San Francisco's Glass Arts Tour
Last updated: June 2010
Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, the roots of glass art in San Francisco took hold as artisans from such local studios as the United Art Glass Company created many of the famous stained-glass windows that adorn the city's public spaces, both sacred and secular. This left behind a continuing legacy of the glass art tradition.
Glass art takes on many forms, from the prismatic window designs to glass beads, which you can make in a one-day workshop. Examples of the tradition of glass art can be found around nearly every corner of the city. Spend a day -- or two -- discovering San Francisco's Glass Arts in a tour designed to give both a historic and a contemporary perspective of this vibrant medium.
Although this list represents only a small portion of places to see glass art, it's a good start. Although many locations are within blocks of each other, you'll do plenty of walking, including some hills. Your attire should be comfortable yet stylish -- many of the stops are in upscale businesses. The tour takes six to eight hours. If you think this might be a bit much for one day, spread the tour over two days.
Here's a preview slideshow that you can watch at flickr.com.
Also, here are some videos that you might want to watch to give you a sneak preview of what you might find on your tour:
Jumpstart your tour by heading downtown to the Palace Hotel to see the Garden Court Restaurant, where you can enjoy a fancy dish or a cup of coffee at a historic landmark. You'll find it on the lower lobby level, directly across from the hotel's main entrance. When walking around this open and airy space, be sure to look up -- you'll be bathed in light by the massive stained-glass dome and hovering Austrian crystal chandeliers.
The Garden Court originally served as the hotel's carriage entrance when it opened in 1875, but following the 1906 earthquake, it was transformed into one of the city's most majestic public spaces. A second renovation, completed in 1991, readied this old beauty for the next 100 years.
Then it's on to the Museum of Contemporary Folk Art (MOCFA) , only a few blocks away. Walk south on Second Street to Mission Street, turn right and cross Third Street. You'll find it on Yerba Buena Lane at Mission, between Third and Fourth streets. This museum doesn't open until 11 a.m. , so plan accordingly.
Devoted to contemporary craft and folk art, MOCFA exhibits work that demonstrates innovation and craftsmanship spanning the work of pioneers as well as of mid-career and emerging talents. And don't miss the museum store. Its shelves are stocked with artisan glassware produced by some of contemporary craft's most recognized names -- and browsing is free.
The next destination is Gump's, a high-end home décor paradise that offers a visual rainbow in an array of such glass art objects as vases, bowls and trinkets -- by artisans like Nikolas Weinstein and John Derian. Just walk up Third Street and cross Market. Pass Geary and make a left onto Post Street, which is where you'll find Gump's, just before Grant Street.
Next up is the heart of Union Square! Continue west on Post, making a left onto Stockton, and you'll reach another noted historical landmark: The City of Paris Building (aka the Neiman Marcus Store) is located on the southeast corner of Geary and Stockton streets.
Once inside, above Neiman's upscale The Rotunda Restaurant restaurant, you'll see a large pale-yellow oval dome with a floating yellow ship. The dome, which is an original feature, pays homage to the maritime activities of San Francisco Bay. Completed in 1896, the City of Paris is an example of the Beaux Arts style of commercial building popular in California at the time of its construction. It was restored post-earthquake in 1909, and in 1981, Neiman Marcus bought the property and had it demolished and redesigned by famed architect Phillip Johnson. Fortunately, the company salvaged the 2,600 stained-glass pieces -- rumor has it that Johnson wanted to trash the dome rather than incorporate it into his architecture plans. We're glad he didn't!
The Rotunda, we should add is a nice place to stop for a fancy lunch. It's a splurge but need we say more than, "popovers with strawberry butter"? Or, take a short walk Johnny Foley's Irish Pub and Restaurant, a typical Irish pub serving the usual pub fare at reasonable-to-touristy prices. Proceed south down Stockton, make a right at O'Farrell and continue until it intersects with Powell.
Built in 1909, Johnny Foley's is the former site of Bardelli's Restaurant, once notorious as the hangout of city officials and famous hobnobbers. This location used to have a beautiful domed entrance foyer fully enclosed in stained glass, one section of which had a beautiful peacock in a flower garden created in the Art Nouveau tradition -- but now just hints of the glass art exists.
