to captivate residents and visitors alike with its grandeur and historical depth.

Are You Looking for a Wedding Photographer You Can Trust?

The team at San Francisco City Hall Wedding Photography
 is a specialist in capturing the beauty of your wedding day in the magnificent surroundings of City Hall. We serve both local and destination wedding clients from all over the world. Photography packages are available for just Ceremony coverage or all-day premium photo tours with transportation included! No matter what package you select, you will get absolutely stunning photographs that exceed your wildest dreams. Contact us today!

Elopement at Palace of Fine Arts: Architecture & Drama

San Francisco City Hall is not only a significant architectural landmark but also a venue rich in history and cultural significance. Here's a comprehensive overview of its unique aspects, historical events, and practical information for those considering getting married there.

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