THE VISIONARY LEADERS & ARTISTS
AT 155 SANSOME STREET
The Stock Exchange Tower
Designed by the noted San Francisco architectural firm Miller & Pflueger under the direction of Timothy Pflueger (1892–1946), the 11-story building opened just one year after the stock market crash. The Stock Exchange Tower housed the offices of brokers who worked on the trading floor of the adjacent San Francisco Stock Exchange at 301 Pine Street, which currently houses Equinox Fitness.
Pflueger, one of the first California architects to incorporate Classic European Modernism into his work, believed that great art should be an integral part of great architecture. He commissioned a number of the era’s most renowned artists and craftsmen to work on The Stock Exchange Tower, which is considered the finest example of the interior art deco style in the city and among the finest examples in the state. Now home to The City Club of San Francisco, the building formerly housed The Pacific Stock Exchange Lunch Club (1930–1987).
The City Club’s Entrance
The City Club’s formal entrance on the tenth floor features a bank of elevator doors faced with images designed by interior architect Michael Goodman and executed by English artist Harry Dixon (1890–1967). Five different metals are featured: silver, Monel (nickel alloys), copper, bronze and brass. The first pair of elevator doors shows San Francisco at air level, at land level and below sea level. The second pair depicts the four winds and two hemispheres of the world. The third pair presents the convergence of old and new architecture and fashion and transportation.
Between the tenth and eleventh floors, the remarkable grand staircase balusters designed by Robert Boardman Howard (1896-1983) are fashioned using chrome-plated steel. Stylized figures in brass represent a day in the life of a stockbroker, clad in business, golf and formal evening attire. The newel post at the base of the staircase forms the initials “PSELC” for The City Club’s original name, The Pacific Stock Exchange Lunch Club.
Rivera’s Famed and Controversial Fresco
American artist Ralph Stackpole (1895–1973)—who created the monumental sculptures that flank the entrance of the adjacent San Francisco Stock Exchange—was responsible for commissioning artists for the interior of The City Club. His choice of Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886–1957) was controversial at the time. Local newspapers referred to the incongruity of selecting a Hispanic artist of Rivera’s leftward political leanings to create a mural in “the citadel of capitalism.” Nonetheless, the renowned artist arrived in 1931 and completed what became the centerpiece and the symbol of The City Club.
Rivera created his first U.S. fresco on the wall and the ceiling of the grand stairwell of The City Club. The central figure represents Calafia, the Spirit of California, for whom the state is named. Her right hand mines the Earth for its hidden treasure while her left hand holds the treasures that grow aboveground.
Tennis professional and Olympic gold medalist Helen Wills Moody (1905–1998), a friend of Stackpole’s, posed as Calafia. The fresco also features portraits of carpenter James Marshall, whose discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill started the California Gold Rush, and famed horticulturist Luther Burbank. Other figures represent an engineer, a merchant and a farmer panning for gold. Youth and its dreams are represented by a boy holding an airplane. (The model was Stackpole’s son Peter, now an award-winning photographer.) The oil industry and shipping are illustrated above Calafia’s shoulders.
The large figure on the ceiling is positioned diagonally, reflecting the diagonal line created by the stair rail. Flanked by the sun and billowy clouds, the image depicts electrical achievement.
In addition to carving the panels on the stairwell flanking Rivera’s fresco, Stackpole chose several fellow California artists to create the original designs gracing The City Club today. The sculpted corner pieces and panels are the endeavors of Ruth Cravath (1902–1985), Adeline Kent Howard (1900–1957), Robert Boardman Howard and Clifford Wright (1919–1999). The bronze of a mountain lion by noted sculptor Arthur Putnam (1873–1930) is located in the alcove near the restrooms. Painter and lithographer Otis Oldfield (1890–1969) created the hunting scenes on The Wine Cellar’s windows to simulate stained glass. Originally named The Grille Room, the space functioned as a bar during prohibition.
The Dining Rooms
Pflueger, Stackpole and Goodman used a wide range of local and imported materials in The City Club’s magnificent rooms. Belgian blue marble and St. Genevieve golden vein marble combine in the monumental fireplace of the Main Dining Room. Hungarian ash wainscoting below Avodire veneer walls is joined with ebony and pear wood window casings. The mantelpiece of the Jeanne Dare stone fireplace in The City Club Café was carved in place by Stackpole and features an archer surrounded by incised figures representing the moods of man. Ceilings in many of the rooms feature glimmering gold leaf, brass leaf or metal tiles.
Art Deco Furnishings
Many of the furnishings throughout The City Club are original and have been carefully restored. Some of the standout pieces are found in The City Club Café: the massive black marble and brass table, which had never been moved prior to a 1988 renovation; cocktail tables of black Bakelite and chrome, modern materials of the 1930s; game tables of copper and glass; and carved sofa legs featuring animals in repose, crafted by Italian artist Raymond Puccinelli (1904–1986). Sloan designed the Ionic-style bronze benches and the lighted console. The glass panels in The Grand Salon, crafted in the 1930s, were imported from Paris.
Investing in the Past and the Future
The ownership and management of the City Club is dedicated to preserving this art deco jewel in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district.
Historical information was provided by Patrick McGrew, Patrick McGrew Associates (refurbishing architect), and Masha Zakheim, Articulate Art: San Francisco of the 1930s.