This is the 6th draft (updated 8-23-2009: Refresh often!).

Genesis of the SF Labor Temple

The SF Labor Temple Hall Association (Hall Assoc.) was the governing body that planned, financed and operated the two SF Labor Temples for the SF Labor Council (SFLC) from their initial plans in 1905 until the 2nd building's sale to Peter Blasko in 1968. The original Articles of Incorporation for the Hall Assoc.were agreed to on September 14th, 1906 and filed with the California Secretary of State three days later on the 17th. The following men made up its original board of directors and officers:

R Corneilius (Street Carmen) President
George W. Bell (Gas Workers) Vice-President
William McCabe (Labor council) Treasurer
JJ O'Neil (Labor Council) Secretary
A Siewierski (Brewery Workmen)
Leo Michelson (Typographical Union)
Guy F Thurber (Laundry Workers)
Joseph Puntigam (Bakers #24)
John J Field (Iron Molders)

The first Labor Temple was built in a matter of a few months at 316 14th Street in San Francisco. It was completed in October 1906, with its dedication taking place on Thanksgiving, November 28th. According to the official announcement for the opening of the 14th Street Temple published in the October 12, 1906 version of the Labor Clarion, the newly constructed building would have 4 halls as well as be the offices for the Labor Council, Molder's union, Street Carmen, Typographical Union and the Labor Clarion. The building directly next door would house the larger Baker's Local 24 Union. The state of California would construct the massive National Guard Armory right across the street from the Temple between 1912 and 1914 as an act of intimidation. Its of interest that the motiviation to build the 2nd Temple gained momentum in 1912 after the Armory started going up with its gun turrets and massive walls.

The orginal genesis for constructing the Labor Council's Labor Temple started in 1905, prior to the great earthquake of 1906. However, no major actions took place until the April 1906 earthquake changed the face of the city. The Labor Council would lose all of its records after the fire. The Council would move its meetings to a hall on Noe Street until the new 14th Street building was completed.

The Treasurer of both the Labor Council as well as the Hall Assoc. was William McCabe who would make the initial purchase of the 14th Street property. He would file a quit claim on the property, transfering it over to the Hall Association as soon as it had been incorporated. William would resign his position as Treasurer several times, to be reinstated at later dates. He would stay on as Secretary Treasure of the Hall Assoc. until his death in August 1948. He held the Treasurer position of the Labor Council for 1906-7. He resigned as Labor Council Treasurer due to an injury in 1907. William was also the president of the SF Iron Trades Council in 1902 for three years, and long time business agent for the local Molders Union. He ran for the position of City Clerk in 1907 and served on the SF Civil Service Commission between 1929-1935. During the first decade of the 20th century, there was no Secretary Treasurer, but two separate positions, Treasurer, and Recording Secretary. All Elected officials of the Council were voted on semi-annually.

At some point after planning went ahead with the Labor Temple on 16th street, the Labor Council sold the 14th Street property, holding a lease on the older building up until 1912, but staying on until the new building was completed and ready for use in 1915.

On May 5th 1909, the officers of the Hall Assoc. sent a formal letter to the Labor Council calling for the construction of a new, far larger Labor Temple for the City. On May 14th, the Labor Clarion would publish a large front page article with examples of the value of Labor Temples from around the country. A series of meetings was held in June of 1909 for a new building, but the momentum slipped away.

On March 18th 1910, William McCabe posted a formal letter to the Labor Council calling for a large general meeting to start the next step in locating and fundraising for a "Class A" building. Finally, on April 15th, 1910 the Hall Assoc. proposal for the new building was published in the Labor Clarion. A special meeting on Sunday May 8th was held with representatives from 29 unions taking part. A special committee of five was set up to find an appropriate location and member unions were called on to start investing in bonds, with the goal of raising $200,000 towards construction.

It wasn't long for the Committee of Five had narrowed the search down to one lot in particular that met the criteria: 2940 16th Street.

