Many critics of historical preservation projects complain that the process leaves the building frozen in time. Adaptive re-use proves that this does not need to be the case.

Adaptive re-use, which adapts buildings for new uses while retaining their historic features, can also a sustainable form of development that reduces waste, uses less energy and scales down on the consumption of building materials. San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square remodel in 1964 marked the first adaptive re-use project in the United States and San Francisco has never looked back.

A prime example of adaptive re-use in San Francisco can be found when comparing the two, classic Beaux Arts buildings that make up the stately entrance onto Grant Avenue from Market Street, the one street in San Francisco that comes closest to embodying the City Beautiful movement espoused by Daniel Burnham.

Coincidentally, both buildings were originally banks. Standing at 1 Grant Avenue is San Francisco Landmark #132: built in 1910 as the Savings Union Bank it was reconfigured for retail through adaptive re-use in the 1990s. The Savings Union Bank was designed by Walter Danforth Bliss and William Baker Faville. Both gentlemen were graduates of MIT and began their San Francisco practice in 1898.

This steel frame building is clad in gray granite. Six Ionic columns hold up its massive pediment 38 feet high. This modified domed temple is derived from the Roman Pantheon. The pediment, designed and sculpted by Haig Patigian, houses a Bas Relief of Liberty. Patigian, an Armenian by birth who spent most of his career in San Francisco, was one of the cities most prolific sculptors during his time.

At one time the front was graced with bronze doors. These doors consisted of four panels designed by Arthur Mathews and were said to be “descriptive of the historical succession of the races in California.” First the Indian, then the Spaniard who was typified by a Franciscan monk, next a miner representing the “American” and then an allegorical representation of a San Franciscan shown as the ideal figure of a youth beside a potter’s wheel modeling one of the new buildings in the city. Those doors have been replaced with glass.

Inside are eight Tavernelle (an old building stone term that means spotted or mottled) marble Corinthian pilasters and columns thirty feet high. These support the main cornice, which is surmounted by an attic and coffered ceiling. The walls are not of marble but of Caen stone. Caen stone is a limestone quarried in France near the city of Caen. It was first used in the Gallo-Roman period. (the period when Gaul was under Roman influence)

Across the street, also built in 1910, at a cost of $1.5 million, stands the Union Trust Company Building, San Francisco Landmark #131. Union Trust merged with Wells Fargo Bank in 1923. The building still houses a Wells Fargo Bank branch.

Clinton Day was the architect of this Neoclassical Beaux Arts building. According to the July 1, 1908 San Francisco Call “The structure at Market Street and Grant Avenue Will Be Handsome and Commodious.” Day came from a distinguished California family. His father was State Senator Sherman Day and co-founder of College of California, the precursor to the University of California Berkeley. Clinton Day was a graduate of College of California.

This modified temple design is without a pediment. Its beautiful layered faà§ade consists of carved granite ornamentation, derived from classical antiquity that includes ten columns, a bracketed overhang and a roof crowned by a balustrade parapet. This is all accented by dark iron window framing. The curvature on the Market Street side grounds it nicely to its location.

This well-heeled area of Market Street makes these two banks stand proud, unlike the rundown Mid Market area that holds the Hibernia Bank – the subject of next week’s article.

Pediment at 1 Grant Avenue designed and sculpted by Haig Patigian.

Market St & Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94108 [Map]

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