Daniel Burnham had a plan, and being part of the City Beautiful movement, he felt that beauty could increase quality of life. He imagined that San Francisco could be designed to compete with the world as the Paris of the west. His vision was an overall plan that would create a unity in design for the entire city. From the region of the civic center, he envisioned a wide artery that lead from Market Street to the top of Twin Peaks. A grand staircase would be accessible to all, culminating in a beautifully protected natural amphitheater at the top on the eastern side.
Burnham's Plan for San Francisco
On the eastern side of the highest peaks of San Francisco he observed a stunning valley with water ways running to the Pacific Ocean, by way of Lake Merced. Today the Muni Train “M” cuts through these peaks and travels through this valley as it exits the West Portal Tunnel and continues to San Francisco State located near the lake. He dreamed of preserving the vale with its sparkling streams and uninterupted views.
The view that inspired Burnham to save this area of SF
He had proved his talent in design by being the Director of Works for the World’s Fair in Chicago, known as the World’s Colombian Exposition, or “White City.” He also designed the Grand Central Station in NYC, the Rookery Building in Chicago and other large scale innovative projects around the world. He was an advisor for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, where he got to revisit his vision for SF after most of his ideas were scrapped after the earthquake of 1906. Unfortunately, this natural disaster stalled his plans and shook up the city. This could have been an opportunity to invest full force into the plan but the scale of the destruction was too large.
The Rookery Chicago, where he held his office with partner Root.
To hear a great account of his style and determination the historical novel “The Devil in the White City,” is highly recommended. The book gives a great sense of what life was like at the time of his life during the turn of the century. Many people today look back to that time and wish to return to that era of innovation by imagining “Steampunk” style dress and inventions. The wonder and accomplishment of that time has left a lasting impression.
The Fuller Flatiron Building, 1902
Union Station, New York
He also envisions Chicago to he the “Paris on the Prairie,” and was able to use some of his plans for the exposition to make that happen. Still in Chicago, not all of his ideas were realized it is fun to imagine where you would be walking if his plans had been completed. His classical forms would have been inspiring and one can imagine being in a Maxfield Parrish painting with its greek columns and unified design.
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood. ”
“Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die. ”
Daniel Burnham 1846-1912