Tag Archives: Rolph

Time Capsules in San Francisco

Franklin statue, Washington Square Park, 2009 photo by Wally Gobetz

San Francisco is no stranger to time capsules. One example can be found in Washington Square Park at the base of the Benjamin Franklin statue commissioned by nineteenth-century millionaire and temperance advocate Henry D. Cogswell. The materials placed there in 1879 by Cogswell included personal papers and a sampling of publications that are now housed at the California Historical Society. After the original contents were exhumed in 1979 by then-mayor of San Francisco Dianne Fienstein, new materials replaced them for re-opening in 2079, including a pair of Levi’s jeans, a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a bottle of wine (ironic, given Cogswells temperance stance), and a copy of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

Sometimes a time capsule is forgotten and later re-discovered, as had been the case with a copper box filled with coins, photographs, newspaper clippings and other items that had been placed in the walls of San Francisco City Hall in 1913 by then-mayor Jim Rolph and found again in 1997 during renovation work. Selected contents from that collection are exhibited in City Hall’s South Light Court. A new time capsule was placed in City Hall in 2001 by then-mayor Willie Brown, containing a wide range of contents including one of the mayor’s hats, Rice a Roni, a bolt from the Golden Gate Bridge, a piece of the AIDS memorial quilt, a bottle of Anchor Steam beer, menus from the Fairmont and St. Francis hotels, and a video tape from 1997 of the opening of Mayor Rolph’s time capsule of 1913.

Sometimes time capsules themselves contain time capsules, as was discovered in 2001 when the cornerstone of the former Ohabai Shalome synagogue at 1881 Bush Street was opened. Items that had been placed in the cornerstone during the 1895 construction of the building included an earlier time capsule that had been created by a group of San Francisco Jews in 1865. Together, these contents were fashioned into an exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum entitled “Hidden in the Walls”.

I’ve created a Google Map showing the location of time capsules in San Francisco. I imagine there are many that I’ve missed. Do you know of any that don’t appear on the map? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know about them.

For those who are interested, William E. Jarvis has done the only serious history to date of time capsules; and Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia hosts the International Time Capsule Society.


Filed under California Historical Society