Tenderloin's Historic Hibernia Bank Building Is Making a Comeback - NBC Bay Area
Stories by Joe Rosato Jr.

Stories by Joe Rosato Jr.

Tenderloin's Historic Hibernia Bank Building Is Making a Comeback

Sweeping restoration of the 1892 structure at Jones and McAllister streets is in its final weeks

The Hibernia Bank building has occupied this spot since 1892, surviving the 1906 Earthquake that pummeled its shell but burned its core with such ferocity its thick bank vaults were said to smolder for a month. Joe Rosato Jr. reports. (Published Friday, Dec. 18, 2015)

The granite banking palace lorded over the corner of Jones and McAllister in San Francisco's Tenderloin – its stately dome adding a posh touch to the gritty street happenings below.

The Hibernia Bank building has occupied this spot since 1892, surviving the 1906 Earthquake that pummeled its shell but burned its core with such ferocity its thick bank vaults were said to smolder for a month.

But now, 30 years after the grand building was left to languish through decades of neglect, a backdrop for drug dealing and prostitution, the newly restored building is awaiting a new tenant and a bright future.

"There's certainly still a 'wow' factor when you walk in the building," said developer Seamus Naughton, whose Dolmen Property Group is in the final weeks of a sweeping restoration to the building.

Photo credit: Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area

The building closed in 1985 though its basement served as a police station until 2002. The developer bought the building in 2008 for a reported $3.95 million and dumped millions more into the restoration, which included extensive seismic upgrades.

"We essentially built a whole new building inside of the plaster skin," Naughton said, his voice echoing through the startlingly grand banking hall festooned with marble floors and opulent moldings.

The restoration took 14 months and essentially wound the clock back a century – leaving the building's yesteryear features looking as if they'd just been installed. Naughton breezed through the bank's former administrative offices complete with soaring ceilings, massive marble fireplace mantles and graceful chandeliers.

The developers initially wanted to remove the bank's original marble teller counter which split the main room – but instead settled for removing half of it and placing it in storage.

Naughton said much of the work was devoted toward cleaning and restoring the bank's giant, colorful skylights, setting the room ablaze in a cascade of beaming light. The wood rooms where bank customers once examined their safe deposit boxes were still in tact – as well as the banks sturdy, thick vaults.

"Obviously, it's been preserved," Naughton said, "so it's almost like a time capsule, I guess."

Among the Hibernia building's features are its original bank vaults which were said to smolder a month after an internal fire following the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.
Photo credit: Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area

But this time capsule is ready for modern life. The search is now on for a tenant to occupy the entire building, which include vast basements. Leasing agent John Jensen of Colliers International said prospective suitors so far include tech companies, finance companies and entertainment groups.

"There are very few buildings like this building you could make your own," Jensen said.

Randy Shaw of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic said the restoration of the Hibernia building is a touchstone for the Jones Street resurgence. Long-awaited work is finally kicking off on the adjacent Renoir Hotel as well as plans for a proposed 300-unit apartment tower by Shorenstein Properties slated for a nearby parking lot.

"Within in a couple years it's going to be filled and it's going to be a transformed area," Shaw said. "Jones Street is going to go back to its great days very soon."

For a man who had just successfully shepherded the massive Hibernia project, Naughton wasn't exactly jumping up and down with joy. Instead he seemed more like a boxer who had just crawled out of the ring after a 12-round bruiser. He said he'd appreciate the completed once a tenant was found, and the money flowed in for a change.

"Once we get a tenant in here we can breathe a sigh of relief," Naughton said, "and really start to enjoy it."

Period details inside the Hibernia Bank building's grand hall.
Photo credit: Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area

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