In San Francisco, the historic Aronson Building gets a second life as a neighborhood anchor

Stone For All Seasons

In San Francisco, the historic Aronson Building gets a second life as a neighborhood anchor

At the corner of Mission and Third Streets, in the heart of San Francisco’s Yerba Buena district, there is an architectural cornucopia: An early 20th-century former office building that recalls the best of Louis Sullivan and the Chicago School; a modernist new home for the Mexican Museum by the Mexico City-based TEN Arquitectos, and a glass-and-precast-stone luxury residential tower by Handel Architects. These disparate buildings come together to form the Four Seasons Private Residences at 706 Mission, a luxury residential high-rise and cultural venture by Westbrook Partners, an international real estate company.

“The Residences at 706 Mission fill the Yerba Buena district’s last remaining buildable space,” said Richard Baumert, principal of 706 Mission Company, LLC, an affiliate of Westbrook. “It’s co-located with the new Mexican Museum and close to key cultural venues like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.” Anchoring the development is the conversion of the historic Aronson Building, designed by the San Francisco firm Hemenway & Miller. The former office building, 10 stories tall and 120,000 square feet, opened in 1903 and survived both the great earthquake of 1906 and the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. The Aronson’s primary facades feature terra-cotta detailing, cast-iron storefronts, and Colusa sandstone.

the collection of tower making up the 706 Mission collection
The full 706 Mission parcel (Courtesy 706 Mission Street Co. LLC)

“It’s very in keeping with the Chicago School,” said Glenn Rescalvo, a partner at Handel Architects. The school was active in Chicago beginning in the late 19th century and at the turn of the 20th century and was among the first to promote the new technologies of steel-frame construction in commercial buildings, and developed a spatial aesthetic which co-evolved with, and then came to influence, parallel developments in European Modernism. Sullivan was a giant of the school. The Aronson Building not only expresses its structure outwardly but has effusive decorative elements in the spandrels of the upper floor arches that clearly recall Sullivan’s best work in Chicago and St. Louis.

“With the new adjacent tower, we wanted to express the structure of the original Aronson Building,” said Rescalvo, a San Francisco native. “The developers did not want just a glass box.” The ninth floor of the Aronson, Rescalvo continued, is where the two buildings come together architecturally. “There’s a single apartment that is in both buildings. It has a glass structure that extends onto a portion of the Aronson roof.” Handel worked with Page & Turnbull on the Aronson Building’s historic restoration, which included reinforcing the building’s many decorative elements to avoid danger to pedestrians below.

Rescalvo explained that the new residential tower uses both glass and undulating panels of precast stone to relate to the Aronson and lend a sense of variety and privacy. “The stone is where there are bedrooms,” he said. “This allows floor-to-ceiling glass for maximum views in the living and dining spaces while providing privacy and needed extra wall space in the bedrooms.”

The entry sequence was carefully thought out. Access to the apartments, whether in the old or new towers, is through the Aronson Building. “We ended up creating a linear porte cochère which is really the entrance to the building,” Rescalvo said. “You experience the elegant old San Francisco feeling first, regardless of whether your apartment is in the old or new structure.”

Thenew Mexican Museum designed by TEN Arquitectos(Courtesy 706 Mission Street Co. LLC)

All of this architectural splendor does not come cheap. Prices for residences begin at $2.5 million and go up to $49 million for the complex’s largest duplex penthouse, which Baumert claims is “the most expensive condominium listing in San Francisco ever.”

Work on the Mexican Museum is completed but the new building has not yet opened. It occupies the ground floor of the new tower and floors two through four in both the Aronson and tower buildings. Neither the museum nor TEN Arquitectos responded to multiple requests for comment, but renderings show a boldly cantilevered structure with a decorative scrim and an entrance on Jessie Square, a public space just south and west of the 706 Mission complex. The scrim, according to TEN Arquitectos’ website, “is the work of the Dutch artist Jan Hendrix, [who lives in Mexico], who for this project has opted for a constant theme between Mexico and the United States: the migration of the winds, the migration of the water; and the migration of flora and fauna, creating a topography that will give an iconic appearance to the project.”

While the future of office buildings is uncertain given remote work spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, the luxury housing market in gateway cities like San Francisco remains strong.

The final development is an architectural cornucopia indeed—for a city that is international, cosmopolitan, and with a seemingly inexhaustible demand for luxury housing.