A brief overview of the Labor Temple Pre-history

The Mission district has had quite a number of major cultural shifts over the last two hundred years. From Yelamu Ohlone times, the Spanish Mission (1776-1821) period to the Mexican Rancheros, the U.S. era our neighborhood was was known as the Mission Addition from the early 1850's until 1906. During the thirty years prior to the 1906 quake, Howard Street (known today as Van Ness) had become an an area of wealth and exclusivity. There would be a number of large mansions, resorts like the Willows on Valencia Street, Woodward Gardens, two large horse racing tracks and the sunny Mediterranean in the area that would give it a certain blue blood draw. Other parts of the Mission were mostly working class, however.

John D. Spreckels, the oldest son of sugar king Claus Spreckels, one of the country's wealthiest men, (Claus won the island of Maui in a card game from his friend the King of Hawaii) had the most prominent mansion. Some historic investigations place the mansion on Howard Street between 16th and 17th Street. Back in the 1850's 16th Street was known as Centre Street. Spreckels would also own the entire block that would become the Labor Temple. The Spreckels also had an additional mansion up on 21st on Howard as well as several more in other parts of the city.

Spanish Captain de Anza would lead Francisco Palou and Pedro Cambon on June 29th, 1776 to where they would build the Mission San Francisco de Asis not far from Mission Creek and Laguna de Nuestra Senora de los Dolores, “Lake of our Lady of Sorrows”, near what is now the intersection of Camp and Albion Streets. Dolores Lagoon has a monument dedicated there today. The local Ohlone tribal group (Yeluma) would be nearly taken into extinction by disease and brutal tactics used by the Spanish Missionaries. The handful that were left by the 19th century were driven north to work on the construction of another Mission.

The documentation of the Dolores Lagoon would place it over the 2940 16th street property. As can be seen here, there is some controversy over its location. A recent city investigation places the lagoon to the south of 16th street. However, there is no doubt that the neighborhood was located in a low lying swamp-like area, or Sausal. During the Mexican Rancho period it was a grazing area for cattle, however during the early days of modern San Fancisco it was used to grow vegetables.

The 1906 Earthquake would change the Howard St. Corridor from one of affluence to its working class character as people from around the decimated city flooded into the hood as one of the only areas of the city not completely burned to the ground. Many working people would start their life anew here. The Spreckels estate, mansion and all other buildings in the North Mission were destroyed, opening up the potential for new occupants. John Spreckels would move to San Diego where he would play a major role in developing that city.

Prior to the quake the block between 16th street and Capp Street was made up of 8 seperate lots. In 1899 two of the 8 lots were leased by a painting company and a carpenter. Fifty years earlier the block was open space made up of a patchwork of sand dunes with a couple of small shacks across the street on the block where Walgreens and the Bart plaza are today. That block would be the home of a Children's Asylum, a horsemeat store and a Boxing arena in later years. Across the street, the family of future governor's Jerry and Edmund Brown would build a Vaudville theater in 1908.

There will be more to come as the history of 2940 16th Street is explored in more detail!

On July 15th 1910, in another general meeting with over 20 unions taking place the location of 2940 16th street that had a foot print nearly 10,000 square feet was selected. Not until June 1911 was the Hall Assoc. able to come to terms with the Spreckels family. Finally on June 17th, the two parties reached an agreement and 6 different lots were combined for the price of $35,000. Another additional lot was also added later. A mortgage agreement was completed on June 30th. On September 14th 1911, the Hall Assoc. changed its structure in a formal application to the California Secretary of State.

Fundraising from the city unions proceeded but by 1912, they had not reached the halfway point. The editor of the Labor Clarion and the recently elected President of the Hall Assoc., James Mullen had an idea! He would use the March 1st, 1912 Labor Clarion's front cover to show off the architect, Matthew O'Brien's design for the building, promoting details on the interior in a major article. The Class A building would house two major halls on the first floor and an even larger 1,600 person capacity auditorium on the 2nd floor. It would also have offices for 40 unions and be 5 stories high, with an Italian Renaissance fireproof design and brick facade. The article suggested that this would be the finest Labor Temple in the U.S. when completed.

More money would come in, but problems started to creep up on the Hall Association. By law, the original stocks sold to union members started coming of age, so the Hall Assoc. had to start paying dividends to the unions. It also still had to pay for rent at its old quarters and was now having to pay taxes on the new property. Cash flow was starting to trickle in the wrong direction and to make matters worse the general economy had taken a turn for the worse so that money had tightened within the union community but also with banks. No loans could be obtained from any local bank.

