- The great San Francisco earthquake and resulting fire destroys
the building at 760 Market Street, and the remains are blown up and
hauled away. In it’s place is built The Phelan Building, financed
and named for James D. Phelan, one time mayor and future senator of
California . It was the first steel framed building west of the
Mississippi and opened for business in 1908. How, I do not know, but
over a short period of time the building became the jewelry center
of San Francisco, smack in the middle of downtown, almost next door
to Macy’s. For at least 75 years this building has been the
destination for anybody looking for jewelers, diamond and colored
stone dealers and all manner of other jewelry things. We’ve often
said that we wanted the franchise on ripping out the sewer pipes
because of the metal filings and who knows how many diamonds and
gems. It’s ownership has changed hands several times, but around four
years ago it was acquired by it’s current owners, Thor Equities. I
could voice some less than flattering things about them, but I’ll
refrain from doing that. One thing they did was add a clause to the
lease that tenants can be given 60 days notice to vacate. First it
was the third floor, then the sixth, then the fifth - evicting and
moving tenants so that they could strip the marbled halls out and
turn the space into one large space of an entire floor. This is a big
building, that’s a lot of space. Several people from the 4th floor
were just moved here, to nine, last August. So, first it was Revere
Academy and Good Neighbor, a lapidary shop. Then yesterday it was the
rest of us, the entire 9th floor - 60 days to vacate, by January
21st, no ifs ands or buts. Thing is, the 9th floor is pretty much the
core of the jewelers in this building. Revere, Otto Frei’s SF office,
us, and some others that readers won’t know. Hratch Nargizian, the
resident master engraver. And there are only two more floors left to
gut out of eleven. They won’t be long for this world, I’m sure. Herco
the chain dealer already left when their number came up last summer.
So, sure - I’ve been in this space for 30 years and I thought I would
die here. I don’t want to move for many reasons, one being the
packing and physically moving into an as-yet undetermined place. The
real thing is the big picture, though. Everyone will scatter to the
wind, and there just will no longer be a central place for jewelry in
San Francisco. I really could throw a rock through the walls and hit
Otto Frei, two diamond dealers, two colored stone dealers, a pearl
dealer, an engraver and two diamond setters. If I yelled out the
window, all of those people could hear me. That will be no more,
shortly. This is essentially an obituary, yes, but many readers here
have been to this building. I know some personally. That’s going to
be only a wisp of history, real soon now… Time marches on, for
better or worse…
Sad, sad news. If I were you I’d throw that rock at Thor Equities.
This happened in Seattle, first with the Joshua Green Building and
now with the Fourth and Pike. Sad…
I have been to your studio and can understand the history, tradition
and history of your building and you business. I am very disappointed
to hear of your forced move. I hope that both of you find just the
right spot to continue on with your excellent talent and love you
your work. Too bad all of you could not buy your own place and have
an artist haven. Best of luck,
Condolences. I was never aware of your community or I would have
stopped by when I lived in California just to soak up the ambiance.
What a wonderful thing;to live a life you love. Thanks for continuing
to share. Thomas III
Jo_Ann, and many other friends there on the 9th floor, I am so sad to
hear this. It is clear that the owners have treated the tenants
shabbily. I hope that many of you can find a new home that will allow
the close proximity that made the Phelan building the core of the
city’s jewelry industry.
James Binnion Metal Arts
Very sad. It is a beautiful building or was. We have probably met.
Back when I lived in the east bay and took classes at Revere my hair
was dyed red.
Oh how sad. I don’t have enough words to tell you how I ache for you.
Do know that I wish you to best in finding a good place to move. You
are so valuable to the Orchid group - you just have to be settled and
made happy - our wish!
Rose Marie Christison
It was mentioned in one of the original posts that the poster had no
idea of why the Phelan bldg became the jewelery and precious stone
focus for the city. The bldg was triangular in shape, due to the lot
shape, and there was a triangular light well in the center. This
enabled windows to have natural light coming into every room. Each
floor layout had a central hall with offices on either side. Each
hall door opened onto a vista of light. For fine detail work, whether
stone setting or any other jewelery related operation, the bldg was
Nirvana. Probably the bldg was acquired by some division of Bain
Hedge Fund. Lee (the saw guy)
San Francisco: A brief jewelry history (and suggested resolution)
Actually the Phelan Building was only one of half a dozen downtown
San Francisco buildings that used to teem with goldsmiths,
silversmiths, fine engravers, setters and lapidaries.
During the Great Depression the Granat Brothers Jewelry store placed
a nation-wide advertisement for one hundred fine goldsmiths and
setters. My grandfather drove out from the east coast for the
deadline and found himself in line with 800+ other applicants. He
received one of the positions and worked at the Granat Brothers’
workshop, a four-story building on 22nd & Mission, which serviced the
main jewelry store on Grant Street (two blocks up from the Phelan
Building on Market Street). It became the largest manufacturing
jewelry company west of the Mississippi. Many of the old goldsmithing
related families in the Bay Area trace their lineage to this major
Over the next several decades the independent craftspeople and
related services began to fill the neighboring buildings along the
Geary, Market and Post Street corridors.
As a young apprentice, during the 1960’s, I remember meeting scores
of European and Japanese trained specialists in all branches of the
metal-arts trades. In particular I fondly remember often visiting the
noted lapidary Francis J. Sperison in the 166 Geary Building. He was
the author of the ‘Art of the Lapidary’. Decades before the advent of
the German lapidary designers he was considered to be the Father of
the ‘New Cutting’ techniques and famous for collaborating with
Margaret De Patta. He would let me browse through his workshop and
watch he and his son at work.
