City Hall
May 1855
Gift of the Art Guild

Bottom of image, left of center: "Fardon"

Shooting directly east across Kearny Street at the lower end of Portsmouth Square, Fardon captured this impressive complex of buildings in a photograph dated May 1855 by de Fremery [Jason De Fremery, owner of a specially comissioned copy of the Fardon album now held by Yale University]. At the center is the Jenny Lind Theater, the first major Greek Revival structure in San Francisco. The Jenny Lind, named for the famed "Swedish Nightingale" who never visited San Francisco, was built in 1851 by New York theatrical entrepreneur Thomas Maguire, who had probably seen the noted diva when she was brought to New York City by P. T. Barnum a decade earlier. It was designed by transplanted New York theatrical producer and theater builder Joseph Trench, who built other such structures in both New York and San Francisco. When business went sour for Maguire in 1852, he sold the Jenny Lind to the city for $200,000 to be used as its first permanent City Hall. After its sale Trench also redesigned the interior for government offices. The elegant balconied building to the right of the Jenny Lind is the Union Hotel, built by Philadelphia architect Gordon Cummings. On the left of City Hall is the most lavish and famed gambling den of the Gold Rush era, the El Dorado, which from the days of 1849, when it was only a tent structure, became world renowned. A few years later the El Dorado was converted into San Francisco's Hall of Records. It is perhaps a telling commentary on early San Francisco that its first permanent City Hall was a former theater and that next door to the seat of government was a freewheeling den of iniquity that catered to a not-altogether-reputable clientele. Note the hacks lined up in front of the City Hall, much the same way that taxis congregate at important locations today. Scenes like the one depicted here perfectly fit Herre and Bauer's [publishers of the album] scheme to represent raucous San Francisco as a substantial and secure city. This photograph is one panel of a seven-part series of streets bordering Portsmough Square, four panels of which are included in the Herre and Bauer Album. (Notes by Marvin R. Nathan, from his catalog raisonne in "San Francisco Album, Photographs, 1854-1856 by George Robinson Fardon, published by Fraenkel Gallery, 1999).

Used: Jacob Gundlach

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