The San Francisco Pyramid Saga
By Stephen Vincent O’Rourke
It’s a Secret that’s been kept for over a hundred years…..it involves..famous streets….famous buildings….and a famous city…
Hancock and Bauval have highlighted the secrets of Paris in their groundbreaking Talisman……but a great American city may hold some of the most obvious and powerful hermetic secrets yet……
Read further if you want to hear about one of the best kept secrets of the ages…..
In San Francisco there exists a curious alignment of streets and buildings that seem to indicate a connection to the Freemasons and the Great Seal of the United States. This alignment was incorporated into the city’s grid at the earliest days of its history and appears to have been marked periodically with the construction of unique and symbolic buildings. Once realized, this symbolism becomes obvious- and you may never look at the City by the Bay, quite the same way after reading this article.
Are the wonderful streets of Market, Van Ness, Columbus and Montgomery hiding a secret? Was San Francisco created as a unique talisman that embodied the hopes and ambitions of a 100-year-old nation? The evidence, while circumstantial, is convincing and indicates that high-ranking Freemasons have periodically created streets and constructed symbolic buildings to maintain the appearance of a truncated pyramid within the streets of downtown San Francisco.
From it’s inception California was a haven for Freemasons and other secret societies. Many of the states pioneers, Fremont, Stevenson, O’Farrell and Montgomery were masons. The first Masonic meeting in fact took place only two years after the US took control of San Francisco, on October 17, 1849, at 728 Montgomery Street, a spot that later figures prominently in the pyramid street alignment theory
It was the Irish born Freemason, Jasper O’Farrell who conducted the original street survey of San Francisco, having been instructed to do so by Lt. Washington A. Bartlett- the man who gave San Francisco it’s name in a January 1847 proclamation. Originally known as Yerba Buena, San Francisco was the capstone for a long trail of Spanish founded Catholic Missions and was represented by the church known as Mission Dolores . In fact Mission Dolores seems to lay behind the reason for one of the most unique street alignment features in the entire city of San Francisco- the diagonal placement of the main artery of Market Street.
The First Diagonal: Market To Mission- a quick route to church
Stretching in a diagonal from the Embarcadero, where it is now aligned perfectly with a clock tower, Market Street ploughs straight through the heart of the city, past Powell, past Van Ness. It was said that O’Farrell, a Catholic, wanted a direct and unencumbered road that would lead to Mission Dolores for his Sunday mass. It was also alleged by early city historians that O’Farrell was basing his survey on the great east coast city of Philadelphia , where he had previously lived. In fact it is believed that two of the streets earliest named, Market and Sansome, were named in honor of their namesakes in the City of Brotherly Love.
O’Farrell was assisted in his street naming project by several people, including the city’s next surveyor, William C. Eddy. Eddy, later the state surveyor, published the first official city map of San Francisco in 1851 and expanded on the original street alignments laid out by O’Farrell. The street naming project was essentially a name-dropping affair of the city’s pioneers, with Montgomery, Fremont and O’Farrell all getting a street named in their honor.
The man thought to have influenced O’Farrell’s Philadelphia agenda was one George Hyde, a Philadelphia born lawyer, who had relocated to California in the days prior to the Gold Rush. Hyde’s influence was strong and he was rewarded with the naming of a strategically aligned street in his honor. Along with Market and Columbus, Hyde Street serves as the base line for a perfect truncated pyramid street alignment. It is not clear whether Hyde himself was a mason, but it seems probable given his close connections to O’Farrell.
Henry Halleck and the Montgomery Block
Next to enter the San Francisco stage and a prominent player in the pyramid street alignment saga is one Henry W. Halleck. Halleck was an interesting historical figure and was the person responsible for adding the diagonal artery of Montgomery Avenue, (later re-named Columbus after the 1906 earthquake). Later a prominent Civil War general, Halleck was also married to the granddaughter of the great Federalist founding father, Alexander Hamilton. He arrived in California in 1847 and was appointed Secretary of State by the Military Governor, Richard B.Mason, who according to one source is the namesake of the famed Fort Mason, located at the northern end of Van Ness.
