San Francisco, CA

San Francisco War Memorial & Performance Arts Center


The San Francisco War Memorial Veterans Building and adjacent Opera House are aesthetically-similar, Beaux-Arts structures commemorating U.S. veterans of World War I. The Veterans Building provides office and meeting space for veterans organizations and houses the 916-seat Herbst Theater. The theater, a cornerstone of San Francisco’s performing arts scene, showcases several hundred performances each year. In 1945, the Veterans Building and Opera House hosted ceremonies surrounding the signing of the United Nations Charter, and together, the two buildings are important contributors to the San Francisco Civic Center National Historic District.

Until this project began in 2013, the building was continually used without substantial modification since opening in 1932. Working with the City’s Department of Public Works, SGH served as the prime design professional, structural engineer, and building enclosure engineer. We helped the City manage the project, including seismic upgrades, repairs, waterproofing, interior and MEP improvements, and conservation of interior spaces and the building enclosure.


In earlier studies, the City classified the steel-framed structure with terra-cotta-clad, concrete infill walls as having significant life hazards in a major earthquake. SGH used a performance-based approach to design seismic upgrades intended to protect life safety and assure damage will be repairable following probable earthquakes. Using nonlinear dynamic analysis, we designed new shear walls around the central core occupied by the Herbst Theater and new structural steel bracing across large skylights. We selected shear wall locations to assist with acoustic isolation of the Herbst Theater from the balance of the building.


SGH addressed pervasive water leakage from the metal roof and skylights by designing low-slope roof repairs, a new metal roof, and a new skylight system to match the original appearance with modern waterproofing and energy features. We also developed a restoration plan for terra-cotta- and steel-framed windows and specified in-kind replacement of cracked terra-cotta balustrades.

Project Summary



Completion Date


Construction Value


Repair & Rehabilitation | Preservation
Structures | Building Enclosures | Performance & Code Consulting
Culture & Entertainment
City and County of San Francisco
Specialized Capabilities
Seismic Engineering | Repair & Strengthening | Preservation | Fire Life Safety & Accessibility

Key team members

Ronald Hamburger
Ronald Hamburger
Consulting Principal
Carolyn Searls
Carolyn Searls
Senior Principal