SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — San Franciscans may not know how much they owe former Mayor Willie Brown in his efforts to get City Hall spruced up. This Friday’s Centennial Celebration of the historic and gorgeous building features live music, food trucks and a beer garden.
But the building wasn’t always so grandiose in appearance. In fact when Mayor Brown was about to begin serving in 1996, the mayor’s office was located in a veteran’s building. “I said, oh no. I’m supposed to be elected to City Hall. They said, ‘Well you better go finish it’,” Brown said.
The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978, roughly a month before former Supervisor Dan White resigned from office and then shot and killed then-Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk on November 27.
It had been hit by the 1989 Loma-Prieta Earthquake and had been tagged for repairs. The structural damage closed the building to the public for 10 years before it was reopened in 1999. Brown had $300 million worth of remodeling and seismic retrofitting done to the building. He even had gold added to the top of the rotunda, “At no cost to the public,” Brown maintained.
Of course everyone who had contracts with the city at that time was asked to pony up for it.
Regardless, City Hall has been the center for public life in the city, where so many thousands of couples were married; including San Francisco’s first unofficial gay marriage when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s orders.
“It is the people’s palace in the true sense of the meaning. One of the great things that I loved to do as mayor was marry people and I did it almost every day,” Brown said.
Brown made it a prime place for when people want to book events and roll out the red carpet for their occasion. Indeed it has become wedding central. If you go there on a Monday or a Tuesday, it’s like ‘Bridezilla’. The operation, according to Brown, earns almost a million dollars a year more than it cost to maintain it.
“Everybody wants to shoot movies in City Hall,” said Brown who once accidentally set off the building’s fire alarm during the filming of Robin Williams’ Bicentennial Man. “We’re getting to the point now where we’re being selective of whether or not you can use City Hall.” The building was prominently featured in Milk, starring Sean Penn as slain gay-right’s activist and former City Supervisor Harvey Milk.
The celebration is from 6 to 11 p.m. and concludes with DJs and Silent Disco. According to the Centennial Planning Committee, the centennial celebration aims to raise $4 million for capital improvements to ensure that City Hall lasts for coming generations.
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