In 1853, Halleck, who was also a lawyer specializing in land titles, undertook the construction of one of the most famous buildings of 19th Century San Francisco, the building known simply as The Montgomery Block . This building was the first fireproof building
ever built in the city and stood at the intersection of Montgomery Street and Washington Street (600 Montgomery Street), just a few short steps from the site of the first Masonic meeting. It was a fierce looking structure, sturdy- and survived the great 1906 earthquake and stood in some incarnation for over 100 years. It became a bohemian enclave of sorts and housed among other things an artist colony and several of the city’s first newspapers. It was later the sight of an infamous shooting .
The Second Diagonal- Montgomery Avenue- A Path to Fort Mason
After the Civil War Halleck returned to San Francisco and took up residence at the army headquarters located at Black Point Ridge. Originally the residence of eccentric California pioneer and Freemason John C. Fremont, Black Point Ridge was the site of a building owned by Fremont, known as Porter’s Lodge. Under Halleck the entire site was rebuilt and a road was added to the San Francisco grid that stretched directly from Black Point Ridge to the Montgomery Block. This was Montgomery Avenue (later renamed Columbus) and although the exact date of when this diagonal road was added to the city is uncertain, it seems to have been added under Halleck’s last reign in the late 1860’s, when he was again working with the architect GP Cummings . On the surviving maps of 19th Century San Francisco, Montgomery Avenue is visible on the 1873 map, but does not appear on earlier versions.
It was generally believed at the time that Halleck had originally commissioned Montgomery Avenue to make it easier for him to travel from downtown San Francisco to the army headquarters at Black Point Ridge. While this seems plausible the significance of this new addition and the formation to which San Francisco’s downtown streets now took had decidedly Masonic overtones.
The Masons of California Unite
In 1868, during the precise time that Montgomery Avenue was being added, the Mosaic Lodge #38 was chartered in San Francisco under the direction of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, perhaps under Jasper O’Farrell’s guidance. Two other San Francisco lodges had also been chartered by this time, the Olive Branch Lodge #5 and the Wethington Lodge #8. Both of these lodges were chartered from New York, the home state of Halleck and fellow military man and Freemason, Jonathan Drake Stevenson, who’d arrived in San Francisco in 1847 and later quit the army to pursue mining. All of the existing Masonic lodges in San Francisco were formally united in a ceremony on June 24, 1871 when the Conventional of Independent Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons was created. The Grand Master of this ceremony was one Peter Anderson, a Pennsylvania Freemason and editor of the Pacific Appeal newspaper.
The Pyramid Base and The Hall of
Coinciding with these Masonic happenings was the construction of the original City Hall, on the corner of Hyde and Market and the building of a large Masonic Temple on Montgomery and Post. San Francisco’s first City Hall was a grand structure, which was almost totally destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake. In old photographs and on old maps it bore an enigmatic name, one well known to people familiar with Egyptian lore: The Hall of Records. The Hall of Records was a circular structure and featured a tower on its left side- in rare old photographs it seems to resemble the Capitol Building of Washington, DC.
Also during this time the construction of a large Masonic Temple, on the corner of Post and Montgomery (on the opposite end from Montgomery Block) was undertaken. This structure had a frightening gothic appearance and seems to have served as a base for all the Bay Area Freemasons of this period. Like the Hall of Records, this structure too was destroyed in 1906.
In one sense the great San Francisco Pyramid was complete. While it appears from looking at a map that Hyde Street forms an almost perfect base line, from Market on one end, to Columbus on the other, there are several reasons to believe that Van Ness Avenue was considered the real or perhaps symbolic baseline for the alignment. These reasons will be touched on later in this article.
Using Hyde Street as the base- the symbolism becomes evident: one end encapsuled the workings of the elected government (City Hall and the Hall of Records), the other end of Hyde (the intersection of Hyde and Montgomery /Columbus Avenue) led directly to the military headquarters at Black Point Ridge.
Traveling along the diagonal of Market from City Hall took one directly to Montgomery and Post and the imposing Masonic Temple. Traversing up the diagonal of Montgomery/Columbus Avenue one would end up directly at the Montgomery Block, home of the city’s press, artistic and legal communities. The important Hyde Street was named for the Philadelphia lawyer and Navy officer, George Hyde, a close friend of O’Farrell’s and the person perhaps most responsible for giving the city it’s Philadelphia influence.
