Old Federal Reserve Bank Building, San Francisco
Constructed in 1923, the Old Federal Reserve Building served as the headquarters of the San Francisco branch of the Federal Reserve until 1983. The San Francisco Federal Reserve is now located at 1st and Market Street, at a facility constructed to accommodate the growth of the branch. Also called the Bently Reserve, this historic structure has since been owned by several private companies. Although the building is not open to regular visitors, many of the boardrooms and other historic spaces are used for private and public functions.
Backstory and Context
Construction began on the building in 1924, following the establishment of the San Franciso Reserve Bank. On November 16, 1914, the bank had opened at a temporary location in order to comply with the Federal Reserve Act. In 1918, a lot measuring 119.5 by 275 feet was purchased for the construction of the Reserve Building, and a prominent architect, George Kelham, was chosen to work on the design of the structure. Kelham had previously been the chief architect of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and led the conservative wing of the San Francisco architectural establishment.
Although construction was to begin on 1919, a shortage of labor and construction materials delayed work on the building. The need a proper facility was so pressing, however, that construction began by the next year, and was completed by 1924. Architecturally, the Federal Reserve Bank Building is representative of the Federal Government's use of monumental architecture during the beginning of the 20th Century. It features classically-inspired halls and takes influence from the Panama-Pacific Exposition. The structure's entablature is decorated with a row of free-standing eagles.
In addition to the archtectural elements, the building has significant artistic merits, such as a mural in the main lobby painted by Jules Guerin; the mural depicts Venetian shipping merchants. The entrance houses two sculptures, "Hermes and Dyonisos: Monument to Analysis," by the New Realist Artist Arman, Dionysus, and Hermes. The spiral staircase encircles another sculpture by Fritz Koenig, a untitled bronze sphere with black etchings.
The foundation was intended to support additional stories, but the building was not expanded. John J. Balles, President of the San Francisco Federal Reserve, decided to relocate the Reserve headquarters, citing the need to consolidate departments and the increase in staff since the organization's inception. When the Federal Reserve Bank moved to larger facilities in 1983, the building was sold to private developers. It now functions as office space, and the upper rooms are rented out for fundraisers, events, meetings, and confeferences. Bently Holdings undertook an extensive rennovation effort after purchasing the Old Federal Reserve in 2005, updating the interior technologies to be more sustainable, and it is of only thirteen commerical spaces to recieve LEED-CI Platinum Certification from the US Green Building Council. The company also took great pains to preserve the original Beaux-Arts style of the structure. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
There are several other points of historic interest at the Old Federal Reserve. The basement vault, for example, has remained intact. Additionally, beneath the building are the remains of two scuttled ships. The Apollo and Niantic were among dozens of ships that were abandoned by their crew during the San Francisco Gold Rush. Records indicate that as many as 500 vessels filled the San Francisco Bay in 1849 as prospectors arrived in the city and were joined by crew members in the gold fields. Given the scarcity of lumber, some of these ships were brought ashore and used as homes or even store fronts. Two meeting rooms in the building are named after the ships found on the property.