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DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE NOTES
BY GLENN LONEY
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
 Fabulous Frisco Facades
 San Francisco City Hall Reborn
 Stanford Museum Transformed into Cantor Center
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Copyright © 1999 Glenn Loney.
All photos copyright © 1999 Glenn Loney/The Everett Collection.
For editorial and commercial uses of the Glenn Loney INFOTOGRAPHY/ArtsArchive of international photo-images, contact THE EVERETT COLLECTION, 104 West 27th Street, NYC 10010. Phone: 212-255-8610/FAX: 212-255-8612.
FINDING FABULOUS FRISCO FAÇADES:
The late Herb Caen, San Francisco's lively chronicler, always scolded visitors: "Don't call it Frisco!"
WORLD'S FAIR MEMORIES--Bernard Maybeck's 1915 Palace of Fine Arts. Originally, this was constructed of lath, mesh and plaster, like much World's Fair architecture. To save it from complete decay, it was entirely rebuilt in concrete.
But Frisco is fewer strokes on the keyboard—and quicker off the tongue.
Whatever you want to call this magical city by the Golden Gate, there's no denying it offers an amazing range of public and private buildings of architectural distinction.
From the "Painted Ladies"—those multicolored Victorian mansions—to Art Deco monuments like Timothy Pflueger's 450 Sutter Street, wonderful fantasies of architecture and ornament abound.
Here a few quick shots of two treasures: Bernard Maybeck's Beaux Arts Palace of Fine Arts, created for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition, and the 18th century altar of Mission Dolores and its neighboring cast-concrete Mexican Plattoresque Basilica.
Oddly enough, the façade of the Basilica looks like some the Art Deco confections devised for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exhibition on Treasure Island. Or perhaps like a 1920s Hispanic Movie-Palace.
ALTAR ON EL CAMINO REAL--Completed in 1791, Mission Dolores has been restored, but this is the original Baroque altar, handcrafted in Mexico. It is still used for services and is a tourist mecca.
In late January, admirers of the architecture of Bernard Maybeck gathered in his unique Christian Science Church in Berkeley. They are raising money to preserve his Bay Area Heritage—which is considerable.
ART DECO BAROQUE EXTRAVAGANCE--The Basilica next to Mission Dolores rivals Mexico's great cathedrals. But it is earthquake-proofed and definitely not made of adobe bricks. During a severe quake, those fantastic ornaments are not supposed to fall into the street.
They also want to raise the general level of consciousness—in both locals and tourists—about his impressive legacy.
The Christian Science Church is remarkable for its use of precast concrete and asbestos panels, It also has banks of factory-windows. The ensemble is a low-lying complex resembling Art Nouveau Gothic—draped with wisteria.
Inside San Francisco City Hall:Badly damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, San Francisco's magnificent Beaux Arts City Hall has just re-opened. Since 1995, it has taken some 600 workers per day to isolate its foundations from the ground beneath it.
Onward & Upward Inside the Dome!
As well as to preserve it historically and outfit it for the technologies of the 21st Century. Now it probably looks even more splendid than when it was inaugurated in 1915 by Mayor "Sunny Jim" Rolph.
HIGHER THAN THE DC DOME--The splendid gilded dome of San Francisco's Beaux Arts City Hall is topped with a golden torch. This recalls the City's symbolic rebirth from the Quake and Fire of 1906.
With its base rooted in the ground, the City Hall's great neo-classic dome acted like a pendulum during a quake. To prevent this, great rubber & steel discs have been installed under each column of the structure.
These are called base-isolators. They permit the entire building to "roll with the punches." In a severe quake, it can now move from side to side without undue fracturing. A four-foot moat surrounds the two-block long structure.
For those who like Guinness-style superlatives, it is now the World's Largest Base-Isolated Building!
It is also the only National Landmark so protected from rigors of the Richter Scale.
Not only is the great dome larger than those of many a state capitol, it is also 40 feet higher than the Capitol Dome in Washington, D. C.
It is often compared with the immense domes of St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London.
Both the inner and outer dome shells have been thoroughly reinforced to protect them from further quake tremors.
Recently, I was given the Grand Tour of the wonderfully restored "French Renaissance" building and its interiors.
This included the steep ascent—by a series of spiral staircases—upward between the inner and outer shells of the domes which top the great rotunda.
The splendid stucco dome decoration which visitors see from the grand staircase is completely separate from the outer shell. It is firmly fixed to a complex metal and mesh inverted-bowl armature.
It is open at the top, so what appears to be the ornamental summit of this dome is actually a circular plaster shell attached to the top of the outer dome bracing. Another innovation to defeat quake fractures!
DOME WITHIN A DOME--The City Hall's coffered plaster dome rises from the rotunda on a circle of neo-classic columns. Above it is a separate dome-lid, attached to the structure of the exterior dome.
When I reached the topmost level—high above the dome of City Hall, in its great golden lantern—the view was similar to being in a helicopter.
BRACING THE DOME--View of the construction which supports the inner decorative dome of San Francisco City Hall.
Breathtaking! And not least because of the steep climb upward. This is not a standard feature of new City Hall Tours for obvious reasons.
It's a very tight fit inside the domes. The final vertical metal ladder passes through an opening not designed for the broad-shouldered.
My helpful guide, Kevin Lemmon, let me go it alone. His shoulders are very broad. Mine aren't.
On the main floor of the great rotunda, a massive marble staircase sweeps up to the lavishly decorated Chamber of the Board of Supervisors.
