The City Club
The Entrance to The Club
The City Club’s formal entrance is on the tenth floor of 155 Sansome, through bronze framed elevator doors faced with images drawn by interior architect Michael Goodman and executed by Harry Dixon (1890-1967) in five different metals: Copper, German Silver (Monel), Bronze, Silver and Brass. The first pair of doors show San Francisco at air-level, land-level and below sea-level. The second pair depicts the four winds and two hemispheres of the world. The third presents the convergence of old and new architecture, fashion and transportation. The remarkable balusters on the grand staircase, between the tenth and eleventh floors, designed by Robert Boardman Howard (1896-1983), are fashioned using chrome-plated steel. Stylized figures in brass represent a day in the life of the stockbroker — in business, golf and formal evening attire. The newel post at the base of the staircase forms the initials P. S. E. L.C. for The Club’s original name, Pacific Stock Exchange Luncheon Club.
Art at The Club
It was Ralph Stackpole’s responsibility to choose the artists who worked on The Club. His choice of Mexican artist, Diego Rivera (1886-1957) over California artists was somewhat controversial. Newspapers referred to the incongruity of choosing an artist of Rivera’s leftward political leanings to do a mural in ‘the citadel of capitalism. None the less, the renowned artist came and in 1931 completed what was to be the centerpiece and symbol of The Club.
Allegory of California
Rivera created his first U.S. fresco on the wall and ceiling of the grand stairwell. The large figure represents California, for whom the state is named. Her right hand mines the earth for its hidden treasure while the left hand holds the treasures that grow on its surface. Tennis-great Helen Wills Moody, a friend of Stackpole’s, posed as Califia. There are also portraits of James Marshall, discoverer of gold, and Luther Burbank, famed horticulturist. Other figures represent the engineer, the merchant and the farmer, all panning for gold. Youth and its dreams are represented by a serious minded boy (the model in this case was photographer Peter Stackpole) holding an aero plane, representing the infant industry. The oil industry and shipping are illustrated above Califia’s shoulders. The large ceiling figure running diagonally (to recall the diagonal line created by the rail of the stairs) depicts electrical achievement, flanked by representations of sun and billowy clouds.
Stackpole also chose several California artists (frequent collaborators of both Pflueger and Stackpole) to create original designs for the Club’s interiors. The two carved panels on the stairwell flanking Rivera’s fresco were carved by Stackpole. The sculpted corner pieces and panels elsewhere throughout the Club are the endeavors of Ruth Cravath (1902-1985), Adeline Kent Howard (1900-1957), Robert Boardman Howard, and Clifford Wight (1900-1960’s). The bronze sculpture of a mountain lion by noted sculptor Arthur Putnam (1873-1930) is located in the alcove near the rest rooms. Painter and lithographer Otis Oldfield (1890-1969) painted the hunting scenes on the back side of the windows of the Wine Cellar to simulate stained glass, in keeping with the room’s theme of an English Grille. This room was euphemistically called the Grille Room, but functioned as the bar during the Prohibition era.
Many of the furnishings throughout the club are original and have been restored for The City Club. The massive black marble and brass table in the Cafe had never been moved prior to the 1988 renovation which revealed that each re-carpeting of the room was accomplished by cutting around the huge legs of the table. Located in the foyer are two types of cocktail tables: black Bakelite and chrome (singularly modern materials of the 1930’s) and the smaller ‘game’ tables of copper and glass. Two large sofas, with woodwork carved by artist Raymond Puccinelli, feature animals in repose. The ‘Ionic’ bronze benches and the lighted console are among those designed for the Club in 1929 by Sloan’s.
In addition to those mentioned above, Pflueger, Goodman and Stackpole used a wide variety of local and imported materials in creating The Club’s magnificent rooms. Belgian Blue and St. Genevieve Golden Vein marbles combine in the monumental fireplace of the Main Dining Room. Hungarian Ash wainscoting below Avadir veneer walls are joined with ebony and pear wood window casings. The Jeanne Dare stone fireplace mantelpiece in the Caf features an archer surrounded by incised figures representing the moods of man. It was carved in place by Ralph Stackpole.
The art and interiors of the Stock Exchange Lunch Club cost a third of a million dollars in 1930, a very significant sum in those Depression Era dollars. The 1988 renovation of the facility for The City Club of San Francisco cost more than a million dollars and in 2004 an additional $300,000 was invested to refurbish this Art Deco treasure.
Historical information provided by: Patrick McGrew, Patrick McGrew Associates (refurbishing architect) Masha Zakheim, “Articulate Art: San Francisco of the 1930’s”, Architectural Tours provided by: Marsha Zakheim, 415.648.7198, firstname.lastname@example.org