Among Meyer’s most notable buildings are the Humboldt Bank and the Monadnock Building, tall buildings for their time recognized for their innovative use of large glass areas and incorporation of fire-safety designs and equipment. He also designed numerous projects for San Francisco General Hospital and Pacific Gas & Electric Company.
Construction on the exquisite Beaux-Art style Monadnock Building began in 1906. Before its west wall was even completed, the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire struck. Somehow the building managed to survive not only those calamities, but two separate attempts by the U.S. Army to destroy it with dynamite, hoping to create a firebreak that was intended to save the original Palace Hotel.
San Francisco Earthquake: The Doomed City
Originally Published 1906
“The south side of Market Street from Ninth Street to the bay was soon ablaze, the fire covering a belt two blocks wide. On this, the main thorough-fare of the city, are located many of the finest edifices in the city, including the Grant, Parrott, Flood, Call, Examiner and Monadnock buildings, the Palace and Grand hotels and numerous wholesale houses.
At the same time, the commercial establishments and banks north of Market Street were burning. The burning district in this section extended from Sansome Street to the water front and from Market Street to Broadway. Fires also broke out in the mission and the entire city seemed to be in flames.”
[original pamphlet - pdf]
After the Monadnock was completed in 1907,
marketed as a "Modern Fireproof Office Building",
a very desirable trait after the events of 1906.
The word monadnock originally comes from the Abnacki Indian language of the Eastern United States and means "mountain that stands alone".
For many years, it was casually referred to as "the railroad building," because it housed so many offices in that business.
In 1986-88, it was thoroughly renovated and the tenants inhabiting it now are involved in law, art, internet, travel, and other interests. The murals and sculpture garden originate with the 1980's renovation.
The twenty-four foot barrel-vaulted atrium lobby has outstanding Tieolo-inspired trompe l'oeil murals, featuring famous people from the city's past, by the Evans and Brown Co.
The theme of this mural is "San Francisco Renaissance." It is painted in the Renaissance Baroque style trompe l'oeil (which means to fool the eye) and chosen because the facade of this building was inspired by that period. That is why all these San Francisco and California characters are dressed in such costumes.
On the east wall, to the far left, the man holding the newspaper is Dr. Walter Lum. He founded the Chinese Times, managed it for thirty-five years, and became a leading civil rights advocate for the Chinese by the 1970s.
The next figure, in red, is Supervisor Harvey Milk, the camera shop owner who rose to become the nation's most powerful advocate for gay rights. Supervisor Milk and Mayor George Moscone (not depicted) were both assassinated in their City Hall offices in 1978.
The blonde lady is Lotta Crabtree. A popular actress, singer and comedian during the Gold Rush years, it was Lotta who in 1875 donated the fountain you see across the street from the Monadnock Building. This was modeled after a prop from one of her plays.
In the green tunic is a very young looking Bernard Maybeck. He was the architect responsible for designing the Palace of Fine Arts (1915) and numerous other landmark buildings in the Bay Area, including part of the UC Berkeley campus and the First Church of Christ Scientist, also in Berkeley.
The lady in pink is Isadora Duncan. Born in San Francisco in 1875, Miss Duncan achieved international fame in Europe as the founder of modern dance. She was a dazzling figure who danced in flowing robes and bare feet.
The last adult, in black, is Mary Ellen Pleasant, or Mammy Pleasant, as she was popularly known. She was, by legend, a mysterious and powerful figure behind the scenes during the Civil War years of San Francisco, as she championed the cause of blacks all across the nation.
The children, Max and Chloe, are the son and daughter of Don Baker, a former Eastdil Realty developer who engaged the services of artists Mark Evans and Charlie Brown during the building's renovation.
On the opposite wall, we have just four figures with names. The boy on the far left and the lady on the far right playing the mandolin are nameless or generic.
Second from the left, the tall man in blue is the great public benefactor and San Francisco mayor (1895), Adolph Sutro. Initially gaining wealth and fame from his mining techniques and investments in his own Comstock Silver Mines of Nevada, Sutro at one time possessed 1/12th of the land in San Francisco.
The man in the yellow vest is John Muir. A prolific writer and explorer who successfully campaigned for the preservation of forests, Muir is often referred to as the inspirational father of the national park system.
The next figure, in glasses and what looks like a Robin Hood hat, is Herbert Law. A patent medicine king of the 1890's, and a former owner of the Fairmont Hotel, Law was the developer who placed this building here in 1906.
The last portrait with a name is opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini, one of Italy's greatest coloratura sopranos. In 1910, on Christmas Eve, she sang "The Last Rose of Summer" to over a quarter million people right across the street at Lotta's Fountain.
THE SCULPTURE GARDEN
There is a bronze sculpture garden in the building’s interior atrium.