The Misses Butler

Located on the north-west corner of Powell & Ellis, this one at least has a faint sliver of a story.  Beginning in July of 1921, it was the residence of the great writer of hard boiled detective novels, Dashiell Hammett.  It was the first place he lived in San Francisco.  Presumably it was chosen because he only needed to cross to the south-east corner of the intersection to enter the Flood Building, where he was employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency.  His novels, written later - especially the Maltese Falcon -  are full of references to locations in the area.

The real mystery here (to me) is -  who were the Misses Butler?  There are numerous references to "the Misses Butler" in society columns of the time, usually in lists of guests at some soiree.  But I can get no farther.



Roullier Building

I know still less about this building.  Likely it was named for Albert Roullier or a member of his family.  Albert Roullier was a partner, and the principal Parisian buyer, of the White House Department Store.  I can find only two other references to the building.  At 20 feet it is a runner-up on someone's list of "San Francisco's skinniest buildings".  And there is currently a plan to convert it into 7 loft-type condos. 

And I love the little faces in the capitals



Rosenstock Building

I know even less about this building in the first block of Geary, apart from the fact that Rosenstock was one of Pissis' influential contacts in the Jewish Community at the time which seams to have led to several commissions.  The same reference states that Pissis also did the Rosenstock Family Mausoleum, presumably in Colma.



Rochat-Cordes Building

My purpose in doing all this is to visit different parts of the city, get in a nice walk, and come back with some photos and a story. 

It stands to reason that sometimes there just isn't going to be much of a story.  Herewith the first of three commissions by Albert Pissis that fit in that category.

I found an excerpt of a 1907 edition of the San Francisco Call stating that Ernest Rochat. William Cordes, James T. Gates and Herbert Mauch formed a Real Estate company in that year called "Rochat-Cordes" Real Estate.  They were evidently fairly active in the city for the next few years, and presumably this building was erected at their behest.  But that's all I can find.

I've often wondered at how the building's big picture windows bend into the alley on its flank, but apparently at that time the alley was more of a street than it is now.

More ...


Mechanics' Institute Library

In the 19th Century, a "mechanic" was anyone who worked with the burgeoning technologies of the Industrial Revolution.  It could include anyone from professional photographers to operating engineers.  The need for vocational training and access to technical information was great, especially in a provincial backwater like San Francisco was at the time.  And in the aftermath of the Gold Rush there were many unemployed men looking to take up a trade.

So, as in many other cities, San Franciscans formed a Mechanics' Institute.  The Institute developed a library of technical literature, gave training classes, and hosted an annual industrial trade show.  It also provided an alternative to taverns for a place to socialize with others. 

The San Francisco Mechanic's Institute was successful and well off financially and even though their vast library and exhibit hall were destroyed in 1906, they had the financial resources and real estate holdings to quickly rebuild.  By 1910 they were outgrowing rented quarters and Albert Pissis was engaged to design this structure in his "severely classical" style.  The street level is rented to retail, the library and chess room is on 2 and 3, and the upper floors are offices. 

The Institute still thrives today.  The library has evolved into a more general collection and the Institute hosts frequent lectures by well known writers with admission free to members. There is still an active and popular chess room.  Membership is now open to anyone willing to pay the $95 annual dues if only to have a convenient place downtown to relax in a quiet atmosphere.  Maybe I'll join.


Emporium Dome

The main reason that I chose to post the two main elements of Pissis' design in this building seperately was because they were created more than ten years apart.  But it was also because at the moment I don't do many interior shots.  And finally, it is because until very recently, I was mislead by one of my reference books which incorrectly assigned the original building to a different architect. 

Nevertheless, I think it is pretty enough to merit its own show anyway.  Don't you?




Parrot Building

Built originally in 1896 for the estate of John Parrott, a pioneering San Francisco Banker who had died in 1884 it began as the customary office building with ground floor retail.  In fact, at one time it was the official seat of the California Supreme Court. 

By 1906, the retail shops had coalesced through merger into the Emporium Department Store, long a San Francisco Institution.  The building withstood the earthquake but was gutted by the fire.  Only the facade survived. 

Pissis, who, in the intervening years had designed the neighboring Flood Building in part to complement the Parrott Building, also oversaw the restoration and expansion, retaining the facade and designing a new dome for the center of the building.

The Emporium closed in the early 1990's.  After some years, it was replaced by a new extension of the adjacent Westfield shopping mall.  The facade was kept, and the dome was raised two floors as the centerpiece of the new structure.

Today the facade, tomorrow the dome.



Albert Pissis

Albert Pissis was born in Guaymas, Mexico in April 1852 - about a generation before Walter Bliss.  His mother was Mexican, his father an immigrant French Physician who took his family to San Francisco in 1858.  

Pissis' career began with a short apprenticeship with William Mooser, before attending the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, apparently the first Californian to do so.  He returned to San Francisco in 1880 and for the first few years he designed homes in the fashionable Eastlake and Queen Anne styles of the day.  But eventually he became the champion of Classicism, designing a number of significant buildings both before and after 1906. 

He was, by all accounts a critical fellow, even of his own works, and had little use for the modern architects of the day, like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. 

The Flood Building

LIke its neighbor, the Bank of Italy building, the Flood Building stands at the foot of Powell Street, where it meets Market. Making it perhaps the most recognizable of Pissis' works.

It was built in 1904 by James L. Flood in memory of his father, James Clair Flood, who made the family fortune thru investments in the Comstock mines.  Although gutted by the 1906 fire, it survived, in large measure because of its relatively modern steel frame construction.

Nearly demolished in the late 1930's, it was taken over by the military during WWII.   

The current generation of the Flood family, which still owns the building, has acquired quality retail tenants for the street level, and the upper floors provide office space for doctors, dentists, etc.