Between the hours of nine and five, San Francisco’s Financial District hums with activity. High-paid men and women in suits and skirts dart through cross streets and clog nearby Starbucks locations, while street performers peddle their talents, creating a cacophony of impatient traffic, live music and fast-paced conversation.

But it wasn’t always so. Now known for high-rises and Fortune 500 corporate offices, the Financial District began to rise up after an influx of wealth from the 1849 Gold Rush. Let’s go on a tour of the neighborhood that boasted the first skyscrapers on the West Coast.

A glass copy negative of Russ Estate, 1860

russ estate-compressed

Photo: OpenSFHistory

In 1860, the Russ Estate was wood-paneled and laid out in front of a humble dirt road. In 1927, it was replaced by the Russ Building, which was heralded as the tallest building in San Francisco from 1927 to 1964.

California between Drumm and Market, circa 1870s


Photo: OpenSFHistory

In 1870, San Francisco was expanding its neighborhoods ever outwards, and building what would later be known as the Haight, Western Addition and the Mission. The Hyatt Regency, constructed in 1973, currently sits on this site.

Crocker Bank Building, circa 1895


Photo: OpenSFHistory

Adolph Sutro was Mayor of San Francisco in 1895. The city had fallen into disrepair due to political corruption from previous city officials, and in an effort to rejuvenate the city, Sutro commissioned the legendary Sutro Baths.

Ferry Building, circa 1900


Photo: OpenSFHistory

San Francisco’s Ferry Building was completed in 1898 by A. Page Brown in the Beaux Arts style. Interestingly, it was designed after the 12 century Giralda bell tower in Seville, Spain.

Blurred figures walking amongst ruins from the 1906 earthquake, 1906


Photo: OpenSFHistory

The entirety of the Financial District was totaled after the 1906 earthquake. This photo provides a southwest view of California Street, toward the southeast corner of Front and Pine.

Market Street, circa 1925

market st-compressed

Photo: OpenSFHistory

Ninety years on, you can still the waterfront’s iconic haze of fog hanging over commuters.

Howard & Steuart, 1938


Photo: OpenSFHistory

The Great Depression slowed down construction in the Financial District and kept the neighborhood relatively low-rise. This was also due to statewide height restrictions that were instigated after the 1906 earthquake.

Old Produce Market District, 1959


Photo: OpenSFHistory

The Old Produce Market, stretching northward from the Ferry Building, used to be the heart of San Francisco’s Italian community. This area now contains a small park and an office development.

Hartford Building, 1964

international building-compressed

Photo: OpenSFHistory

This building is interesting architecturally, with its exterior skeleton of floor-to-ceiling windows recessed into a square gridwork of white reinforced concrete. At the time it was built, it was the tallest building in all of California.

The Regional Enterprise Tower under construction, 1966


Photo: OpenSFHistory

First known as the Alcoa Building, this was the first skyscraper with an all-aluminum exterior. Before it was built, this site was home to the Nixon Theater.

44 Montgomery under construction, circa 1965


Photo: OpenSFHistory

This behemoth of a skyscraper is 43-stories high and was made famous for being the tallest building west of Dallas for two years, between 1967 and 1969.

Transamerica Pyramid’s spire under construction, 1972


Photo: OpenSFHistory

Here’s an close-up shot of the Transamerica Pyramid’s spire still under construction. The decorative aluminum spire is 212-feet tall, which is about 20 stories total. Inside of the spire you’ll find a 100-foot steel stairway.

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