Also on Montgomery Street, in the San Francisco of the 1870’s, standing between the Masonic Temple and the Montgomery Block stood the powers of the financial worlds, the Parrott Granite Building (an early merchant bank at 405 Montgomery) and the old US Mint at 608-610 Commercial near Montgomery. If one placed a copy of the reverse seal of the US on this portion of the a map of San Francisco, Montgomery Street would be represented by the Masonic all-seeing eye..
Albert Pike Comes To Town
The alignment of the streets of downtown San Francisco in a truncated pyramid shape was perhaps best realized in the 1880’s when several significant events took place related to freemasonry. It was in the early 1880’s when Albert Pike, the leading Masonic figure of the time, came to California. The creator of Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction masonry Pike was a controversial figure, having, it is alleged, connections to the Ku Klux Klan, preaching a doctrine of Luciferism and founding a rogue military group.
In 1883 Pike established a Scottish Rite lodge in Oakland and in ceremonies at the Masonic Temple in San Francisco on October 11, the Oakland Lodge of Perfection was chartered. Pike declared of the California Freemasons, “we have nowhere a body of Masons more intelligent and socially respectable than in the Great Empire State of California.” While in San Francisco, Pike also chartered another, more obscure lodge, the Pythagoras Lodge of Perfection #11, although very little appears to be known of this lodge and its’ members
Pike’s appreciation of the pyramid shape is noted by David Ovason in his book on Washington, DC’s Masonic history, ‘The Secret Architecture of Our Nations Capital’ (Harper Collins 1999). Speaking of the influences of ancient cultures on Masonic thought and the significance of the truncated pyramid, Ovason quotes Pike, “And our expression, that our Lodges extend upwards to the heavens comes from the Persian and Druidic custom of having to their temples no roofs but the sky.”
The truncated pyramid imagery is also a prominent part of Pike’s resting place. Pike is buried in the House of the Temple in Washington, DC. a building that, “bears a striking resemblance to the truncated pyramid seen on the enigmatic Great Seal of the United State-right down to the number of courses of stonework.” So it is quite likely that if the Masons were behind the creation of a pyramid shaped street alignment in San Francisco, Pike would have known about it upon his arrival to the Bay Area in 1883.
It was also during Pike’s stay that another, more obscure body came into existence in the Bay Area, the Masters of the Royal Secret. Little is known of this group. It was formed during ceremonies at the Oakland Masonic Temple at the corner of 12th St and Washington St. under the direction of Pike and Bay Area Masonic leader Edwin Sherman, cited as being a 32nd degree initiate. Could one of the secrets this group held involve the pyramid alignment in San Francisco? Perhaps, but it is worth considering several other incidents that took place in the early 1880’s.
1882 marked the 100th anniversary of the origination of Great Seal of the United States. Although a die for the reverse side of the Seal has never been officially cut, in 1882 a Centennial Medal, depicting the truncated pyramid and all-seeing eye was minted. It is quite probable that California Freemasons knew the image of the reverse of the Great Seal, especially since they were in close contact with Grand Master Albert Pike. Could Pike and Sherman have ensured that Montgomery Avenue would become a permanent fixture on the San Francisco map? Was part of the royal secret the embodiment of the Great Seal into America’s largest city?
Perhaps not coincidentally, 1882 also marked the completion of the new army headquarters at Black Point Ridge and the renaming of the post to Fort Mason. While it is generally believed that this renaming was in honor of Colonel Richard B. Mason , Halleck’s original benefactor, and the California governor during the Gold Rush, it is curious to note that the official website that highlights the history of Black Point Ridge, makes no mention of Richard B. Mason and notes simply that the military outpost, ”was renamed Fort Mason in 1882.” Could freemasons have been involved with the fort’s renaming? Could this also be part of the royal secret?
A Mystery Forgotten in old San Francisco
Regardless of who or what was behind the formation of the streets of 19th Century San Francisco, the fact of the matter was that by the 1880’s a truncated pyramid formation existed in the city that closely resembled the reverse Seal of the United States. This symbol was also a Masonic symbol, so it is quite probable that anyone who would have known about it would have been at one of those meetings chaired by Pike and Sherman. But the Freemasons are a secret society so any information on the matter seems to have been lost or filed away in some dusty old Masonic library.
