San Francisco 1905 (Burnham plan)


Daniel Burnham’s San Francisco Plan emerged directly from The Association of the Improvement and the Adornment of San Francisco, formed January 15, 1904. The association was comprised of a group of men, including elected officials and a board of directors. Following the passage of several robust public bond measures in 1903 to construct the city’s “utilitarian needs” (hospital, schools, streets, Hall of Justice, library); city leaders turned to the beautification of San Francisco. The association hired D.H. Burnham, who had just completed the master plan for Washington, D.C., to direct and execute a practical and comprehensive plan for the city of San Francisco. Burnham was considered to be the foremost practitioner of the “City Beautiful” aesthetic, which common to the era, dictated that architectural beauty and order inspire civic pride within urban residents. Together with an advisory council that consisted of the Association’s board of directors and two members from “auxiliary societies such as the Out-door Art League and the California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects” Burnham began to develop a sketch of the city.

The President of the Association and former mayor of San Francisco (1897 – 1902) James Phelan, advocated for the new “beautiful” San Francisco to imitate Paris, Berlin and Vienna. Critical to achieving this goal was to decorate the city  in greenery, grand boulevards, museums, art galleries and theaters. Such a “cosmopolitan” city would help to attract capital and nurture talent. In his 1897 article The Ideal San Francisco, Phelan writes “for we know that the great capitals of Europe vie with each other in physical attractions, and that beauty has a marvelous money-making faculty.” Phelan provided the forward to Burnham’s San Francisco Plan to capture the association’s rationale for creating the plan.

However, “beautification” of San Francisco was not a simple task as described in the 1905 article Making San Francisco Beautiful, “It is easier to plan a sewer than a temple, and easier to build one.” Burnham’s plan, completed in September 1905, proposed to change the city completely. His 184-page report, with 30 large photographs and 23 maps and plans, included broad new boulevards and circular traffic ways, parks, and municipal facilities.

Photos: Daniel Burnham and James Phelan