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Emporium Dome Celebrates 100

by Susan Saperstein

Editors’ Note: The October 2004 GuideLines featured a story on the Emporium dome when it was hoisted on a perch for a year during construction of the Westfield Centre. The following article revisits the story with some new information and permission from the Bancroft Library to publish another photo.

September 2008 was the 100th birthday of the dome in the Westfield Centre.

In 1896 a cooperative of merchants rented space at the Parrot Building at 835 Market Street and called their venture the Emporium.

As its signature feature, the building contained a magnificent dome. The Parrot Building was designed by Albert Pissis, who also designed the James Flood Building across the street and the Hibernia Bank at Market and Jones Streets–the latter building currently deteriorated and long vacant but now slated for renovation.

The Emporium Building was called “The Grandest Mercantile Building in the World.” Featuring a bandstand and restaurant under the dome, it was a popular destination for shopping, concerts, dancing, and dinner.

From 1886 to 1906, the building was also the home of the California Supreme Court. It is thought the court was located at what later became the Emporium men’s shoe department. The building and dome survived the 1906 Earthquake, but were destroyed in the subsequent firestorm downtown. For all of you who have served on a jury or participated in a civil case, you might find it interesting that all the Court records were also destroyed by the fire.

In 1908 the Emporium was rebuilt and another 102-foot-wide dome – the stunning skylight now celebrating its centennial – was installed. The building suffered through many renovations throughout the following decades. These included covering the small arched windows, or lunettes, that extend up through the top of the dome.

The Emporium closed its doors in 1996. When the Westfield Centre developers began construction at the location for their new retail area, they kept the dome, raising it to the top of the new building and removing the blockage over the windows. The 500,000-pound dome was lifted to a perch by a custom hydraulic system. It sat on a supporting tower for almost a year while the new structure was built underneath it.

Today busy shoppers are once more pausing beneath the stunning dome to meet friends and rest tired feet. Next time you are at Market Street near 5th, take the escalators up through the Westfield Centre to pay your respects to this grand old dame.

Sources:

California Supreme Court Historic Society at http://cschs.org/02_history/02_e.html

Westfield San Francisco Centre Press Release, May 18, 2004

“500,000-pound Sigh of Relief,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 19, 2004

Emporium collapsed dome courtesy of The Bancroft Library, call no. BANC PIC 1958.21 Vol 3:23 fa1B I028413.

Emporium dome on perch courtesy of Eric Bennion.

Emporium dome in 1904 courtesy of SF History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

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This 1905 photo shows the original dome and the restaurant in the Emporium.

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Photo of the collapsed dome after the 1906 firestorm

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Construction in 2004 on the old Emporium Building site. The dome was placed on a custom-built perch.

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