Have there been any indications that the mystery of San Francisco’s streets was known since the 1880’s? Is there evidence that the pyramid street alignment is alive and well? Several constructions come to mind that tend to not only acknowledge the existence of the pyramid alignment but also reinforce its imagery in no uncertain terms
Bliss and Faville- The Masonic Architects of the new San Francisco
The original Masonic Temple in San Francisco, located at Montgomery and Post, was totally destroyed during the 19
06 earthquake. For many years San Francisco masons had to make due with temporary facilities, until 1924 when a new temple was completed under the direction of architect Walter Bliss. Bliss was a prolific figure in early 20th Century San Francisco and was the architect for many of the city’s famous buildings, including the St. Francis Hotel (at Union Square) and the Bank of California (at Sansome and California). Bliss himself had become a Mason in 1902 so it is perhaps not surprising that the site of his Masonic Temple was auspicious.
Bliss’ Masonic Temple stood at 25 Van Ness, at the intersection with Market …. opposite Black Point Ridge and Fort Mason…holding down one corner of the Great Pyramid of San Francisco. Van Ness also stands 13 city blocks from the “capstone” street of Montgomery. The pyramid of the Great Seal likewise has 13 levels of stones from base to capstone. A Freemason such as Bliss would have undoubtedly understood the symbolism.
The Masonic Auditorium and Grace Cathedral- the heart of the Pyramid
When the Freemasons out grew the Van Ness location in the mid-20th Century a new site was chosen, located geographically at the heart of the occult pyramid street alignment, 1111 California Street, directly opposite Grace Cathedral. In fact the street of California serves as a divider for the alignment and forms the appearance of two isosolese triangles. On one side sits the enigmatic Grace Cathedral, said to have been modeled on Chartes in France and the site of two labyrinths. Opposite Grace Cathedral stands the very public Masonic Auditorium, home to rock concerts and recitals and the headquarters for San Francisco Freemasons.
The Mysterious Demise of Montgomery Block
But what of the famed Montgomery Block, one-time home of Halleck, Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain and others. The capstone for the great secret pyramid of San Francisco. It survived the great-quake virtually in tact and remained in use on into the 1950’s.
Finally in the late 1950’s it was abandoned as an office building and plans were made to have it demolished to make way for a parking lot. Knowing that the public outcry would be great, the destruction of the Montgomery Block was undertaken in secret. Unfortunately for the demolition crew many of the concrete blocks of the building, as well as it’s large iron frame, were resistant and the demolition debacle quickly came to the attention of the public as a large mountain of 106 year old rubble was formed. The destruction dragged on for months and left a gloomy impression on the city’s civic leaders. San Francisco was destroying one of the State’s great 19th Century structures and replacing it with a parking lot.
Transamerica- San Francisco’s Pyramid Comes Alive
Within a decade of the Montgomery Block’s demise plans for a n
ew building on the very same spot were undertaken under the direction of famed architect William Pereira . In 1968 plans for the construction of this oddly shaped building were announced and in three short years the building was opened, originally to public criticism. On an information website the following statement concerning it’s unique design is made:
”In addition to being a stylistic statement, the Transamerica Pyramid’s unconventional silhouette is also the result of environmentally sensitive planning. The tapered design casts a smaller shadow and therefore allows more natural light and fresh air to filter down to the streets below than its conventional high-rise neighbors – important in a city where the sun has to do almost daily battle with the fog.”
The Transamerica Pyramid building stands precisely at the top or capstone area of the pyramid street alignment. Its placement seems to be implying a sense of completion and is a public announcement or outing of the pyramid secret.
On one corner of the pyramid street alignment, at the corner of Market and Van Ness, sits the old Masonic Auditorium, designed with great precision by the Masonic architects of Bliss and Faville. On the other end of Van Ness sits MacDowell Hall (formerly known as Black Point Ridge), the army headquarters rebuilt by the great Henry W. Halleck, a fixture on the army outpost known enigmatically as Fort Mason. At the pyramids center stands the modern public hall, the Masonic Memorial Auditorium , at 1111 California Street. Standing as a capstone since 1972, along the diagonal of Columbus Avenue….a few feet from the very spot where the very first Masonic meeting ever held in California took place (728 Montgomery) in 1849….stands….a pyramid; now the symbol of modern day San Francisco- a beacon, signifying great financial power.
While all of this may be purely coincidental, the evidence is convincing. Perhaps someone will eventually come forward and shed light on this mystery. Perhaps someone will uncover and old agenda for “The Great Pyramid of San Francisco” in some old California Masonic library.
