Mechanics' Institute

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Located at 57 Post Street. Open 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Members only. The Mechanics’ Institute is a private organization, “an aid in the advancement of the mechanical arts and sciences.” Founded in 1855, the Institute offers a forum for the exchange of scientific knowledge to its members, among them the most prominent learned men in the state. For more than four decades until 1899, the Institute sponsored annual Mechanical Fairs in the grand pavilions, presenting new and coming innovations to the general public. Since then, the Mechanics have kept their knowledge to themselves. The original Institute building was destroyed in the ‘06 earthquake and was replaced in 1910 with the present nine-story structure designed by Albert Pissis, also the architect for the Flood Building. The Institute is closed to non-members, but anyone can become a member by paying $3.00 half-yearly dues and $1.00 each time the library is used. A life membership is available for $100. The Institute is governed by a 14-member Board of Trustees, which manages the Institute’s endowment fund fortunes and the use of its excellently appointed research laboratories, which occupy three of the upper floors.

The second and third floors hold the Institute’s private library, a collection which runs to nearly 140,000 titles. (The original library had over 200,000 titles, all destroyed in the Great Fire along with the original building, but replaced by private donation.) While the collection includes works of classical literature and history, emphasis is placed on the applied sciences (engineering, architecture, physics, chemistry, metallurgy, etc.). The social sciences (e.g., archaeology) are more spottily represented. The library prides itself on obtaining the most accurate and accessible books and replacing any obsolete volumes as necessary. Because the library is stocked largely through donations and bequests from retiring or deceased Institute members, the collection includes many extremely rare manuscripts. This includes first-person accounts of the founders and settlers of California which are unfindable elsewhere (most of which are duplicated in the larger Bancroft Library, but not all). It’s a far better collection than the Public Library. A librarian and one assistant handle the library. Members may check out four books at a time from the stacks for two weeks, and members or their guests may use the reference library and special collections on the third floor.

The Institute Chess Club has acquired world renown among chess circles as a formidable arena and as a place where savants may meet ot discuss their work. Lectures on a variety of scientific topics are given throughout the year free of charge to members.

Mechanics' Institute

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