Civic Center Cultural Landscape Inventory

View of City Hall

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Project Summary and Purpose

Quick facts about the Civic Center Cultural Landscape Inventory
  • 1,644 individual features were surveyed in Civic Center.
  • The period of significance for the Civic Center Historic District is 1896-1951.
  • Civic Center Plaza will be evaluated in further detail as part of upcoming projects, sponsored by the Recreation & Parks Department.
  • UN Plaza will be evaluated in further detail as part of the environmental review for the Better Market Street Plan.
Examples of the more prevalent character-defining features identified in the Civic Center Cultural Landscape Inventory include:
  • London Plane trees, the most abundant type of tree planted as early as 1916
  • Fire boxes, part of a citywide installation in 1899
  • Trolley poles, constructed in 1914 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition
  • Auxiliary Water Supply System fire hydrants, installed three years after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

The Civic Center Cultural Landscape Inventory provides information about the historic landscape features that contribute to the Civic Center Historic District. [1]  Cultural landscape studies focus on the important elements that express cultural values and highlight the history of a site. In Civic Center, these elements include public plazas, trees, pathways, lighting and fire boxes. These cultural landscape features serve to beautify the district, provide spaces for gathering, contemplation and rest, and they also include the formal site planning elements that make the Civic Center an important center of civic activity in San Francisco. The objective of the Cultural Landscape Inventory is to inform planning decisions within Civic Center and to encourage sensitive design treatment and maintenance of the cultural landscape.

Project Overview

archival photo of City Hall after 1906 earthquake

The 15 blocks of San Francisco's Civic Center Historic District contain many prominent cultural and governmental buildings and open spaces located in the heart of the city. Nearly destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake, it was rebuilt beginning in 1915 to serve as the site of significant historic events, including the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the formation of the United Nations, the United States Peace Treaty with Japan, and numerous civic protests and social movements, such as those associated with the Vietnam War, the House Un-American Activities Committee, the White Night Riots, and the gay rights movement.

Civic Center has multiple historic designations, including:

  • Listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 for state and national levels of significance,
  • San Francisco Landmark District designation in December 1994, and
  • Listing as a National Historic Landmark in 1987—the highest designation for a historic property in the United States.

Beaux Arts style civic buildings such as City Hall and the Veterans Building, and Beaux Arts and Modern-era designed public spaces such as the War Memorial Courtyard, Civic Center Plaza, and UN Plaza help convey the significance of the district in representing the history of the area.

archival photo showing military barracks at City Hall during WW2Over the course of two years, Planning Department, Recreation & Parks Department, and Public Utilities Commission staff, with the assistance of the planning consulting firm MIG, Inc. assessed the significance and historic integrity of the cultural landscape features of Civic Center using archival research and on-site surveys. The survey information was consolidated as a Cultural Landscape Inventory report for the entire district. This project fills in the gaps of the previous surveys and historic designation documentation to provide a comprehensive understanding of the Civic Center and all of its associated features. The Civic Center Cultural Landscape Inventory provides a study of the environments and surroundings that contribute to or enhance the cultural heritage of the Civic Center Historic District. Documented features include courtyards, statues, trees and vegetation, fire boxes and fire hydrants, curbs and pathways, lighting fixtures, utilities, and others.

How the Inventory Will be Used

Cover image of Civic Cultural Landscapse InventoryCivic Center Cultural Landscape Inventory
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The Civic Center Cultural Landscape Inventory provides critical information necessary for future planning and design efforts within Civic Center by those who own, manage, and care about this unique historic place. The information presented in the CLI will help inform planning decisions within the district and encourage consistent design treatments and maintenance of the Civic Center Historic District. Projects within Civic Center are managed and stewarded by various groups including: the San Francisco Planning Department, Recreation & Parks Department, Public Utilities Commission, Municipal Transportation Agency, Department of Public Works, and local partners.

Events and Hearings

None at this time.

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Interactive Map

This interactive map highlights the locations of the cultural landscape features in Civic Center for the period of significance (1896-1951). For each cultural landscape feature, a summary box provides additional information, including a brief description, date of construction, address, and photograph. Major cultural landscape categories are described and depicted here.

The neighborhood data behind this map can be downloaded from SanFranciscoData.

Additional Resources

Download Materials

Visiting Civic Center

Contact

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For more information please contact:

Tim Frye
Historic Preservation Officer
SF Planning Department
1650 Mission Street, Suite 400
San Francisco, CA 94103
Direct: 415-575-6822
Fax: 415-558-6409
tim.frye@sfgov.org


Photo captions for description and attribution:

  • War Memorial Building (present day)
    Courtesy of the project consultants, MIG, Inc.
  • Pioneer Monument in Marshall Square with the damaged Old City Hall in the background (1906)
    San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
  • Civic Center Plaza with prefabricated barracks to host soldiers visiting the Hospitality House at Marshall Square during World War II, 1945 
    San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

[1] The National Park Service defines a cultural landscape as, "a geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein, associated with an historic event, activity, or person, or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values."