The project would languish for two more years before enough capital was raised to get construction started.

Ground was broke for construction of the building on June 1st, 1914. The building was dedicated on Labor Day morning September 7th, 1914. Speakers at the ceremony included former SF mayor and Building Trades Council head PH McCarthy and Mayor James Rolph. Retiring SF Labor Council president Andrew J. Gallagher would lay the cornerstone. The master of ceremonies was James W. Mullen and William P McCabe of the Hall Association.

There was a 30 piece band in attendance to kick off the celebration. Many original documents including a special history of the SF labor movement by Lucile Eaves (who also did a much larger history of California Labor) was placed behind the cornerstone. As part of the the mid 1950's renovations the cornerstone box was removed. There is no clear indication on where its contents went.

The architect for the building was Matthew O'Brien (1871-1920) from the O'Brien and O'Brien firm in San Francisco. O'Brien also designed the following buildings:

The Downtown Theater in Oakland on 14th (Princess Theatre), Valencia Theatre, Garrick Theatre, Scottish Rite Temple, Sutter and Van Ness Avenue; Scottish Rite Temple, Oakland; C. J. Heeseman Building, Oakland; Golden Eagle Hotel, apartment house for the Biber Estate, new Lowell High school, and many others.

The property is known as Block 3553, Lot 14 by the city of San Francisco Assessor. It has a 90' by 150' footprint with an additional 1,498 square foot (Lot 31-35) on the north that was purchased after an adjacent house burned to the ground. The original (old) wing of the building is 34,620 square feet, while the new wing which was constructed in 1939 for $92,000 by Moore & Roberts is 17,418 square feet. Lot 14 is currently zoned as heavy commercial while lot 31-5 is zoned residential.

There were originally 22 offices, several major lodge halls with a large Banquet and auditorium with their own entrance on 1948 16th. There was also a somewhat smaller "Jinks" hall and cafeteria in the basement which became a major community center for the North Mission with its own entrance on Capp Street. The basement Jinks hall would become a pool hall that also had permitted slot machines. A controversy about other gambling activities took place in the 1950's eventually resulting in the pool hall's closure in June 1952. The other halls were called: Excelsior (new wing where Theater Rhino held its theatrical events), Federal, Convention, Brotherhood, Mechanics, Union and Progress.

But the dedication day of the building was not the day unions were to move into the new Labor Temple. The economic problems of the Hall Assoc. had been such that the building was reduced to a Class C building (3 floors and a mezzanine) vs. its original 5 story plan. In fact, the new design failed to take into account suggestions in the Labor Clarion's own article suggesting that Commercial spaces be available on the first floor, other than a tiny 200 Sq. Ft. space that would be used by union barbers for most the building's Union era.

By October 1914, the Hall Association was facing an extreme emergency. Finishing work on the building would have to stop unless nearly $35,000 was obtained. The goal of moving in on the new year was slipping as work stopped due to lack of funds. Finally, on Christmas Eve, a building saving present arrived in the form of a $20,000 loan from the Bank of Italy (Bank of America) that helped get the project going again. A final loan of $5,000 from the Teamsters plus $10,000 more were raised in the first five months of 1915, ending the financial crisis.

The Grand Opening of the building was held on February 27th 1915. The city of San Francisco, one of the most powerful labor cities in the country finally had a new home!

The new building would be formally introduced at the October 1915 California Federation of Labor's statewide conference in Santa Rosa. San Francisco's delegation proposed that the State Federation offices be moved to the new building but failed in a 32 to 67 vote. Even though the SF Labor Council played a pivotal role in forming the statewide Labor Federation in 1901 not another convention would be held in San Francisco until 1941.

On Labor Day 1931, the Labor Council's celebration would include the burning of their mortgage papers at California Park in Marin county.

There were over 20 employees working at the building during its peak era in the 1940's and 1950's, including 13 janitors, 7 elevator operators, a carpenter and superintendent. There were also many who worked in the pool hall when it was operational. It came under close scrutiny due to gambling and slot machine activities. Attempts to limit gambling in a "Union Members Only" area failed. The closure of the Pool Hall would play a huge role in the downturn of the building's economic stability, losing the Hall Assoc. over $1,400 a month in income.

