239 Grant (1909-1921)

239 Grant old new
Left: 239 Grant under construction, late 1908 or early 1909. At left is the Shreve & Co. building at 200 Post. Visible in the distance beyond the right edge of the building is 417 Stockton (now the Mystic Hotel), and construction materials in adjacent lots.
Right: 233 Grant, photographed 18 April 2013 (the 107th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake)

Downtown San Francisco was rebuilt with remarkable speed. By 1909 both merchants and customers were returning in large numbers. Elder leased an entire building on Grant St. at Campton Place—it was known as the “Paul Elder Building”—and rehired Bernard Maybeck to design the interior.

The main book room was very different from the Van Ness store: long, narrow and tall, with windows on just one side. Maybeck chose old-world motifs: Gothic arched ceiling and distinctive hand-carved screens. Against the grey stone walls, the ceiling was painted blue, with red accents. Maybeck ingeniously incorporated many furnishings from the rustic Van Ness store, such as the medieval chandeliers and heavy wooden bookcases.

The shop opened on 8 April 1909 to news coverage which praised the Old World architecture. The Publishers’ Weekly gushed “in such places clerics illuminated missals for the glory of God.” The San Francisco Chronicle was more reserved, saying “while it is a store, it has about the same degree of commercial appearance as a Gothic cathedral.”

The main book room (two different photos stitched together)
The main book room (two different photos stitched together)

Elder occupied four of the eight floors, and he sublet the others. The sumptuous art room was on the 2nd floor, the ‘standard authors room’ in the basement. The Tomoye Press was on the 3rd floor, but there were no longer any presses: only John Henry Nash’s composing room. Nash contracted out all the printing to Stanley-Taylor Company, choosing instead, to his great success, to concentrate his time on design and typography.

This building still stands at the northwest corner of Grant St. and Campton Place (now numbered 233 Grant St).

The "standard authors" room, in the basement
The “standard authors” room, in the basement
The children's book room, on the 2nd floor
The children’s book room, on the 2nd floor
The art room, on the 2nd floor
The art room, on the 2nd floor

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