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Did You Know... San Francisco's Customhouse Marks Its Centennial This Month?

One hundred years ago this month, a new and monumental U.S. Customhouse opened in San Francisco. Though its groundbreaking was held five years earlier on January 28, 1906, its construction was delayed by the devastating earthquake and subsequent fire that decimated San Francisco. Because much of the city was being rebuilt simultaneously, there were severe labor and material shortages that delayed the completion of the building.

San Francisco Customhouse as it appeared in 1912.

San Francisco Customhouse as it appeared in 1912.

The building was designed by the St. Louis architectural firm Eames and Young. The firm was chosen under the authority granted through the Tarsney Act that allowed the Treasury Department to hire private architects rather than use only government designers. Its commissioned was to replace a more modest customhouse located on Battery Street between Jackson and Montgomery streets. That structure was demolished to make way for the new customhouse.

At the time of the 1906 earthquake, excavation had begun for the new customhouse and the dig site had filled with seepage water. The quake crippled the municipal water supply, and water from the site was transported by all available means to fight the ensuing fire.

Customs personnel and the crew from the revenue cutter Bear, supplemented by 100 or more sailors

Excavated construction site for the San Francisco Customhouse collected water which was used to fight the fire that followed the earthquake.

Excavated construction site for the San Francisco Customhouse collected water which was used to fight the fire that followed the earthquake.

and marines from the Navy's USS Chicago, battled the flames. They saved the Appraisers' Building and many neighboring structures from the conflagration.

The new customhouse was among the first construction projects undertaken after the fire. Pile driving for the foundation began in September 1906, and the following spring the steel frame of the building took shape. In October 1907 the cornerstone was laid in an elaborate public ceremony and the building finally opened for business in 1911.

The building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The building continues to house the activities of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

More information on the Customhouse is found in the San Francisco Customhouse Centennial Book.