The National Maritime Museum Building is the most fully developed example of Streamline Moderne nautical style in San Francisco. Designed by local architect William A. Mooser III and constructed during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration, the building was originally intended to serve as a bath house at the center of the city’s Aquatic Park, one of the largest-scale WPA projects in California. Mostly unaltered since its completion, the building consists of an aboveground structure and two subterranean wings with public showers and dressing facilities for bathers.
Its rounded forms, porthole-shaped windows, set-back upper levels, and railings give it the appearance of an ocean liner. This important landmark became the San Francisco Maritime Museum in 1951. The National Park Service assumed stewardship of the facility in the 1970s and began an effort to restore the building in the 1990s. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building contains numerous examples of noteworthy art by WPA artists. Artist and color theorist Hilaire Hiler painted an aquatic-themed mural for the main floor and decorated the ladies lounge ceiling with a color wheel of his own devising. The prominent African-American sculptor, Sargent Johnson, executed the exterior bas-relief in green slate surrounding the main entrances. Local artist Beniamino Bufano created the sculptures on the portico.
Architectural Resources Group (ARG) developed a conservation treatment for the slate mural. The firm then completed contract documents for a comprehensive exterior envelope preservation effort. The slate façade had been in a condition of disrepair and deterioration for a number of years. To preserve Johnson’s bas-relief, ARG developed an innovative method for removing soluble salts from the sculpture’s panels using ultrasonic cleaning technologies and surface treatments for the masking of incised graffiti.
The scope of work also included repairing and restoring the structure’s unique stainless steel-clad windows, which had begun to corrode and leak. The project included a comprehensive analysis and waterproofing of the building envelope, undoing a previous effort to stop leakage that had covered the roof decks with a traffic topping. ARG determined the original type of paving used for the decks and designed a new roof system that matched the original.
+ Project credits / data
Project: National Maritime Museum
Location: 900 Beach Street, San Francisco, California
Gross square footage: 45,540 SF
Site area: 11.5 acres
Awards/certifications: California Preservation Foundation 2011 Preservation Design Award
Client: Craig Kenkel, Superintendent, National Park Service, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Building E, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA 94123
Architect: Architectural Resources Group, Inc., Pier 9, The Embarcadero, Suite 107, San Francisco, CA 94111
Contractor: Brett Taber, Taber Construction 2278 Pike Court, Concord, CA 94520
Photographer credit: David Wakely, David Wakely Photography, 544 Vermont Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
Collaborators: Structural Engineers: SOHA Engineers, 48 Colin P. Kelly Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
Art Conservator: Ann Rosenthal Fine Art Conservation, PO. Box 150384, San Rafael, CA
Project Team: David Wessel, FAPT, Principal Architectural Conservator
Principal Architect: Stephen J. Farneth, FAIA
Associate Architect: Paul Nachtsheim
Project Designer: Jason Wright