75 years (1854–1923) of handwritten minutes documenting the building of San Francisco’s infrastructure, and the log for its famous chess room, San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute (2015)

The first Mechanics Institute was founded in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1821, with a mission to provide working adults with a technical education. The idea spread quickly throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. The San Francisco Mechanic’s Institute library was established in 1855, just as the influx of immigrants to San Francisco was becoming a strain on the local infrastructure. The Mechanic’s Institute library soon became a place to prepare for a new career, exchange professional information, and gather socially. Its first library opened in two rooms on Montgomery and California streets, with 400 books and an impressive collection of natural artifacts. In 1866, the Mechanics Institute built a three-story building with a chess room and open library stacks at its current Post Street site. On the day of the 1906 earthquake, Secretary Joseph M. Cumming wrote: "This day the general conflagration swept over San Francisco.

The Mechanic’s Institute building at 31 Post Street and all of its contents were completely destroyed, except such records as were in the safes and such as were put in the Crocker-Woolworth Bank’s safe deposit." By 1910 a new permanent library was erected. 42-line photographed the minutes of the Institute’s meetings (including the rescued pre-earthquake records), from 1854 to 1923, as well as the log books of its internationally prestigious chess club, from 1909 to 2014. Bobby Fischer’s simultaneous 50-board exhibition game at the Mechanics Institute’s chess room in 1964 is still legendary; not so well known is that the 14-year-old Fischer played in the chess room daily for two weeks in 1957, giving time odds in blitz games: one minute to his opponent’s five. The following year Fischer became a chess Grandmaster. Boris Spassky, the World Chess Champion from 1969 to 1972, signed in to deliver a series of lectures in September 2006.

Right: Detail of Mechanics’ Institute minutes on April 18th, 1906, the day of the San Francisco earthquake and fire; Mechanic’s Institute chess log (1909–2014), Boris Spassky, the World Chess Champion from 1969 to 1972, signed in to deliver a series of lectures in September 2006. Below: page spread of Mechanics’ Institute board meeting minutes, 1914.