HISTORY AND MISSION
The California Historical Society, founded in 1871, is a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire and empower people to make California's richly diverse past a meaningful part of their contemporary lives.
In June 1871 a group of people assembled at 323 California Street, marking the first of four attempts to begin the California Historical Society (CHS). After the undocumented collapse of the first group, a second attempt to revive CHS lasted from 1886 to1891. In 1902 the ailing Society partnered with the California Genealogical Society and for a brief period the collaboration prospered. The earthquake and fire damage of 1906 induced yet another break of CHS.
Finally in 1922 C. Templeton Crocker, grandson of Charles Crocker, permanently resurrected the Society. Also that year, Crocker placed at CHS his fine collection of Californiana, rivaling those of Hubert Howe Bancroft and Henry E. Huntington. His financial generosity supported CHS until the dues collected enabled the organization to hire its first staff member in March 1923. The group held its first exhibition at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco in 1924.
CHS's initial purpose was the publication of a quarterly journal, which it has produced since 1922. Two decades later, Crocker permanently donated his collection to CHS, which still continues to form the foundation of the North Baker Research Library and the Fine Arts collection today. For a short time CHS shared its headquarters with the Society of California Pioneers. However, in 1956 the Society established its own home in the Whittier Mansion, at the corner of Jackson and Laguna, in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco.
In October 1993 the Society purchased 678 Mission Street, home of the former San Francisco Builders Exchange, E.M. Hundley hardware store, and Nancy Pelosi's first campaign headquarters in the re-developing Yerba Buena Gardens neighborhood. The building was renovated for seismic safety and the basement, which extends underneath the Mission Street sidewalk, was converted into climate-controlled storage vaults for much of the Society's collections. The North Baker Research Library finally found a home worthy of its importance as a free and open portal to the vast and growing CHS collection.
In 2012, a modest but meaningful interior remodel opened up the Mission Street-facing spaces and brought in award-winning Heyday books into its book store and community gathering space. Also, the exterior received new layers of paint-in Sherwin Williams' International Orange, the color of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge-to welcome a stunning exhibition CHS mounted as its part in celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the famous rust-colored suspension bridge.