Site plan of Brooks Hall, San Francisco (published in 2000)
|Owner||City and County of San Francisco|
|Inaugurated||April 11, 1958|
|US$4,500,000 (equivalent to $39,080,000 in 2018)|
|Civic Center Event Hall|
|• Total space||90,000 sq ft (8,400 m2)|
|Public transit access||BART and Muni, Civic Center/UN Plaza station|
Brooks Hall (originally Civic Center Exhibit Hall, nicknamed Mole Hall and Gopher Palace) is a disused 90,000 sq ft (8,400 m2) event space underneath the southern half of Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco; a parking garage occupies the space under the northern half.
It was built in late 1950s for the cost of $4,500,000, and dedicated on April 11, 1958. It was named after Thomas A. Brooks, a chief administrative officer of city and county of San Francisco, who retired the same year the building was dedicated.
Design and construction
The concept of an exhibition space under Civic Center Plaza was advanced in a 1953 report written by city planners which called for the first reinvention of Civic Center since the original 1911 design and also predicted what would become Moscone Center. Funding for the project was provided largely through $3M authorized by Measure A, passed by San Francisco voters in November 1954, and planning for the new space began in 1956.
Excavation for the site began on September 17, 1956, and citizens were encouraged to take plants from Civic Center Plaza for their personal use. The discovery of prior paving and building foundations on the site slowed construction, which had been scheduled to take 18 months after excavation was to be completed in February 1957, and Mayor George Christopher presided over the dedication ceremony on April 11, 1958, when the exhibition space was dedicated for Brooks. During construction, the local press dubbed the new space "Mole Hall" or "Gopher Palace", nicknames that profoundly irritated Mayor Christopher and which made headlines from coast to coast. The three-story subterranean parking garage immediately north of Brooks Hall was built starting in 1959; the two structures are separated with a seismic joint 4 1⁄2 inches (110 mm) wide and a tunnel connects the two structures.
Brooks Hall was built with a tunnel underneath Grove, connecting the exhibition space to its neighbor to the south, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Drainage was one of the major challenges in building the underground space; at the time of construction, the water table was only 16 to 19 feet (4.9 to 5.8 m) below the Civic Center Plaza surface, and the excavation for Brooks Hall went to a depth exceeding 30 feet (9.1 m). To keep the site dry, five wells were drilled 50 feet (15 m) deep along the north and west edges of the site and water was continuously pumped out of the site at a rate of 100 to 300 US gal/min (6.3 to 18.9 l/s) per well.
The foundation consists of a large, 3 1⁄2 ft (1.1 m) thick concrete slab measuring 287 by 374 feet (87 m × 114 m) floating on fill and sand. The overall dimensions of Brooks Hall itself are 284 by 434 feet (87 m × 132 m) including mechanical spaces and offices, and overall height is 21 ft 6 in (6.55 m), measured floor-to-floor. Inside, the ceiling has a vertical clearance of 14 feet (4.3 m) to the floor; square concrete pillars measuring 32 in (810 mm) on a side are spaced on 40-foot (12 m) centers to support the space. Forced air ventilation is provided; air may be heated (using steam from city plants) or chilled (using a chilled water system); aboveground, the ventilation structures near one playground are the most visible sign of Brooks Hall. The roof of Brooks Hall is covered with soil varying between 3 and 5 feet (0.91 and 1.52 m) deep. A report published in 1998 estimated the weight of Brooks Hall alone may not be sufficient to resist the buoyant uplift without the soil covering. The prime contractor for Brooks Hall was Theo G. Meyer & Sons; the architects were Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons collaborating with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; engineering was provided by H.J. Brunnier and DeLeuw, Cather & Co.
By October 1958, the original architect/engineer design team had prepared plans to expand the facilities at Brooks Hall with an additional exhibition building to be built in the block west across Polk from the Civic Auditorium. A survey of existing conditions in 1998 concluded the electrical, lighting, plumbing, fire alarm, and telecommunications systems, all of which dated to the original 1958 installation, were outdated and would require replacement if the space were used for anything other than storage or parking.
