The word “rincon” means “inside corner” in Spanish. Before the 1860’s the site around Rincon Center was a cove that extended to First Street, which now lies four blocks to the west. Rincon was the name given to the hill at the inside corner of the cove. The hill still exists, but is now hidden beneath the entrance to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
In 1939, ground was broken for the Rincon Annex Post Office. Gilbert S. Underwood was its architect. His most famous building is the Ahwanee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. The design is “art-deco moderne” and shows inspiration from classic Greece and Moorish Spain.
In 1941, the W.P.A. held a competition for murals. The contest was won by Anton Refregier, a Russian born artist, who became famous for his work at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. He was paid a large sum of $26,000 for his work. The murals, which depict the history of Northern California, were begun but quickly suspended due to the onset [of] World War II. Between 1941 and 1945, Rincon Annex was an extremely busy environment. Work was resumed in 1946 and over the next two years some 92 changes were made to satisfy special interest groups. The work was finished in 1948 and covers 400 feet of wall space. The work is not a “fresco”, but rather a “case-in-tempera” on white gesso over plaster wall. It remains the largest single commission by the Painting and Sculpture Division for the W.P.A.
The greatest challenge came during the “McCarthy era” (1953), when a resolution was introduced to the United States Congress to destroy the murals (they were thought to be “Communistic” in tone). This objection to the work of art was soundly defeated. However, in 1978 the Rincon Annex closed its Post Office. To avoid destruction of the murals, the building was placed under the protection of the National Registry of Historic Places in 1979. Ironically, the artist Anton Refregier died that same year while painting a mural for the Moscow Medical Clinic.
By 1986 work was well under way to incorporate the old Rincon Annex to a new development called the Rincon Center. During excavation, a number of artifacts from long forgotten saloons, boarding houses and laundries, destroyed by the 1906 Earthquake and Fire began to emerge. The most interesting items found were placed on displayed (sic) in the Historic Lobby.
Completed in 1988, Rincon Center, designed by Fain and Johnson of [the] William Pereira firm of Los Angeles, features restaurants, a new Post Office, a full service market, a dentist, an optometrist, a beauty salon, gift shop, and commercial office spaces all crowned by 320 luxury apartments.
Rincon Center’s focal point is the Atrium, which features murals by artist Richard Haas that depict San Francisco’s culture, science, technology and transportation. Doug Hollis’ water sculpture “Rain Column” features 55 gallons of water falling 85 feet every minute. Its total cost was $300,000.
Anton Refregier’s restored masterpiece once again graces the Historic Lobby to the [delight of] scores of awe struck visitors that pass through the doors daily. Today, Rincon is truly a “center of attention” (Lobby handout, nd).