After the closure of the pool hall, the basement was renovated into many smaller offices. Many other spaces have gone through renovation over the years as well. Suite 200 was completely renovated as was 301 and 214, known today as suite 216. Suite 200 became a medical wing which had its own X-ray room and developer tank. There was a unreinforced brick structure added onto the back of the main auditorium that took major structural damage during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and which had to be removed.

The SFLC would be the anchor tenant for the building with its offices located in room 301. After the new wing was built in 1939, the Council would move its offices to room 214. There was a substantial number of union tenants that stayed at the building throughout its history, including the Union Labor Party, the Metal Trades Council and a large United Garment Worker local (go here for the full list)

In August 1948, the Hall Assoc.'s Sec. Treasurer and superintendent William McCabe died after running the building since the beginning. A new building manager - Bob Haddow would take over running the building while George Johns would become the Sec. Treasure of the Hall Association. Long time Sec. Treasurer John O'Connell for the SFLC also passed away that year as well.

The building would be completely repainted in 1949, as well as new boiler and elevator. By 1956 the building was having very hard times with the loss of 4 major tenants. The SFLC came very close to selling the building as well as looking for a new home. It closed down the entire 3rd floor and abandoned the main auditorium. In 1959 it was discovered that the steel frame on the 3rd floor had been badly rusted. The 3rd floor would frame would be repaired and start being used again in 1960.

By 1960 the building appeared to be fairly healthy again in terms of the number of tenants in the building. The next year, the Trades Council Labor Temple on 14th and Guerrero burned. Many tenants from that building would come over to 16th Street helping in its economic recovery.

On April 6th 1966, after an extended battle with a rival East Bay Painter's local, Dow Wilson was killed around the corner on Van Ness. The murder played a role in the SFLC leaving the building.

Peter Blasko, who was sympathetic to labor issues would purchase the building in 1968, but would soon sell it to MK Blake.

The main auditorium, where the 1934 General Strike had many meetings was abandoned in the 1950's due to serious maintenance problems. It was renovated and rented to the EDD unemployment office in the 1970's. The nearly 6,491 square foot auditorium had its original 18 foot ceiling replaced with an eight foot high drop ceiling and then subdivided into 17 booths (A-M) and 9 large areas. Most of these smaller booths would later be removed with the space taken over by the Filipino Community center and used as a dance hall and resource center. In 1995, after being empty for nearly 7 years, The Lab leased about 3,500 square feet of the auditorium, tearing down the 8 foot drop ceiling and putting up new floor to ceiling walls on the North and East sides. The 2,500 square foot west wing of the auditorium still has the 8 foot drop ceiling in place. It is very hard to lease as there is no heat in the space,

The basement of the new wing was originally just two large spaces, which were reorganized by theater Rhinoceros when they moved into the building in 1982. They created a large workshop, dressing rooms, office, a 2nd 49 seat theater and soundbooth.

After MK Blake took possession of the building, most of the labor unions moved to other locations. However, at least one union, AFT local 2121 remained a tenant up until the mid 1990's. As part of the demographic shift in the nature of the neighborhood, most of its Irish residents started to flee the inner city starting in the 1950's, to be replaced over time by Latinos and a Bohemian - artist subculture. By the late 1970's much of the building's tenants were Latino service organizations. For example, much of the 2nd floor was leased by Catholic Charities for immigration services. The city's mental heath department started a project that later became known as the Bayview Hunter's Point Neighborhood Assoc. which leased three large spaces 216 - the Federal and Centennial Halls to serve mentally handicapped people in the Mission. On the 3rd floor, was the Mission Neighborhood Legal Services. There were also many Latino groups in the basement including Women Inc, which was a battered women's shelter.

In 1988, Henry Hawke passed away. He had been the maintenance person since at least 1973. Attempts to find a viable replacement failed. The North Mission neighborhood went into a tailspin due to the national recession in 1987, and was hit with a devastating Crack Cocaine epidemic. The executive director of Catholic Charities was held up at knife point in 1989, creating a buildingwide demand for security. Charles Hamilton would soon become connected to the building, working with a security company that contracted security services to the Redstone.

