Overview of City Hall in San Francisco

San Francisco City Hall

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink 

To get an in-depth look at San Francisco City Hall, you can take a complimentary Docent Tour on weekdays. San Francisco City Guides also offer free walking tours that include City Hall and the Civic Center area. You can skip the tour and wander unescorted to see exactly what you would like. The ground floor of City Hall houses frequent art exhibits presented by the San Francisco Arts Commission. Check for currents exhibits. Weddings are a big deal here, and you will more than likely see a wedding party taking pictures inside and out of this architectural wonder.

City Hall History and Trivia

San Francisco is one of the biggest small cities in the world. With a total area of forty-nine square miles and less than a million inhabitants, its city hall dome is almost a foot taller than the United States Capitol Building, and it is considered one of the finest examples of classical architecture in the country.

During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the City Hall crumbled into rubble. On April 15, 1913, Mayor "Sunny Jim" Rolph broke ground on San Francisco's sixth City Hall. It took three years and $3.5 million to build. In 1989, a major earthquake struck again. This time, the City Hall remained standing, but it was deemed seismically unsafe. The city completed a $293 million upgrade and seismic retrofit in 1998.

The resurrected city hall was officially re-opened on January 5, 1999. While it restored the building to its original beauty, the project wasn't just a cosmetic restoration. To isolate it from the shock of the next "big one," engineers installed 530 lead-rubber isolators that act like huge shock absorbers, making City Hall the world's largest base-isolated building. Every feature of the building, from the rotunda with its imposing staircase and Mongolian mahogany-paneled the supervisor's chambers was restored to the original design.

Many news-worthy events occurred in City Hall, but one of the oddest happened in the summer of 1923. President Warren G. Harding was in Alaska when he received a message that caused a hasty return to Washington. Upon reaching San Francisco, he became ill and died on August 2, 1923. The official cause of death is unknown because his wife refused to allow an autopsy. Some say it was a heart attack, a stroke or pneumonia, but one of the most colorful theories is that his wife was fed up with his extramarital affairs and poisoned him. Whatever the cause of his death, Harding's body lay in state in City Hall.

Many people have been married here, but one of the most famous marriages was Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.

In 1978, former city supervisor Dan White assassinated Mayor Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk. There was a​ long political history that led up the assassination. Harvey Milk was the first openly-gay elected official in San Francisco, and much has been written about the importance of his election and his death.

Among others, San Francisco City Hall has appeared in these films: "A View to a Kill," "Class Action," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Jagged Edge," "Magnum Force," "Milk," "The Rock," and "The Wedding Planner."

What You Need to Know About San Francisco City Hall

Open to the public Monday through Friday during business hours.No admission fee. Reservations are not required. Allow about an hour to tour. Any time it's open is a great time to visit, but tours are given on a schedule.

Where Is San Francisco City Hall?

San Francisco City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco City Hall Website

San Francisco City Hall is located on Van Ness Avenue a few blocks from its intersection with Market Street.

Using public transportation, take MUNI bus line 19 or take BART to the Civic Center Station.

This article was written in conjunction with Martha Bakerjian

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