Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Sentinel Building

The Sentinel Building is located at the corners of Columbus Avenue, Kearny Street, and Jackson Street in San Francisco.  It sits on the borders of North Beach, China Town, and the Financial District.  It is designated City of San Francisco Historic Landmark number 33.

The building dates back to the early 20th century, with construction beginning in 1906.  However, completion of the building was substantially delayed following the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and significant damage to the unfinished building.  The Sentinel Building is considered a Flatiron-style office building, since it occupies a narrow, triangular plot of land at the intersection of three streets.  The exterior of t Sentinel Building is clad in copper plating which has weathered over time, giving the building its current color and aesthetic.

The Sentinel Building has always been mixed use, housing offices and restaurants over the last century.  One of the first occupants of the building was a local San Francisco politician named Abe Ruef, who kept his offices on the top floor.  Ruef was the political boss behind former San Francisco Mayor Eugene Schmitz, who served from 1902 to 1907.  Ruef was a powerful figure in local politics in the years surrounding the San Francisco Earthquake.  He is known in particular for heading the Subcommittee on Relocating the Chinese, an unsuccessful bid to push the Chinese population of San Francisco out of the China Town neighborhood following the earthquake.  Ruef occupied the Sentinel Building after his political star had begun to fall.  During the years he was a tenant of the Sentinel Building he was under indictment by the City and County of San Francisco for corruption and bribery of city officials.  During the court proceedings it became known that he was deeply connected with a web of government corruption that involved local gas rates, prize fight fixing, overhead trolley line placement, and home telephone regulation.  He was eventually convicted on 65 counts of bribery and was sentenced to 14 years in San Quentin.

The building also housed Caesar's a popular Prohibition-era restaurant that is credited with the creation off the original Caesar Salad.  The restaurant was shut down under the auspices of the Eighteenth Amendment during a crackdown on illegal drinking establishments.

The Sentinel Building was later owned by the Kingston Trio and was used by them as their corporate headquarters.  However, by the 1970s the building was starting to fall into disrepair.  Film director Francis Ford Coppola purchased the building and extensively renovated and remodeled it, and continues to use the building to house his offices.  The corporate offices of American Zoetrope Studios, Coppola's film company, occupy most of the building, while the ground level is taken up by the Cafe Zoetrope.

Getting There By Bike...
The Sentinel Building is located at a busy intersection on the border of the North Beach neighborhood.  The building itself is quite easy to find  and is a quick ride from the Financial District.  Be aware that the streets in this neighborhood tend not to have large shoulders or bike lanes and that traffic can be heavy around this part of town.

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