Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Splendid Survivors

Splendid Survivors: San Francisco's Downtown Architectural Heritage is perhaps the most meticulously prepared book to date on the history of San Francisco's buildings. This book was created with a purpose of documenting the City's downtown architecture with an aim of taking stock of what deserved preservation.

The authors compare their mission of preservation with environmental conservation: "a broader and more sophisticated understanding of environmental quality [should] encompass natural and man-made factors that make up our environment." They lay stress on preserving a "sense of place" and "cultural continuity." They also maintain that in most cases, older buildings were better constructed and better suited to the native climate.

Splendid Survivors is primarily an inventory of 790 buildings in San Francisco's Financial District, South of Market, Union Square and Market Street districts. This inventory includes the address, the name of the building, the date of its construction and when available the architect(s). Most entries include a paragraph about the building and a photograph. They also
rate the buildings on a scale from A to D - the "A" buildings having "outstanding qualities of architecture, historical values and relationship to the environment."

This book also includes an excellent essay by Michael R. Corbett entitled "Historical Background" that traces the architectural history of downtown San Francisco. It also details the buildings that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire buildings.

In light of the construction boom that took place in San Francisco in the late 1990s and early 2000s the work that went into this book probably played a role in preserving San Francisco's architectural character. It also documents the City as it was before this transformation.

Strolling with this book through San Francisco's downtown, one can truly develop an appreciation for the layers of historic and the dynamics of change on the City's streets.

Splendid Survivors: San Francisco's Downtown Architectural Heritage, prepared by Charles Hall Page & Associates, Inc., for the Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage,text by Michael R. Corbett. (California Living Books, 1979).

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