San Francisco’s original City Hall was built (on top of a cemetery!) starting in 1872 and finally opened in 1879, to be actually completed in 1899. (You can see some interesting photos and more history of the old City Hall on FoundSF.) Just a few years later, City Hall was destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, collapsing in a huge pile of stone, iron, glass, wood, and brick.
My house was built in the late 1880s or early 1890s – though I have not pinned down the exact date, it was definitely here by 1892, built with a few other similar Italianate houses on land next to the original farmhouse on Mission Street. We’re doing some excavating under part of the house, and found some bricks marked with the letters C H in a fancy serif font:
We looked this up hoping to find a magical database of historical brickmarker marks and YES. That exists! At least for California bricks.
Our C H brick was made in the 1870s for San Francisco’s original City Hall! It was probably in that pile of rubble in 1906 (cleaned up by 1909 according to some sources). These bricks were clearly part of a retaining wall which got covered over by some dirt, gravel, and a cobblestone patio (“Belgian brick”) at a later date.
Our bricks database lists them thusly:
Remillard Brick Company
San Rafael, Marin County, CA
1872-1878 for San Francisco City Hall
We found other bricks, stamped CALIFORNIA and with round rivet-like raised dots in the corners, that were part of another layer of patio and wall that is now under the back of our house. The California Bricks database identifies them as California Brick Company and W. S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company, Niles and Decoto districts, Fremont and Union City, County, CA, 1913-1926.
Around that time, in 1920 or so, a future mayor of San Francisco, John F. Shelley, lived in our house with his parents and siblings. As a young man he drove a bakery delivery wagon, then went to law school, then became head of the bakery delivery wagon drivers’ union, then served in the California Senate and US House of Representatives, then became Mayor of SF.
Danny found us a quote about the C H bricks, which looks like it may be about SF City Hall. I will need to find the book to be sure of the context of the quote, but it’s from Bricks and Brickmaking: A Handbook for Historical Archaeology, by Karl Gurcke:
The initials ‘C. H.,’ impressed in the brick of which our new City Hall is built, put there to denote that they were intended for that edifice, may (should they prove to possess the lasting properties claimed for them) become to the antiquar[ians] of the remote future a source of much worriment as they labor to decipher their probable meaning.
Here we are, the antiquarians of the remote future!
Really it’s hard to express how much I love our 150 year old, C H bricks! I’ll figure out how to work them into our garden somehow after the construction project is done! For now, our back yard is turning into a sort of brick museum.