Tourism for Locals: Hallidie Building First in Nation to Employ Glass Curtain Style

San Francisco is, and has been, home to inquisitive authors, brilliant inventors, and — as we'll explore this week — architectural mavericks. 

While we know that San Francisco is home to famous buildings and homes, we have one edifice that employed a revolutionary technique that was not only a first in the United States but also set the standard for several modern buildings we see around the world today.

[jump] At first sight, the Hallidie Building might appear to be another office building with lots of windows, but when constructed in 1918 it was shockingly original in its use of the glass curtain wall technique, which consists of glass panes suspended in a steel-mullion grid.  

According to TNEMEC, the company in charge of the painting restoration completed last year, the glass facade is projected in front of the perimeter base columns, with concrete sills supported by bearing anchors to carry the weight of the glass skin. The windows pivot horizontally to facilitate natural ventilation in conjunction with conventional windows in the wall behind it. Beside the fairly plain glass facade, the edifice sports a few Gothic embellishments at the cornices, balconies and fire escapes, and thin zinc panels are adorned with birds and flowers in blue and gold tones (in honor of UC Berkeley).
Designed by Willis Polk, one of San Francisco's leading architects at the turn of the 20th century, the Hallidie Building was owned by the University of California and named for one of its former regents, Andrew Hallidie, who also invented the cable car. Besides the Hallidie Building, Polk is remembered for his Beach Chalet in Golden Gate Park and as a controversy-seeker who dismissed the Victorian homes of his time as “architectural nightmare(s) conceived in a reign of terror.” 

The Hallidie Building was Polk's last major work before his death in 1924, and it was deemed as his magnum opus by critics at the time and still reigns as such. And in 1971, the Hallidie Building was listed on both the National Registry of Historic Places and the San Francisco Historic Landmarks and Districts. 

But decades of rolling fog and casual maintenance caused severe damage to the nearly century old building. Much of the original paint color was faded and the support beams were rusted and corroded by continuous water damage. In August 2010, the Hallidie Building was deemed unsafe by the City of San Francisco's Department of Building Inspection. The building's balconies and fire escapes were considered unsafe and not up to code.

After a two-year restoration of the glass wall and decorative balconies and cornices, the scaffolding that covered the Hallidie Building was removed in May 2013. The seven-storied structure is located on Sutter at Kearny and its ground level retail space house a post office and Hound, a high-end men's formal wear shop. 

So the next time you're walking up Sutter to go to the post office, take a second to marvel at its brilliance — and then go get in line for stamps.

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