Our glass adventure continues with two more must-sees, atop Nob Hill only a short cable car ride away. First up is the Stanford Court Renaissance Hotel, once the humble home of railroad magnate Leland Stanford. Step inside and you'll notice an amber-colored stained-glass dome, fabricated in Tiffany-style, gracing the hotel's lobby.
Now move on to Grace Cathedral. This pure marvel of architecture and stained glass was modeled after France's gothic-style Chartres Cathedral. To get there, simply walk one block west up California to Powell -- the key word being "up."
Construction of the cathedral lasted from 1920 to 1965. The stained-glass windows have contemporary elements with panels dedicated to the 20th-century achievements of astronaut John Glenn and scientist Albert Einstein. It is also noted for its carved relief doors, copies of Lorenzo Ghiberti's Renaissance-era Florence Baptistry, as well as its indoor and outdoor labyrinths.
The trek continues onward to the Pacific Heights neighborhood, where you can find more stained glass in a sacred space. Built in 1904, the Sherith Israel Synagogue is the city's oldest Jewish congregation. It is celebrated for its dozen historical stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the Torah as well as its sanctuary dome representing the sun and the moon. The apex of the dome's interior curve is an impressive 120 feet above the first floor. It is highly recommended to call before going to ensure that it is open to the public.
Your next stop is the Richmond neighborhood, for a visit to the Neptune Society Columbarium. This is all that remains of the four cemeteries that once covered most of the area. The classical-style structure was originally the centerpiece of a 167-acre cemetery and crematorium whose inhabitants were moved to Colma to make room for a housing development. The building was abandoned from 1934 to 1979, when it fell into the restorative hands of the Neptune Society. In addition to the busts and marble flooring, the interior contains a treasure trove of beautiful stained glass -- some pieces are thought to have been designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
You've made it this far -- are you ready for more? If you can keep up the energy, mosey on down to the new and improved de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. The museum has two impressive collections displaying some of the finest examples of glass art from its American Sculpture and Decorative Art holdings and the Dorothy and George Saxe Collection of Contemporary Craft, including work from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Studio.
There's only one more visit on our tour, and it's just in time for dinner. Octavia's Haze glass-art gallery and store is located in the bustling Hayes Valley neighborhood. Its specialty is hand-blown glass art crafted by talented artists from the Bay Area, Seattle and Italy.
Dinner options abound in Hayes Valley, and here are a few suggestions to help you decide. Choose between yummy Italian cuisine at Caffe delle Stelle at 395 Hayes, Flipper's gourmet burgers at 482 Hayes -- or you might want to check out the always-hip Frjtz for its artist-inspired dishes, just up the street at 579 Hayes.
If this tour has inspired your inner artisan, then be sure to check out Public Glass on another day. The gallery opens at noon on weekends, and it offers weekend classes and workshops in such skills as glass blowing, bead making and cold fusing.
Below you'll find contact and admission information for each venue as well as our suggestions for parking and public transit for some of the destinations.
Garden Court Restaurant at the Palace Hotel
Where: 2 New Montgomery St. (at Market), San Francisco
When: Open for Breakfast Monday-Friday 6:30am-11am, Saturday 6:30am-10:30am, Sunday 6:30am-9:30am, Lunch Monday-Saturday 11:30am-2pm. Sunday Brunch 11am-2pm.
Phone: (415) 546-5089
Parking: Parking on the street can be difficult; there is a pay garage located in the hotel, accessible from New Montgomery, left side of main entrance.
Public transit: You can reach this location via BART or MUNI. Get off at the Montgomery Station; the Garden Court/Palace Hotel is on the south side of Market Street.
Museum of Craft and Folk Art
Where: 51 Yerba Buena Ln. (at Mission), between Third and Fourth Sts., San Francisco
When: Monday - Friday (closed on Wednesday) from 11am-6pm, Saturday-Sunday from 11am-6pm, open until 7:30pm on the first Thursday of every month.
Phone: (415) 227-4888
Cost: $5 general, $4 seniors, free for Museum of Contemporary Folk Art members and for youth age 18 and under. Free admission on the first Tuesday of each month. No admission charge if you only want to browse the museum's store.
Where: 135 Post St., near Grant, San Francisco
When: Monday-Saturday from 10am-6pm and Sunday from 12-5pm.