This looks like an ideal setting for a New Year's Eve Ball. In fact, during our tour, staff of the San Francisco Ballet were setting up for that evening's Ballet Gala.
Not only do diners and dancers have this immense space—with noble balconies overlooking the festivities—for their frolics. But there are also two huge Light-Courts on the east and west sides of the rotunda.
San Francisco's dynamic Mayor, Willie L. Brown, Jr., envisioned the new/old City Hall as a glorious and historic public space. Not only is it available for civic celebrations and fund-raising parties like the Gala, but it has once again become the central city office-building.
Citizens can pay city bills and fees here. And former courtrooms have been refitted as venues for public hearings.
The original building was designed by John Bakewell, Jr., and Arthur Brown, Jr. They were both known for their mastery of Parisian Beaux Arts style.
Brown was also architect of the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House and the Veterans Building, which stand nobly across Van Ness Avenue from City Hall.
The ensemble of these magnificent civic buildings has been regarded as one of the most splendid Beaux Arts achievements outside Europe.
Carey and Company, preservation architects, took great pains to ensure accurate historic restoration of the exteriors and interiors. Consistent, of course, with official and public usage needs in the new century.
When it was completed in 1915, City Hall cost $3.5 million. The current project—funded by a bond issue in 1995—has cost at least $63.5 million.
This great civic monument has seen a lot of history in its time. On one terrible day here, the disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White shot dead both Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.
Earthquakes and Last Breakfasts:
Stanfords and Cantors Provide a New Arts Center
For Public and Students at Stanford University
Down the Peninsula from San Francisco, the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake badly damaged both the golden mosaic Memorial Chapel and the Art Museum at Stanford University.
ATHENA ON THE STAIRCASE--Greek goddess Pallas Athena dominates the great neo-classical stairs of the Stanford Museum.
Only two weeks after San Francisco's City Hall re-opened, newly earthquake-proofed, the Leland Stanford Jr. Art Museum was historically restored to vibrant new life as part of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts.
In the infamous 1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Fire, the damage to the Chapel and the Museum complex—not to mention the devastation elsewhere on campus—was shocking. But subsequent reconstruction did not provide adequate measures for further quake-shock protection.
That has now been admirably provided by the designs of the Manhattan firm of Polshek and Partners. These plans incorporate the original concrete Roman Atrium and wings of the Stanford Museum with the open, airy, light-flooded postmodernist galleries and corridors of the Cantor Center.
Because Governor and Mrs. Stanford were smitten with heroic neo-classic architecture on their European tours, the entire campus reflects a Victorian version of Tuscan colonnades and Florentine villas.
But the Art Museum—with its great double staircase, flanked by columned balconies—wouldn't have been out of place in Athens or the Kaiser's Berlin.
The wonder is that the new fits so well with the old. This is enhanced by spreading collections of artworks and ethnic artifacts from various cultures and periods throughout the building.
Though the trendier contemporary paintings, sculptures, and Brillo Boxes are clearly more at ease in the handsome new galleries behind the main museum.
To the original 78,000 square feet of the Stanford Museum, the Cantor bequest and other gifts have added some 42,000 square feet. Including an attractive small auditorium, a bookshop, and a café with a trendy menu.
There's also 39,000 square feet of outdoor sculpture garden, peopled largely with castings of famous Rodin statues. Iris Cantor and her late husband have also donated similar castings to both the Met and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
[As much older castings of Rodin's works have long been on view at the California Palace of the Legion of Arts, in San Francisco, the Bay Area is Rodin-rich.]
The project has cost some $36.8 million, seeded by an initial Cantor grant, but amply augmented by impressive foundation and private gifts. Carmen M. Christensen was a major donor.
There is a special room reserved for Stanford Family Memorabilia. Silver souvenirs from the Driving of the Golden Spike recall Governor/Senator Stanford's central role in linking the American Continent by rail. At Promontory, Utah, in 1869, the Central Pacific was joined with the Union Pacific.
JANE STANFORD IN STONE--This handsome portrait is rendered in tiny pieces of mosaic. The frame is pure Victorian Excess.
Jane Lathrop Stanford and her husband idolized their son, Leland Jr. When he died young on a European tour in Venice, they were inconsolable.
So they founded what has long been one of America's premiere universities: "The Harvard of the West."
Young Leland's collections were lovingly laid out in the museum. These included some geological specimens he had collected.
They looked like fried-eggs and strips of bacon. Irreverent students labeled them "Leland Stanford's Last Breakfast."
This stone repast is not currently on view, but a jokey modern ceramic version is.
LITTLE LELAND'S LAST BREAKFAST--This is sculptor David Gilhooly's 1991 amusing evocation of an old Standord fable.
As are the camera and the photographic results of Eadweard Muybridge's experiments on the Stanford Farm, with multiple exposures of horses running and nude males moving.
Thomas K. Seligman is director. Among current exhibitions is "Picasso: Graphic Magician." This will close on March 28.
These intriguing exhibits and the building-complex itself are free to the public. It's closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Generically, it is listed as Stanford University, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts. Phone: 650-723-4177. Or surf the Web-site: www.stanford.edu/dept/ccva/
So much for Leland Stanford Junior! Not to mention his parents' taste in showy 19th Century Salon Paintings! Most of which must be hidden away in storage.
Copyright © Glenn Loney 1999. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, Curator's Choice." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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