Built in 1915 to designs by Arthur Brown and John Bakewell, City Hall is the epitome of the Beaux Arts style visible across the whole Civic Center. The building has lots of ornamental ironwork, elaborate plasterwork and a dome - modelled on the one at St Peter's in Rome - that is higher than the one on the nation's Capitol (sources vary as to just how much higher). The central rotunda, with its sweeping staircase, is a magnificent space and the dome overlooks a five-storey colonnade, limestone and granite masonry, regal lighting and majestic marble floors. Dubbed 'the most significant interior space in the United States' by a New York architectural critic, City Hall inspires a marked feeling of municipal awe. The city capitalises on this by renting it out for private functions, with one night's rental ranging from $12,000 up to $30,000.
Beneath its neo-classical exterior, the building hums with modern technology. After it was damaged in the 1989 earthquake, city planners spent $300 million protecting it against future shocks and restoring it to its original grandeur. A system of rubber-and-steel 'base isolators' now allows the structure to move a metre in any direction. Its 600 rooms have seen plenty of history: Joe DiMaggio got hitched to Marilyn Monroe on the third floor in 1954, although nobody knows in which office; on a more sombre note, it was here that Dan White assassinated Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978. Today, the building houses the legislative and executive branches of both city and county government. Free tours offering behind the scenes views of the Board of Supervisors' chambers (panelled in hand-carved Manchurian oak) are available Monday to Friday at 10am, noon and 2pm.
With the exception of a number of impossibly intricate handmade wooden models of San Francisco landmarks - among them a cross-section of the building's dome - the Museum of the City of San Francisco in South Light Court isn't that impressive. There's a small café for the weary of feet, and the basement contains exhibits sponsored by the San Francisco Arts Commission.