Twenty years later in 2018, CMG Landscape Architecture unveiled three potential redesigns for the entire Civic Center Plaza-Fulton Mall-UN Plaza open space extending east from City Hall. A composite plan will be unveiled in November 2018 taking elements from each of the three proposals.
At the opening ceremony, Mayor Christopher bragged the site had already been booked for 74 days in 1958, 104 days in 1959, and 117 days in 1960. However, just six months after opening, Saul Poliak called Brooks Hall "distressingly inadequate" and had left "San Francisco unprepared for major conventions and exhibitions" while providing some faint comparative praise: "Your chief competitor out here is Los Angeles, of course, and right now they’re in worse shape than you are."
One of the first shows booked at the new exhibition space was the 1958 American Medical Association convention. For that show, Wallace Laboratories had commissioned artist Salvador Dali for an eye-catching piece to promote its new tranquilizer, Miltown. The result, Crisalida, a 60-foot (18 m) long walk-through cocoon-shaped gallery made from parachute silk intended to display the journey from anxiety to calm, made headlines nationally, including coverage in Time.
During its operating history, Brooks Hall became home to events such as the Harvest Festival, the San Francisco Gift Show, and the West Coast Computer Faire, credited as the first microcomputer convention, which drew 12,700 visitors its first year (1977). It was also where Apple hosted the first Macworld convention in 1985, and many subsequent ones.
Decline and closure
By 1976, according to a proposal submitted to the City, "the existing building does not meet the expectations of today's conventioneer or exhibitor" and a renovation was proposed to update meeting rooms, offices, and restrooms." For instance, the Show Manager's Office was accessed through the vestibule of the men's restroom,:24 which had "excessive odor" due to the use of absorptive grout,:32 and a storage space was used for food service, rather than a dedicated kitchen.:79
Before 1981, the auditorium and Brooks Hall were used as the city’s primary convention center; after that date bookings at Brooks Hall suffered because of competition from more modern event spaces such as Moscone Center (completed in 1981 and expanded in 1991), Fashion Center (completed in 1990 and later leased by Zynga as its headquarters), and the Marriott Hotel (completed in 1989). A 1987 report advocated retaining Brooks Hall as a cheaper alternative to Moscone Center, as the cost to rent Brooks was half that of Moscone, and hotels in Civic Center were more affordable as well. Events fell from a high of 26 held in 1988 to just 15 in 1993.
The space was closed to the public in April 1993:63 because of the construction of the new Main Library. The new Main Library was built on the Marshall Square block bounded by Larkin, Fulton, Hyde, and Grove, incorporating the Brooks Hall truck access ramp that "visually marred" the formal approach to City Hall from Market. The ramp, near the southwest corner of Fulton and Hyde, is still used by the Library and Brooks Hall. In 1996, it was estimated that it would require a minimum investment of $1.6M to bring the facility in compliance with ADA and fire codes, and possibly require up to $40M to refurbish the space for other uses. Following the closure of Brooks Hall, the City's Department of Convention Facilities transferred authority over the space to the real estate department after a 1996 study concluded there was no economical way to continue using it as an exhibition space.
Current and proposed uses
In 1998, the San Francisco Department of Public Works released A Program for Renovation and Revitalization, a report that explored concepts to renovate and reuse existing city assets in Civic Center, including Brooks Hall. Four conversion alternatives were brought forth::67–71
- Parking garage, costing $11.3 M
- Public storage, costing $1.3 M
- Public access television studio, office spaces, and exhibit areas (with parking), costing $15.4 M
- Multi-media production center with parking, costing $14.9 M
Since the new Main Library has opened, Brooks Hall has been used to store library books. In 2000, a report to the San Francisco Library Commission proposed renovating Brooks Hall and converting it into the city archive at a cost of $10 million.
Brooks Hall has also been used to store historical artifacts, including the Exposition Organ, a 7,000-pipe organ originally manufactured for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. Plans to move the organ, which had been installed in the Civic Auditorium until it was damaged during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, to a new pavilion near Embarcadero Plaza and the San Francisco Ferry Building were announced since 1999.
The site is also used by the San Francisco Department of Elections to stage ballots before they are distributed to polling places. It is also an alternate site for counting vote-by-mail ballots and dispatching poll workers. Although access to unvoted ballots is intended to be limited, workers have complained the fencing surrounding their area is not secure; access to Brooks Hall is difficult, as the main pedestrian stairway is steep, slippery, and often unsanitary due to public urination; restroom plumbing is inadequate; and electrical circuits are often overloaded.