Unable to cope with increasing operating costs, MK Blake sold the property to David Kimmel and his wife just prior to the 1989 earthquake. Kimmel would run into major financial trouble due to many of his other older properties in downtown Santa Cruz being badly damaged. He would soon be forced into bankruptcy and his properties taken over by his investors -- Brad Ahekian and Co. in 1991. A year later, they would abandon the building, which was put into a court ordered receivership in June 1992. The entity that took control of the building was Brighton Pacific. David Luchessi would take control of the building in August 1992.

In 1994, as part of a major shakeup in the local Catholic Church when Arch Bishop Quinn was forced out, the immigration program run by Catholic Charities on the 2nd floor was shut down for nearly 9 months. Just as they were considering setting up a new project, they saw an article in a local newspaper that claimed that the Redstone Building was on the city's Unreinforced Masonry Building (UMB) list, which meant that the building was considered unsafe as far as earthquake safety. The manager saw the article prior to Charities, and warned the owner, who ignored the warning. Charities, seeing the article, broke their lease and immediately left the building in June of 1995. The owner, upon the manager's advice hired a structural engineer to certify the building off the UMB list. The owner took Charities to court and won, forcing them to pay for the rest of their lease.

Not soon afterwards, Mission Legal was forced to close due to a embezzlement scandal by a newly hired secretary. Mayor Jordan would cut their funding. The Hunter's Point halfway house also lost funding and left, creating a major tenant vacuum. However, many new smaller tenants would soon relocate into the building, including The Lab, Luna Sea women's theater and Teatro de la Esperanza, putting a new face on the building. One of the new tenants called Mission Agenda would grow to play a major role in helping low income tenants, including a regular food give-away. Supervisor Chris Daly would start his political career here in the city at Mission Agenda.

In the basement, a sweetheart of a guy named Walker started his Gay and Lesbian History museum in suite B-4 (about 80 square feet). Within a few years he would take over most of the basement space, and be forced to leave all together due to the projects dramatic expansion. Many other tenants would use the basement over the years, too many to name here.

The Mission Area Federal Credit Union (MAFCU) would face a major crisis in 1997 when nearly $750,000 in member's money was inappropriately used. It took years for MAFCU to finally get out from under federal oversight. An innovative project of MAFCU was their Youth Credit Union Project, one of only a few in the U.S.

Another program that managed mentally handicapped people called Family Resources was also forced to close and was soon replaced by a variety of tenants with the latest being the city's cab union, driver training program and the one and only Green Cab Company.

During the Mayor Art Agnos' administration Latino groups in the Mission planned on getting a large HUD grant to take over the old Armory building on 14th and Mission Street and turn it into a large center focussing on a possible Latino TV station.. The Mission Armory Foundation (MAF) was formed to get the money and go ahead with the project. They would receive a $1.8 million award to go ahead. The president of the MAF also happened to be the head of Mission Legal at the building. Anybody ever see a $1.8 million check before?

Sadly, the MAF board discovered that the money would be far too little to fix up the Armory. So the board started looking into buying other buildings including the Redstone building. They made a formal bid for the building but Luchessi wanted more than they were willing to pay for. Soon afterwards, the new mayor Willie Brown would take the money from MAF and break it up, including approximately $40,000 that would being given to The Lab that then went for the creation of the Murals in the lobby in 1997.

The building has had a history of serious maintenance disasters. In the mid 1970's, a large water line broke flooding the building, damaging the buildings floor tiling, requiring all of the halls in the upper floors to be replaced. In the late 1980's, as part of a grant the building did a overhaul of its lighting systems, resulting in a dramatic reduction in lighting bills.

In the late 80's the current building manager was at the building when a large water main broke, setting up the danger of another round of costly repairs. However, he being in the building on Sunday morning resulted in catching the event and stopping the flooding. At least 3 other similar flooding events in the basement also took place one which cost nearly $20,000 in repairs around 1997.

The owner got himself a real deal when the current manager pulled the badly damaged water tower off the roof of the building in 1994.

The Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) link will go here. Mayor Brown would attend the grand opening. A few days after the event the secretary of the SF Painter's Union came by and told the manager that every year on the anniversary of the murder of Dow Wilson, the Union would send a letter to the East Bay union demanding an apology for their role in his death. The east bay had yet to respond as of 1997. The two unions were finally forced together around 2005.

