Bay Area Greats

San Francisco has been one of the most famous cities in the United States. It’s spectacular views and sensational sights have captivated much of the population of the country and tourists around the world alike. There is an interesting point towards realizing the great history of San Francisco and the architecture of the city throughout the years. This paper serves to investigate the 1920s era of San Francisco’s architecture. Most structures that were built during this decade was incorporated with the Art Deco style of architecture.

ART DECO A popular international design movement from the 1920s and the 1930s, Art Deco affected the decorative arts such as interior design, industrial design, visual arts such as painting, graphic arts, fashion and film. But Art Deco’s most effective implication was characterized through architecture. This style was, in a sense, a combination of many varying movements and styles of the early 20th century, just like the styles of Cubism, Constructivism, Bauhaus, Modernism, Futurism, and Art Nouveau.

During the 1920s, Art Deco’s fame and notoriety reached its peak and strongly carried on in the United States up to the 1930s. Despite many design styles or movements being philosophical or political in nature, Art Deco was strictly decorative. During its peak, the Art Deco style was perceived as functional, modern, and elegant. The name of Art Deco was coined in after 40 years, exactly during the 1960s. It was derived from the 1925 Paris Exposition of Decorative Arts, where the style or movement’s apex was reached.
Characterized by thin, long forms, surfaces that are curving, and patterning that is geometric, Art Deco was a style that practitioners attempted to perceive as the appearance that they thought could express the machine age. Ranging from Skyscrapers to Ocean liners up to jewelry and even toasters, Art Deco is a style that influenced a good number of factors. Despite Art Deco’s most famous structures such as the Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler Building being located in New York, a good number of Art Deco inspired structures can be found in the great bay area of San Francisco.
It somehow dominated the area during the 1920s’ insurgence of the style. SAN FRANCISCO ART DECO OF THE 1920s San Francisco was in a period of prosperity during the 1920s. It was hardly a decade of radical innovation. The city also pronounced the secondary phase in the construction of a higher and taller skyline that started to overshadow the buildings downtown that was Chicago-styled. George Kelham and Timothy Pflueger were San Francisco architects who followed the architects in Chicago and New York that designed skyscrapers. Art Deco was one European trend that did affect San Francisco during the 1920s.
More focused on decorative than architectural style, Art Deco was inspired by cubist and abstract painting and an involvement in motifs that are ornamental and taken from locales that are exotic such as pre-Columbian Mexico, China, and ancient Egypt. This style brought a modern element to the design of American buildings, gearing the architects towards the path of utilizing longer, cleaner lines and surfaces that are more abstract in nature. SAMPLE BUILDING 1929, Financial District, Shell Building, 100 Bush St. , San Francisco. Designed by George Kelham.
This building was defined as a Zig-zag Modern skyscraper. It has a thin, stepped tower clad in terra cotta that’s colored rusticated beige. The forms of shells are properly integrated into the design despite being nearly out of sight–the shells that are projecting near the top hide lighting that turns the crown to gold occasionally. Carrying out the general them of the building is the entrance lobby. The Shell Building by George Kelham, designed in the Modern style of the 1920s, is a marvelous example of the former generation of skyscrapers.
Kelham, one of the few graduates of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts who made major roles to local architecture, went to San Francisco in the year 1906 to oversee construction of the Palace Hotel. He lived in the city, and his work on five major downtown structures pronounced the transition from the Chicago style to Modern structures. He is also attributed with changing the character of architects in the building of commercial structures by hiring a general contractor. Before general contractors were used, the architect had the responsibility for hiring laborers and getting materials.
Just like Timothy Pflueger, Kelham’s work was inspired both by New York architects who were lowering their structures due to to zoning laws passed during the year 1916 and by the entry of Eliel Saarienen in the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower contest. As a matter of fact, the above area of the Shell Building closely looks like Saarinen’s much-imitated design. George Kelham stressed verticality during a time when major structures rose 10 to 15 floors above their Chicago style counterparts. Definitely, Kelham’s structures defined the upper limits of the downtown skyline during the 1920s.
The structure’s ornamentation shows a mixture of abstracted shell designs with Egyptian motifs, preferably the tower’s lotus flowers. The Shell building was one of San Francisco’s best Modern designs of the 1920s. It was described by the Architect and Engineer as possessing the central tower of the Russ Building, the penthouse of the Telephone Building, Gothic verticality, and its own definitive treatment of the eight upper floors. It was also described as a building that follows Eliel Saarinen’s Chicago Tribune Tower Competition model entry.
The ornamentation of the Shell Building was also incorporated with “Egyptian ancestry and with a modernistic flare”. It includes an elaborate design of abstracted shells, an incorporation with the owner of the building. The tower’s upper part with its ornamental concentration, was dramatically original with floodlight at night. The interior of the building also carried ornamental detail, including the building lobby, all elevator lobbies, and the offices of the executives. Designed with movable partitions were the office floors.
The building’s greatness can also be concluded with its record-breaking time of completion. The whole structure was also constructed using Steel frame construction. Today, it remains as one of San Francisco’s most distinctive business addresses. The Shell building won the 1994 San Francisco Architectural Heritage Award for the excellence in architectural preservation. It was defined as a building strongly influenced by Art Deco and its founding father which is George Kelham. The Shell Building with its time-honored architecture, contemporary offices and classic amenities-has captured the best of both worlds.
It is a San Francisco landmark. CONCLUSION San Francisco’s Art Deco style during the 1920s has produced inspiring works of architecture up to today. The dominance of the Art Deco style in the 1920s helped San Francisco in turning around and becoming as one of the most popular places in the United States. The Shell Building for example, has created a great sense of fame and popularity due to the Art Deco influence. San Francisco and Art Deco somehow seemed fit for each other and as one tours San Francisco, the Art Deco style is one style that mostly captivates the eyes.

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