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The Columbus Tower, San Francisco

Oct 31, 2023 | General News

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The Columbus Tower in San Francisco has quite a story to tell, beginning with its distinctive appearance. This San Francisco landmark stands out not just because of its unusual triangular shape, but also because of the copper facade that has turned a unique greenish hue over time. 

The Columbus Tower, located at the intersection of Columbus Avenue, Kearny Street, and Jackson Street in the North Beach neighborhood, was also known as the Sentinel Building. A classic Beaux-Arts flatiron building, the construction of the tower portion began in 1907, but due to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it wasn’t completed until 1918. 

Over the years, the Columbus Tower has been a hub for many creative enterprises. For example, in the 1970s, Francis Ford Coppola bought this San Francisco landmark and transformed it into the headquarters of his production company, American Zoetrope. That’s right, this is where the magic of films like “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” were created, channeled from the heart of one San Francisco landmark to the big and small screens worldwide.

In 1970, The Columbus Tower was designated San Francisco Landmark #33. The ground floor of the building has housed many establishments over the years. In 2022, Cafe Zoetrope made its location right there on the ground floor. The cafe offers a taste of Coppola’s wines and Italian cuisine in a cinematic setting filled with all sorts of movie memorabilia.

Oh, here’s one for the books. Rumor has it that during the Prohibition era, the basement of the Columbus Tower operated as a speakeasy. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term speakeasy–it’s a bar, but during the Prohibition era, which meant alcoholic beverages were illegally sold.) Can you imagine the whispered stories to tell of the underground, clandestine gatherings, and the elite sneaking in for a forbidden sip of spirits?

Ooh, wouldn’t it have been interesting to be a fly in the room – or maybe not. No doubt we would have been swatted!