The graceful 21-story tower addition designed in 1967 by Anshen and Allen carefully flanks the imposing 1908 banking hall designed by Bliss and Faville, and cantilevers over it just slightly. The Bliss and Faville structure is one of the Financial District’s grandest banks, with a striking colonnade of Corinthian columns outside and a stately marble interior. Leaving the original bank unaltered and adding the tower to its side allowed the architects to create a dynamic relationship between the two forms. An interesting fact about the design is that Anshen and Allen hired architectural historian James Marston Fitch, a leader in the US historic preservation movement (and later, founder of Columbia University’s graduate preservation program) to consult on the design. Clearly the designers of the addition took cues from the architecture of the Beaux Arts bank. The color and vertical relief on the precast concrete panels echoes the color and fluting of the old bank’s limestone columns. The horizontally banded façade alternates between short ribbon windows and taller sections of precast concrete panels which pick up the height of the old bank’s entablature. The flaring copper trim above the lobby entrance is a light-hearted touch that doesn’t relate to the rest of the design. The roof of the historic bank was turned into a usable terrace accessed from the tower, creating a charming moment where old and new come together.
San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
The bottom row of precast panels that flare out of just like the Corinthian column base, and the embossed copper trim above the lobby level.
The architects tried to create a sensitive addition to the original banking hall without copying historical details. Instead, they used modern forms and materials to interpret the language of the Beaux Arts bank and let the bank speak for itself. In a city like San Francisco, where demolishing fine old banking halls was almost as popular as gutting them and tacking their lifeless shells to the base of monstrous towers, the Bank of California building stands out as a lesson in how to add to a historic building in a way that complements both old and new.