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.