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.