26 July 2012
I. Medical-Dental Building, 450 Sutter Street, San Francisco (1929)
II. Coit Tower at the Top of Telegraph Hill, San Francisco (1933)
III. Other Art Deco Examples, San Francisco
Let me know which is your favorite. (I could not choose, because I am so smitten with each Art Deco style.)
Art Deco and San Francisco are a duo. Even though Mother Nature (e.g., earthquakes) influences the city’s architectural longevity, many 1920s-1930s buildings stand proudly as representatives of the Bay’s sumptuous designs and history.
Architecture stands as a testament to the human spirits’ abilities to create structures that are not only utilitarian but aesthetically captivating. Art Deco is wedged between Art Nouveau and Modernism, and the West Coast’s Bay area is a dream for aficionados.
Art Deco’s standards include sleek and geometric lines with bold colors, stepped or tiered shapes, and materials such as concrete, glass and metal. This movement’s influence spread into the popular culture where it planted its decorative leanings into everything. See photograph # one in the Lens section where the lettering above the door of the entrance to the garage is case-in-point: the Art Deco stylized font.
Mostly, simplicity is its main characteristic–its pure lines that have the feel of a fast and then slower train moving toward a destination. But within the discipline are offshoots such as Neo-Mayan as exemplified by photographs 1-5.
Daily commuters, residents and visitors to San Francisco will notice its abundance of Art Deco architecture that weaves into the city’s vibrancy. During my travels with my teenage grandchildren to this golden city, it became a running joke: Art Deco up ahead. My granddaughter ribbed me mucho times about my excitement each time that I witnessed yet another diner, gate, home, theater, and skyscraper in the genre.
Our first sighting was the Golden Gate Bridge. Not only could we gaze upon its streamlined design, but we saw it from all vantage points (except above). The walk back and forth are stored and easily retrievable. To see my photographs of that journey about one of our country’s landmark icons, visit my post titled ” San Francisco: The Golden City, Part One.” Click here to see and pay particular attention to photographs #3 and #9. Art-Deco architectural theme can be seen in the lamp posts, railings and walkways. But it is the towers at either end that display a strong sense of the period’s design sensibility.
On our on-foot travels we saw more than we could ever record in our memories and through our iPhones and my Nikon camera. The photographs in the Lens section are small tributes to our discoveries and to the 20s and 30s when Art Deco was the precursor to Art Moderne.
Here are some comments about the other examples found in the Lens section:
1. Medical-Dental Building was designed by the renowned architect Timothy Ludwig Pflueger, who was a native to the city, and left an outstanding legacy throughout his forty-year career. 450 Sutter shows distinct elements of the Mayan Revival arm of Art Deco. It’s truly one of Pflueger’s masterpieces. As we stood in its shadow, there was nothing to do by be in awe of such staggeringly gorgeous craftsmanship. If you want to learn more about the architect, you can peruse Art Deco San Francisco: Architecture of Timothy Pflueger (2008).
2. Another day we walked through North Beach and took a leisurely walk up Filbert to Telegraph Hill, the views behind us were enticing. But ahead was such a treat that we continued on course. Coit Tower, which was designed by Arthur Brown, Jr., was standing in the distance. On a spectacular hilltop sits the Art Deco Tower that provides a sweeping view of the city. But it also houses one of the city’s historic collections of murals that document life in California during the depression. Artists, who were part of the WPA (Federal Work Projects Administration), painted directly onto the concrete walls. The lobby of the tower is covered with their gems. I’m sure that it’s darkly lit to preserve these historic frescoes. Here are some images from Google.
3. Every day we discovered other examples within zigzag streets and areas with distinct and unique qualities. In the Financial District the mirrored skyscraper seemed to take up the entire skyline. Although it rises with stylized symmetry, its girth amazes. It tantalizes with your visual grounding. I could easily have stood in its presence for hours. The afternoon was gray and still the facade was ablaze with confident pride. From our viewpoint an entire grouping of sculptures seemed like playthings. It is quite a juxtaposition.
San Franciscan Art Deco stuns at every turn. Each is a monument to the city’s heritage. Each is a tribute to 1920s and 1930s in which the history of architecture and urban planning took a turn towards the new–the new that changed our cityscapes forever.
Note: As always I welcome comments about this post or any part of my blog. If you want to see another source about San Franciscan Art Deco, see Michael F. Crowe’s Deco by the Bay: Art Deco Architecture in the San Francisco Bay Area (1995).