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The Merchants Exchange Building, located in the heart of San Francisco's financial district, has been a center for the City’s civic, economic, political, and cultural life for over 100 years. The building’s distinctive architecture, history of notable inhabitants, and ideal location have resulted in making it a prominent landmark.
In 1904, Daniel H. Burnham, of Chicago Illinois, was chosen by city business leaders to construct the Merchants Exchange as a central location for businessmen to meet and conduct commerce.
Burnham's firm had a reputation for designing structures that fused classical styles with a modern infrastructure. D.H. Burnham & Company’s more famous buildings include Union Station in Washington, DC, the Reliance Building in Chicago, and the Flatiron Building in New York City. Burnham also was a well known for his work as a city planner for Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.
Burnham collaborated with a youthful and daring architect, Willis Polk, who headed up Burnham's San Francisco office. Polk was a colorful local figure with an eccentric personality and extravagant tastes, which often were reflected in his buildings.
Polk's better known San Francisco commissions include the Hallidie Building, Kezar Stadium, and the Pacific Union Club on Nob Hill, which some may remember was featured in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller, "Vertigo."
Only four years after work began on the Merchants Exchange, tragedy struck when the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 devastated San Francisco. 28,000 buildings were lost, yet the Merchants Exchange Building survived.
Upon completion of repairs, the building provided water and power to neighbors during their reconstruction. Thus, after the disaster, the Merchants Exchange came to serve as both a symbol of hope and a practical example of the City's remarkable rebirth.