San Francisco Labor Temple History
The idea of a labor temple first surfaced in 1888 when Chicago’s labor movement constructed a building for its unions. Attempts by the city’s unions to agree on a project were stymied until the April 18th, 1906 earthquake, which destroyed every building the local union movement relied upon. The Labor Council established the SF Labor Council Hall Association in September of 1906 to oversee construction of the city’s first temple located on the corner of 14th and Mission, which opened a month later in October. It didn’t take long for the Council to realize that a far larger building was needed.
The Hall Association obtained support for a new temple after California announced plans for an armory directly across from the 14th St. temple in March of 1910. Taking five years to raise the funds, the San Francisco Labor Temple finally opened on February 27th, 1915 at the corner of Capp and 16th St. The Unions gathered together on Labor Day, Sept. 7th, 1914 for a Cornerstone celebration.
The building was designed by Mathew O’Brien who did other historic buildings in the Bay Area. The temple had 7 halls, two banquette rooms, the main auditorium and 24 offices. It quickly became the home for the city’s labor movement. Other than a single $20,000 loan from the Bank of Italy, the $134,000 for the land and construction was paid for exclusively by union members. For the next 54 years, the Hall Association took responsibility for its operation.
At the height of the depression the Hall Association retired the temple’s mortgage on Labor Day 1931. With the union movement reignited by the 1934 general strike and federal laws that legalized the right to organize, a new 17,000 square foot wing was added in 1939 at a cost of $92,000.
The temple’s original design providing for many large halls reflected an era when unions met regularly with members living only a trolley ride away, but with the rapid expansion of the bay area after World War Two, many city union members moved to the suburbs, or opened their own buildings. Needed repairs, design changes and parking headaches nearly led the temple’s abandonment by the mid 1950’s. It had a brief rebirth when the Construction Trade Council’s labor temple on the corner of 14th and Guerrero burned down in January of 1961, prompting most of the unions occupying it to move to the nearly abandoned 16th Street temple.
The Labor Council disbanded the Hall Association, selling the building on July 2nd, 1968 to cover a large loan for repairs and the continued loss of union tenants. The Labor Council and a few other unions would stay on as long as 1972. The new owner would rename the temple to the Redstone Building with the goal of turning it into a hotel. It was sold again in 1971, with its new owner dedicating the building to employment services for the Mission District’s Latino community.
The building has had six owners during the last century. The murals that grace the lower floors of the building were funded by an arts grant in 1996. The tenants association obtained historic status for the building in 2004, only the second labor related building ever picked for this honor in San Francisco.