The gilded rotunda of City Hall is this intersection’s most prominent landmark. It’s been the site of assassinations, protests, and landmark same-sex marriage actions. The plaza across the street alternates between a homeless encampment and the site of mass celebrations: ethnic festivals, Giants World Series broadcasts, and the Pride Parade Of The Ever-Expanding Acronym. I have more humble memories associated with this grand building—it was where I worked for my first real job.
In high school I was a messenger for an attorney, a good friend of my mom’s who specialized in family law and real estate. I relied on my feet and MUNI for my transportation. I’d take the 1 California bus down to the office in the Financial District, doing as much of my homework as I could during the journey. Once at the office, I’d pick up the legal paperwork and usually head straight to City Hall via the MUNI metro underground. I’d file documents with the civil case clerks and shuttle them to their next stop in the legal process— the sheriff’s department or a judge’s courtroom—or return to file them at the office. Sometimes I’d need to make additional stops to pick up or drop off documents with his real estate clients.
Although it could be a drag to schlep around the city when it was cold and raining (remember those days?) the job was a great match for my organizational skills and active nature. I enjoyed roaming around the historic halls. There were often interesting art exhibits in the lobby and there were always interesting people around. The bike messengers with their shaggy hair and flamboyantly non-professional attire were of particular interest. One guy with long curly black hair and olive skin was my ultimate crush. My heart always beat a little faster when I saw him whizzing around on his bike or—gasp!—shared the elevator with him at City Hall.
My worst on the job memory—other than dealing with some short-tempered clerks—involved something quite innocuous—a cup of cocoa. I had been waiting around to get a judge’s signature and I spotted an automated coffee/hot chocolate machine. Never one to pass up something chocolate flavored, I plunked in a couple of quarters and watched with interest as the paper cup came out of the chute. Fortunately I was paying attention because a sizable cockroach come out of the works along with the hot chocolate. Horrified, I stared at the contaminated cocoa, waiting to see if the giant bug was going to emerge. Finally I got up the courage to take the tainted cup and dispose of it in a nearby trash can, shuddering at the revolting image of what I might have consumed.
After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, City Hall suffered structural damage. During the seismic retrofit in the years to come, many offices and courts moved to different buildings around the city. But my high school years were drawing to a close and so was my time as a legal messenger. The building is celebrating its centennial this year, complete with a giant plaza party worthy of “the city that knows how.” Writing this made me want to go back and and revisit this amazing old building and maybe even take one of the free docent-led tours. I’m grateful to still be able to live in this city with its beautiful architecture and City Hall is one of the grandest examples.