The Buildings


The Corovan site is bound by 16th, Mississippi, and 17th Streets in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco.


What Were These Buildings?

The metal and brick structures currently occupied by the Corovan company at one time housed the largest steel-producing factory on the West Coast, once the storied Pacific Rolling Mill Company and later named Judson Pacific - Murphy Corporation. The three buildings are associated with the construction of some of the most significant structures from the late 19th through the early 20th century. As such, the structures themselves serve as a poignant reminder of the point of origins for a broad array of steel-based buildings.




Railroad Remnant

The westernmost "stock shed" of the Pacific Rolling Mill Company was built between 1905 and 1914. Both the shed and the rail line spur appear for the first time on the 1914 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. This railroad remnant is on an adjacent parcel and now inside the Arch parking lot at 99 Missouri Street.
This rail signal is "a bit of an historical hybrid." The initials on the box at the base are "U. S &. S. Co.," denoting the Union Switch and Signal Company, founded in 1881. Extending from the base is a ladder and pole of a semaphore signal with a two light signal mounted on top. The interior yields a beautiful glass cylinder electrical relay, with the "Union" name etched on its surface. The case dates to the early 1900s, the glass cylinder relay dates to the late 19th century, and the light is from the 1920's, and may have replaced an earlier light.

The rail signal is contemporaneous to the date of construction of the stock shed and rail spur, and these character-defining features help convey the historic character of this early 20th century manufacturing complex.

– Joe Butler, Architect



What Was Built Here?

The following is a very small sampling from the long list of famous structures to which the steel produced by Judson Pacific - Murphy at this location and at their preceding location has contributed. (Source: Kelso Norman and E.C. Brown, A Romance of Steel in California (San Francisco: Clavering Press, 1946. See below for links to an online copy of the full content of this book.)


The approaches of the Golden Gate Bridge


Boulder Dam (intake tower cranes) and SF Public Library - Main Building


The Ferry Building


Oakland City Hall and Grace Cathedral

For the full history of the Pacific Rolling Mill Company and Judson Pacific - Murphy Corporation as well as an exhaustive list of the famous structures to which they have contributed, you will find a scanned PDF copy of the full content of A Romance of Steel in California at the following links:

A Romance of Steel in California, Part 1
A Romance of Steel in California, Part 2

"A building does not have to be an important work of architecture to become a first-rate landmark. Landmarks are not created by architects. They are fashioned by those who encounter them after they are built. The essential feature of a landmark is not its design, but the place it holds in a city's memory. Compared to the place it occupies in social history, a landmark's artistic qualities are incidental.”

— Herbert Muschamp, Former architecture critic for the New York Times



What Could Corovan Be?

Save the Hill is committed to a development that would adaptively reuse all of these historically significant structures in ways that would benefit the developers and the community and would honor and preserve Potrero Hill’s heritage. Possible uses include a European style public "mercado" for food and dining, as well as space for office, light industrial, local retail, and cultural/educational uses.

San Francisco’s Southern Pacific Brewery; the adaptive reuse of a former machine shop and railway site of corrugated metal construction!
New York City’s Chelsea Market; former biscuit factory adaptively reused as retail and office spaces

"Saving old buildings and neighborhoods is an enormously effective way to provide continuity in the places where we live."

— Dwight Young, National Trust for Historic Preservation



Adaptive Reuse

Adaptive reuse revives a building for new purposes and forges links between a community’s history and its vibrant contemporary use. Successful examples of adaptive reuse can be found around the Bay Area and throughout the world.


Rome, Italy’s adaptive reuse of former slaughterhouses as a multi-use space with organic food stalls, restaurant, bar, performing arts, library and games room, recycling and reuse center

Zurich, Switzerland’s "Viaduct"; adaptive reuse of former railway

"Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings."

— Jane Jacobs, Journalist, author, and activist best known for her influence on urban studies


Nashville, Tennessee’s Sawtooth Building; former mattress factory of corrugated metal construction, adaptively reused for Griffin Technologies


San Francisco’s Mission Bowling Club; former electrical supply warehouse of corrugated metal construction

Please see our Adaptive Reuse page for more on this topic and for many more successful examples of this in our area.