Phone: (415) 982-1616
City of Paris Building (Neiman Marcus)
Where: 150 Stockton St. @ Geary, San Francisco
When: Monday-Wednesday and Friday-Saturday from 10am-7pm, Thursday from 10am-8pm, Sunday from 12-6pm.
Phone: (415) 227-4888
Johnny Foley's Irish Pub and Restaurant
Where: 243 O'Farrell St. @ Powell, San Francisco
When: Open daily 11:30am-2am
Phone: (415) 954-0777
Stanford Court Renaissance Hotel (Marriott)
Where: 905 California St. (at Powell), San Francisco
When: Lobby is open daily, 24 hours.
Phone: (415) 989-3500
Parking: If street parking isn't available, there is a pay garage on the south side of California Street, near Taylor.
Public transit: To get there from Neiman's in Union Square, walk one block east to the corner of O'Farrell and Stockton and take the "Hyde Line/Hyde and Beach" cable car to California Street. Get off and walk one block west until you arrive at the hotel. The cost of the ride is $5 without a Fast Pass.
Where: 1100 California St. (at Taylor), San Francisco
When: Monday-Friday from 7am-6pm, Saturday from 8am-6pm and Sunday from 7am-7pm. Tour guides are available Monday-Friday 1-3pm, Saturday 11:30am-1:30pm, Sunday 8am-7pm.
Phone: (415) 749-6300. For group tours, please contact Michael Cooke at (415) 749-6348.
Cost: Suggested donation of $5 for adults and $3 for children. Please note: You must be very quiet because cathedral activities are usually taking place.
Congregation Sherith Israel
Where: 2266 California St., (between Buchanan and Webster), San Francisco
Phone: (415) 346-1720. Please call before visiting.
Public transit: Take the "#1 California" bus from the corner of Sacramento and Powell and get off at Buchanan. Walk one block over to California and turn right. Go about half a block and you'll be at the Sherith Israel.
Please note: If you have big bags, you must check them at the front office. The Columbarium is not wheelchair accessible.
Where: 1 Lorraine Ct., off Anza St., (between Stanyan and Arguello), San Francisco
When: Monday-Friday from 9am-5pm, Saturday-Sunday from 10am-3pm
Phone: (415) 771-0717
Public transit: From Sherith Israel, walk west to Fillmore and take the "#22 Fillmore" southbound to Geary. Get off and transfer to the "#38 Geary" westbound. Hop out at Stanyan and walk south about a block to Anza Street and turn right. When you run into Lorraine Street, make a right and you'll see the Columbarium's large structure at the end of the block.
de Young Museum
Where: Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco
When: Tuesday-Sunday from 9:30am-5:15pm, Friday from 9:30am-8:45pm (from mid-January until November).
Phone: (415) 863-3330
Cost: $10 adults, $7 seniors, $6 youth and students, free for children 12 and under. There is a $5 special exhibition surcharge.
Parking: Street parking can be a challenge, so you might want to pay for a spot at the Music Concourse Garage, accessible from JFK and MLK drives.
Public transit: From the Columbarium, head west down Anza to Sixth Street where you'll catch the southbound "#44 O'Shaughnessy" bus. It stops near the front of the museum on Tea Garden Drive.
Where: 498 Hayes St. (at Octavia), San Francisco
When: Sunday-Saturday from 11:30-7pm
Phone: (415) 255-6818
Public transit: To reach Octavia's Haze from the de Young, take the "#44 O'Shaughnessy" bus northbound and transfer to the "#21 Hayes" at the corner of Eighth and Fulton. Get off at Hayes and Octavia.
To reach Octavia's Haze from the Columbarium, you simply need to walk three city blocks to the corner of Fulton and Stanyan to catch the eastbound "#21 Hayes" bus. If you happen to see the "#33 Arguello" going southbound down Stanyan, you can take it and transfer at Fulton to the "#21 Hayes." Get off the 21 at Hayes and Octavia.
Where: 1750 Armstrong Ave. (at Yosemite), San Francisco
When: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday from 9am-12pm, Monday and Thursday from 9am-7pm
Phone: (415) 671-4916
Cost: Free admission to gallery. Check Web site for costs of classes and workshops.
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