San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
Fire-damaged Hibernia Bank, 1906. The pile of rubble in the foreground is all that remained of the Callaghan Building; on the right are the ruins of the Murphy Building.
One doesn't find many ruins in San Francisco, dwelling in stark juxtaposition of modern architecture, especially since our city is very
young in comparison to European countries. Nonetheless, we do have one relic offering a similar experience of architectural nostalgia and it's a ruin in a neighborhood that is infamous for its hard-knock life aspect.
The Hibernia Bank
Building on the intersection of Jones and Market holds a fall from grace place in San Francisco history. It's an architectural treasure constructed in the Beaux-arts tradition remnanisant of that of City Hall. It was an extremely popular gathering spot at the turn of the century and a focal point in the City's skyline. But that has all been forgotten, and therefore the building’s exterior has suffered greatly from years of neglect and abuse.
It stands in desolate abandon.
The Hibernia Bank was founded in 1859, in a small office at the corner of Jackson and Montgomery, and among the first clients were Irish miners with imperfect gold. "Hibernia"
was the name given to Ireland by the the first century Roman historian Tacitus, and the Hibernia Bank was a financial manifestation of the growing Irish population in the region.
Juan De Anda/SF Weekly
This Beauty is a Wreck!
According to FoundSF
, The Hibernia Bank accepted the miners' unminted gold without any hesitation.
"[They] earned a reputation among them for courteous and efficient transactions, and eventually became known as 'the people’s bank.' Business increased apace and before long the bank moved to more spacious quarters at Montgomery and Post, but the institution’s extraordinary growth over the next two decades eventually demanded another change."
That change resulted in a new building by then unknown architect Albert Pissis
; construction concluded in 1892 and the very-French-Beaux-Arts-style began appearing in other S.F. buildings as well: City Hall, the War Memorial Opera House, as well as another Pissis' building: The Westfield's Downtown Centre
While the Hibernia Bank was one of the few buildings to survive the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, reopening in 1908 after renovations, it slowly began to decay and its grand appearance began to fade. In 1988
, the Hibernia Bank was purchased by the Security Pacific Bank and the building then served as headquarters for the San Francisco Police Department Tenderloin Task Force until 2000, when the new Tenderloin Station was finally completed.
Purchased by the Doleman Group in 2008
with plans of renovation and development, nothing has happened since and it remains vacant. Last year, the facade became a canvas for a tagger
who spray painted graffiti on the historic structure.
So although the future of building is uncertain, one should definitely pause while walking down Market — to catch a glimpse of the decaying grandeur of old San Francisco before it's gone.