As of 2018[update], Brooks Hall has not reopened as an exhibition site. Ideas proposed for its reuse include a computer museum, an antiques mart, an expansion of the nearby parking garage, a food hall, a performance hall, a farmer's market, or a city-run television studio. In 2018, CMG Landscape Architecture unveiled three proposals to redesign the entire Civic Center open spaces, including a Culture Connector design variant that would open public access to Brooks Hall through a canopy-covered set of stairs just north of Grove.
- "Five wells to drain wet foundation". Western Construction. March 1957. pp. 64–66. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
- Van Niekerken, Bill (January 30, 2018). "SF's Brooks Hall: Mayor made a mountain out of Mole Hall moniker". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved April 14, 2018.(subscription required)
- Sabatini, Joshua (January 23, 2017). "SF plans major Civic Center transformation". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
- "A THOUSAND citizens gathered today for dedication of Brooks Hall, the $4.5 million underground exhibit area beneath Civic Center Plaza. At right, Mayor Christopher and Chief administrative Officer Thomas A. Brooks, for whom the hall was named, cut ribbon as highlight of ceremonies". April 11, 1958.
- "Abandoned Convention Hall Part Of Civic Center Revitalization Plan". Hoodline. January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
- An Introductory Plan for the Civic Center (PDF) (Report). San Francisco Department of City Planning. June 1953. pp. 27–28. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
The [Civic Center] Plaza would be raised over an underground parking space and a proposed underground convention exhibition space. The Plaza would be connected to the Fulton Street Mall by a ramp and to the City Hall at the level of its Polk Street entrance. [...] Auditorium facilities might be expanded under the Civic Center Plaza, or to include the site occupied by the Fox Theatre or the block occupied by the Orpheum Theatre. However, consideration should also be given to the eventual development of a larger new convention hall in a location closer to the downtown hotels and retail stores.
- "'Mole Hall' stirs a furor on coast; Underground Pavilion Plans at San Francisco Dubbed With Waggish Names". The New York Times. January 20, 1957. Retrieved 18 October 2018.(subscription required)
- "Mayor Rips 'Mole Hall' Name Again". San Francisco Examiner. April 6, 1958. Retrieved 18 October 2018.(subscription required)
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- Wurster, William; Owings, Nathaniel; DeLeuw, Charles (October 15, 1958). San Francisco Civic Center Development Plan (PDF) (Report). City of San Francisco. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
- King, John (29 June 2018). "Civic Center makeover: Here's the plan to revamp the heart of SF". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
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- Pappas, Charles (2017). "54: Tranquility Base". Flying Cars, zombie dogs, and robot overlords: How world's fairs and trade expos changed the world. Malaysia: Globe Pequot. pp. 199–200. ISBN 9781630762407. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
- "Medicine: To Nirvana with Miltown". Time. July 7, 1958. Retrieved 18 October 2018.(subscription required)
- "History in Pictures: FJCC 1968 "Mother of All Demos"". Doug Englebart Institute. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
San Francisco's Civic Auditorium all set for the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference
- "Doug's Great Demo: 1968". Doug Englebart Institute. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
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- Request for Proposals for CP17-01, Civic Center Public Space Design (PDF) (Report). City and County of San Francisco. January 2017. p. 13. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
- Angwin, Julia (April 12, 1996). "S.F. Fashion Center on the Block, But No One Bids". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 22 October 2018.
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- Civic Center Proposal (PDF) (Report). Office of the Mayor, San Francisco. November 1987. pp. 31–32, 39. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
- Simon Martin Vegue Winkelstein Moris Olin Partership (October 1998). A Program for Renovation and Revitalization (PDF) (Report). City and County of San Francisco, Department of Public Works. Retrieved 22 October 2018.
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- King, John (2018-06-29). "Civic Center makeover: Here's the plan to revamp the heart of SF". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2018-10-03.
- "Culture Connector". Civic Center Public Realm Plan. 2018. Retrieved 4 October 2018.