The owner was also forced by City Attorney Hallinan to put parapet support structures on the roof in 1998 to protect against future earthquakes.. A year later the entire Capp Street concrete area was replaced by the manager. He netted about $600 for 30 days of 14 hour a day work. During the winter of 2008 the giant old Ucalypsis tree on Capp St. fell destroying 2 cars and damaging several others, leaving a large hole in the sidewalk that the city finally repaired. It was fortunate that nobody was killed or injured.

During the 1990's the neighborhood suffered from terrible drug and street problems. The current building manager was severely beaten in October 2001 by a giant Heroine ring that had taken over the entire 16th street block on both sides. He was bed ridden for nearly two months, required crutches for 6 months and took nearly 4 years to before he would fully walk again (no medical coverage). He has also been on medical leave between June 2008 and Sept 2009 due to Mercury poisoning that has badly damaged his Prostate and Urinary Tract.

As part of the neighborhood gentrification push starting with the dot-com expansion into the North Mission, the Redstone Building came under pressure of sale. No tenants had leases and on August 27th, 1999 the danger of an immediate sale to a large Texas Real Estate Tycoon launched the building tenants on a multi-year campaign to investigate their own purchase of the building. At one point, there was a proposal for the City's Real Estate office to buy the building, but all the tenants except Rhino turned that idea down. A $2,000 grant was obtained to get the building historic status as well as a $35,000 grant to assess the building for potential purchase was also received.

It would be the 2nd time tenants had banded together, the first taking place in 1990, demanding that heat and other services be turned on which had still not happened due to damages from the 1989 earthquake.

The 2nd time around, the Redstone Tenants Association (the idea was to call it the Redstone Labor Temple Assoc.) took hold and thanks to the funding went through several paid staff people with Betty Traynor taking charge. After much work bids and prospective buyers were readied but ignored by the owner. However, the city did finally grant the building historic status (#238) which the tenants celebrated in July 2004, with Walter Johnson and other dignitaries attending the event in The Lab's space.

Mission Agenda would play a key role in launching the political career of Chris Daly who has spent many years on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

In 2004 Luna Sea theater collapsed due to internal problems. In 2008 the building lost MAFCU and on July 1st 2009, we lost Rhinoceros Theater. Much of the building's smaller spaces are rented but there are still problems renting the bigger spaces. Maybe we should open up a pool hall!

As part of the July 2009 LaborFest event, Louis Prisco would do a Redstone Building Mural presentation and neighborhood walk. The walk and the 2004 Historic Status celebration would be turned into a video presentation about the building's history. The video presentation and expanded research has led to this online material with much more to come

The building will be celebrating its 95th anniversary of operation on February 27th 2010.

Additional Notes: There was a third Labor Temple just over a block away that was constructed by the Building Trades Council (BTC) that opened in 1908 on 14th and Gurerrero. The 14th Street BTC Temple was closed due to a major fire in 1961.

Until the most recent draft on 8-19-09, I was under the false assumption that the BTC and Labor Council mended their ways to build a common Labor Temple, only to fall apart again. However, upon doing a Google search for the 314 property, I realized that this property wasn't the 14th St. BTC building and in fact was the original SF Labor Council Temple).

Special Note: During the week of 8-17-09 to 8-23-09, I had incorrectly identified the building located at 318-328 14th St. as the first Labor Temple the SF Labor Council constructed back between 9-06 and 11-1906. As a result of help from the SF history room at the public library I was able to gain access to the 1915 Sanborn Insurance maps of the city that showed the real location of the Labor Temple's building at 312-316 14th Street. It pays to be careful! They were directly next door. What caught me in the mistake was that the blocks were laid out differently from current block maps.

I was also able to obtain 3 different images of William McCabe on 8-22-09, who played such a major role in building both Labor Temples. It will take permission from the city library to display them. The documentation on the back of the images was helpful.

The Labor Council's First Temple at 316 14th Street (1906-1915)

1906 Mission Panoramic view

1899 Sanborn 2940 16th Block map

1860 Empty Lot

1874 Empty Lot Map

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