The many buildings that housed these workshops provided water and
natural gas. Inevitably this caused the owners greater liability and
headaches and, with the exception of a few shops that have
’grand-father clauses’ in their leases, we have been denied entry.
One way to resolve this problem would be to pool our resources and
establish co-operative building arrangements. I have seen several
vibrant, successful examples in several major European cities.
I had the good fortune of attending the Revere Academy in 2011 for
almost three months of classes. Alan Revere is a legend in the
industry, and his personal office/workshop was in one of those
corners. It was awesome. Sorry to hear they have to move, he has
been in that space for some 20 or 30 years. It was pretty great
having Otto Frei 10 feet from the front door of the Academy. Learning
all about the proper tools was an important part of my education at
Revere, and it was so easy with the store right there. Hope they
find a new home they are happy with.
It was mentioned in one of the original posts that the poster had no idea of why the Phelan bldg became the jewelery and precious stone focus for the city. The bldg was triangular in shape, due to the lot shape, and there was a triangular light well in the center. This enabled windows to have natural light coming into every room. Each floor layout had a central hall with offices on either side. Each hall door opened onto a vista of light. For fine detail work, whether stone setting or any other jewelery related operation, the bldg was Nirvana. Probably the bldg was acquired by some division of Bain Hedge Fund.
Interesting bit of history. Funny how it is now that artificial
light in the form of electricity and light bulbs is so common that
we do not give it a second though, that those sorts of considerations
would hardly come to mind nowadays. And just for the record, this
was acquired by a NY real estate development company, Thor Equities.
Nothing to do with Bain.
Wow! Talk about different experiences. I took one weekend course (3
days) at the Revere two summers ago. It was perfectly horrible. I
would never do it again and felt like a sap. The instructor was
terrible and it cost a fortune. I saw no benefit to the building and
it’s light source however I will be sorry to see it go. I spent 6
times the money that I spend on a 4 month community college course
and received none of the benefit. Don’t get me started on the subject
of Otto Frei. It is a 30 minute drive from where I live to the
Oakland facility and I choose to order in from Rio. That is all I
will say on the matter.
Kindest Regards, R
I’ve taken quite a few classes at the Revere Academy over the years,
starting with Fabrication 1 in 2001, and most recently Charles
Lewton Brain’s fold forming class this past spring. I always
benefitted greatly from the courses – I had learned a little jewelry
making here and there, butFab 1 and Fab 2 busted my chops, and also
taught me a few into the bargain. However, t he icing on the cake was
getting to spend time in the Phelan Building when I took classes. I
loved how it was rebuilt right after the big 1906 quake and
resembled the Flatiron Building in New York City. The lobby and
elevators are full of beautiful ornamental touches – way too early
for Art Deco, but could a building still be called Art Nouveau by
1908? The walls and floors are marble, and the wrought iron
staircases are lovely. I took a lot of picturesof the inside of the
building during my class this spring, includinga very "Twilight Zone"
picture of late afternoon sun filling the end of a dark marble
corridor (at the other end of the building from the Academy) with
light and sparkle. Even the smell of the building is ancientand yet
The Phelan Building is a San Francisco historical landmark (#156, I
believe) so I really, really hope there are some serious limits on
what theowners are allowed to do to it and that those limits are
being enforced. Didn’t one of the earlier posters here mention they
were tearing outthe marble on some of the floors already under
Wow! Talk about different experiences. I took one weekend course (3 days) at the Revere two summers ago. It was perfectly horrible. I would never do it again and felt like a sap. The instructor was terrible and it cost a fortune. I saw no benefit to the building and it's light source however I will be sorry to see it go. I spent 6 times the money that I spend on a 4 month community college course and received none of the benefit. Don't get me started on the subject of Otto Frei. It is a 30 minute drive from where I live to the Oakland facility and I choose to order in from Rio. That is all I will say on the matter.
Wow!!! it seems like Rita Hopper may be the ONLY one who’s not
sorry for “the end of a era” in San Francisco. I’m not too familiar
with Revere but I do know Otto Frei Co. and Steve Frei for many
years and I hope that they can re-locate to a better location for
many years to come. . Sincerely, Richard Lucas. LUCAS DENTAL CO.
INC., Brooklyn, NY USA
Stay tuned on this matter… The era may be ending here at The Phelan
but re-starting up again with a small twist !!! It seems that we
(meaning the jewelry, metal & stone makers) are very creative &
motivatedpeople. Keep the fingers crossed… Ciao from drippy & wet
Is there a magnificent metamorphosis in the making ? Not only will we
all cross our fingers, but our toes, and, even whisper a few prayers.
Wishing you great success!
I checked out Revere Academy and Jewelry Studies Intl (owned and
operated by two of the best instructors Revere ever had, Ronda
Coryell and Vasken Tanielian) and I am certain I made the right
choice in going to JSI. I just graduated and feel that I gained the
necessary skills while attending Jewelry Studies Intl. They took me
from the basics all the way through advanced model making for
production. JSI offered more in the way of advanced skills than any
of the other schools I checked out. There were no hidden costs and
all materials and tools were supplied to work with, so not having
Otto Frei next door was no problem. JSI supplied all that was
necessary. I am a single mother of a 4 yr old and needed to know the
the entire cost, so this was quite helpful. The facility was roomy
and everyone had the latest and greatest tools to work with,
including a top-notch laser welder and CAD machines for growing or
carving my creations. I was introduced to many of the new metals out
there that are taking the place of sterling silver, and must admit
that I will never work with sterling again. especially after working
with Argentium. By the end of the semester, I was able to produce
pieces I would have never thought I would be able to create just a
year ago. I look forward to what the future holds for me and thank
Ronda and Vasken for showing me the way.
Tracey - also, another plus side, Texas is affordable and Austin is a
hell of a fun place to live/visit!