columbus tower

Photo: Steve McClanahan/Flickr

Standing at the juncture of San Francisco’s North Beach, Chinatown and Financial districts is Columbus Tower, otherwise known as the Sentinel Building. The eye-catching structure has been number 33 on the city’s designated landmarks list since 1970, and throughout its long history has housed some of the City by the Bay’s best-known residents.

Designed by architecture firm Salfield and Kohlberg, the copper-green building’s Flatiron-style design was popular between 1880 and 1926. It was completed in 1907 and has eight stories — the top floor was initally the headquarters for Abe Ruef, an infamously corrupt political boss who eventually spent time at San Quentin Prison for bribery.

In 1960, Columbus Tower was bought by the Kingston Trio, an internationally acclaimed folk-pop group that first gained popularity in North Beach nightclubs. The group used the building as its headquarters for 13 years.

Francis Ford Coppola, the director who wrote the screenplay for “The Godfather” in a North Beach cafe, bought the building in 1973 for $500,000. Since then, the top floor has been occupied by his film studio, American Zoetrope, which has put out films such as “Apocalypse Now” and “The Virgin Suicides.” Other current tenants include producers at NPR and PBS, as well as sound designers for Pixar and Skywalker Sound.

Want to soak up some of the history at Columbus Tower? Thanks to Cafe Zoetrope, you can — the European-style restaurant is located on the bottom floor of the building and is packed with Coppola’s cinematic memorabilia. Happy sightseeing!

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