Perhaps, but this is at least a public mystery….the streets are there, the buildings still stand….the Great Pyramid of San Francisco awaits…..and you may never look at a map
of that city in quite the same way again..
NOTES: more interesting info
Interestingly, the original Mission Dolores was founded in 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence. The original church structure stood for 15 years and was named for a now non-existent stream, known by the Spanish as Dolores. The building that stands today as Mission Dolores was built in 1791 and is the oldest standing structure of San Francisco.
Much of the information on O’Farrell is from the site Base Portal site of San Francisco/History/Time Place.
Although it is not certain that Halleck was himself a Freemason, the architect he collaborated with, Gordon Parker Cummings was.
In fact Cummings may have brought more Philadelphia influence to the city, as he had previously built, among other things, the Sansom Street Hall-a lyceum type structure in Philadelphia. See article at the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings- http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/ar_display.cfm/22495
Plaque in Lobby of Transamerica Building
This is the site of San Francisco’s first fireproof building, erected in 1853 by Henry Wager Halleck. It was the headquarters for many outstanding lawyers, financiers, writers, actors, and artists. James King of William, editor of the Bulletin, died here on May 14, 1856 after being shot by James Casey. This building escaped destruction in the fire of 1906.
James Casey shot early California newspaper figure James King of William to death after carrying on a public feud in the pages of his paper, The Bulletin.
Cummings appears to have split his time between Philadelphia and San Francisco. In Philadelphia his projects included The Grand Lodge of Colored Masons (1851), the cast iron Penn Mutual building (1850) and an “Egyptian Revival” house for Frances Hopkinson. He remained in California until the late 1870’s, but died in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Masonic Home in 1889
‘The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of California’ by Herby Price jr
Like the Montgomery Block, the Parrott Granite Building was designed by the mysterious Freemason GP Cummings. Cummings died in Philadelphia in 1889, leaving among his possession a walking stick with a gold quartz head, that he had received as a gift after completing the Capitol Building of Sacramento in 1873.
Some researchers allege Pike to be the founder of The Knights of the Golden Circle in the 1850’s. See ‘General Pike & the Klan’ by Greg Taylor Atlantis Rising #51 p.28
‘The Scottish Rite of Oakland’ by Arthur Andersen and Leon Whitsell, excerpted from California’s first Century of Scottish Rite Masonry, c.1963. “Brother Sherman also called attention to Pythagoras Lodge of Perfection No.11 in San Francisco, which was set up by Albert Pike to work in the German language, and gave it little hope for survival.
Ovason, p.60, Ovason also discusses the Federal Triangle – a triangle shaped street alignment in Washington, DC in this excellent work of esoterica.
‘General Pike & the Klan’ By Greg Taylor, Atlantis Rising #51 p.28
The Making and Naming Of the Streets of San Francisco. By Samuel L. Lupton. An informative booklet, published in 1954.
“Historic California Posts Fort Mason’s Historic McDowell Hall” by Gordon Chappel
Regional Historian, Pacific West Region
National Park Service http://www.militarymuseum.org/McDowellHall.html
Bliss and his partner, William Faville were both Freemasons. An interesting article on their work on the San Francisco temple can be found in the California Freemason Spring 2004, Brothers in Architecture-The Three Degrees of Walter Bliss and William Faville
Bliss’ Masonic Temple served two purposes in the pyramid street alignment saga; it replaced the old Masonic Temple as a place for ritual and functions, and it served to replace the Hall of Records as a symbolic representation.
Interestingly during the same year of the Transamerica buildings opening Pereira undertook a tower project on one of Bliss’ great structures, the St. Francis Hotel. In 1972, Pereira added a 32-story tower behind the hotel on Union Square that featured five high-speed glass elevators offering astounding views of the city.
Eerily the building of this new temple in 1956 seems to have followed ancient Masonic lore with a death occurring at the commencement of the building’s construction. A news wire reported on May 9, 1956, “Crews Dig for Fellow Worker. This was the scene during the afternoon yesterday as workmen dug frantically to rescue two men, trapped by a cave-in at the Nob Hill site of the new Memorial Masonic Temple on Taylor-st. One was rescued, the other killed.”
See SF Public Library description of old wire photo AAC 4982. http://sflib1.sfpl.org:82/search.