As money from the Gold Rush began to change California and the world, this area was home to a landfill in the 1850s and the Friedlander’s Building in 1869.
Like many others, that building was destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1906. It was replaced by the Alaska Commercial Building in 1908.
Designed by Henry H. Meyers and Clarence Ward, the building was known for its unusual features. The company had exclusive rights to sell seal hunting leases in what was then a United States territory, and the architects took inspiration from stories of Arctic hunting.
Magnificently-whiskered, the walrus heads were carved of sierra granite, as were decorations of polar bears, fish, seals, icicles, and shell lamps. Sadly, only the walrus heads ringed by rope survived when the building was demolished in 1975.
A few years later, it reopened as the Union Bank Building with the walrus heads now tucked away off the street. It’s a small, hidden reminder of this location’s far-off history.