Private Tour of the Mechanics' Institute Library - Atlas Obscura
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San Francisco, California

Private Tour of the Mechanics' Institute Library

Come explore the oldest library on the west coast and its historic, century-old purpose-built building

Dating back San Francisco’s Gold Rush, the Mechanics' Institute Library started out in 1854 with four books, a chess room, and a mission to start a vocational school to serve the needs of the working class in San Francisco. Within a few years the Mechanics' was offering classes in such subjects as woodworking, mechanical drawing, industrial design, electrical science, applied mathematics, and ironwork.

While no longer operating as a vocational center, today the Mechanics’ Institute continues as a membership library, cultural event center, and chess club. A favorite of avid readers, writers, downtown employees, students, and the 21st century nomadic worker who needs a quiet place to plug in a laptop and do research, its collection covers all subjects with special strengths in local literature, the arts, history, business and finance, and historical periodicals that are hard-to-find in electronic formats.

The Mechanics' Institute also includes the oldest continuously-operating chess club in the United States. Many champions have visited the chess room from Emanuel Lasker in 1902 to Boris Spassky in 2006 and continue to be created here. In 2009 one of the chess club’s young students, 12 year-old Daniel Naroditsky, won the World Championship for his age group, and in 2010 Samuel Sevian, age 9, became the youngest master in United States history.

Details/special instructions. 

  • Sunday, Nov 11 2-4pm
  • Address: Mechanics' Institute, 57 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94104
  • Meet in front of the building at 2pm, we'll go up together as a group
  • Be prepared for navigating 3 flights of stairs and travelling through some narrow spaces and stairways

 Tickets are $12, with a portion going to support the ongoing good work at the Mechanic's Institute.