The Varney Stained Glass – San Francisco, United States - Atlas Obscura

The Varney Stained Glass

San Francisco, United States



As you walk into the Veterans Building let us assume that you take a left, to the stairs, as the elevator’s out, and you’re not going to the Herbst theater. 

At the first landing, you see a great atom in stained glass, with the inscription, “To the Scientists Who Gave The Fighting Navy the Tools for Victory in World War II.” A sextant lays above the inscription. 

Upon the second landing, a British MK I Tank, flanked by flags, above a medal. A dedication to a fallen son, Robert. 

And on the third landing, a memorial to fallen comrades in the Spanish American War, those comrades of 98. 

One of the stranger things about these windows is that, over the course of decades, they have all been installed there by the same dynasty, the Varneys, successive generations of which have donated stained glass semi-anonymously memorializing various members of their family’s experiences in armed conflict. 

If you are to begin on the third floor, and walk down, you begin with Kit Varney’s dedication to his fallen comrades in the Spanish American War, that Rooseveltian conflict that inspired the American appetite for military adventure after the failures of the Civil War. Then, you walk past the savage brutality of the First World War, Kit’s mother eulogizing his brother, Robert, a statistically likely casualty of impersonally futuristic machine gun or artillery, remembered by a British tank. Upon the atomic glass, war has changed again, into a clinical service of academics, Robert Varney II, branded with the name of his dead ancestor, remembered by an abstract symbol of a new age. 

The War Memorial buildings are typical civic grandeur, but strangely, in this transitory passage, you walk through one family’s relation to the war’s of a nation, However well disguised, the personal story shines through the symbols of weapon and country, a tree with branches hacked off. 

Know Before You Go

Located in one of the South Stairwells.