29 The Parrott Building, built in HK, re-constructed in San Francisco?

David Williams has been in touch:

I am a writer interested in building stone. I have been researching the Parrott Building in San Francisco. Built in 1852, it was one of the first stone buildings in the city. I know that the builders of the building were Chinese and have read that the stone came from Hong Kong. One source says that the building was built in Hong Kong, dismantled and then sent to San Francisco.

I believe that the stone for the Parrott block was acquired by Bernard Peyton through the firm of Jardine, Matheson and Co. The stone that was acquired was then put on the barque Dragon, which arrived in San Francisco on August 4, 1852. I think it took 52 or 54 days to cross the ocean, which means it left Hong Kong around June 14 or so.

I was wondering if you had heard of the Parrott Block and might have any insights into granite quarries in Hong Kong in the 1850s. Could the building have been erected in Hong Kong and then taken apart and shipped to San Francisco?

David adds: One of things that I wonder is about how the stone got to San Francisco. As noted it came on the Dragon but I don’t think that it was that big of boat. I am not sure but think it was a 290 ton boat that was 105 feet long. How did they get enough granite on the boat to build the building? Or was there more than one ship involved?

Stephen Davies comments: The building does not appear to be entirely built in granite. The window bays, ground floor footings and other decorative bits look like stone. Much of the rest looks more like rendered brick.

That said, schlepping building material around the world was quite common in the 19th and even early 20th centuries. More than a few HK buildings were built of British bricks shipped out as ballast. Some very early HK buildings used granite shipped up from the Philippines. So in principle the stone could have come from HK.

Elizabeth Sinn’s Pacific Crossing has some interesting data for exports from HK to San Francisco for 1849 carried in a total of 23 ships (pp.309-311) – 148,122 bricks, 1,158 maybe slabs, 12,059 planks of timber, 3,775 (roof?) tiles, 312 window frames. (1)

Hugh Farmer: The building was built (in San Fancisco) in 1852 and demolished in 1926. If you can help David please add a comment to this article,

Parrot Block (prior to 1906), San Francico Photograph of Parrott Block -

Photograph of Parrott Block – Date Unknown (Prior to 1906) Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library


  1. Pacific Crossing: California Gold, Chinese Migration, and the Making of Hong Kong, E Sinn, Hong Kong University Press, 2013.

See: Brief history of the Parrot building plus images



  • Mike T.

    The book “Old San Francisco: the biography of a city from early days to the earthquake” apparently discusses this, although it doesn’t mention Hong Kong specifically, but rather a more general “China”.

    Sadly, you’ll need to get a print copy of the book to read it, as only snippets are available via Google Books:


  • Armando Miguelez

    En el semanario “Hispano- America” de San Francisco hay una nota el 6 de febrero de 1926 ( p.1) en la que se dice que un tal H.M. Furman reclama un tesoro ( monedas de 50 pesos oro, alhajas, diamantes, documentos de títulos de propiedad) que dice haber bajo ese edificio dejado allí por sus ancestros Susana Wolfskill y Manuela Bringas en 1850 que tuvieron que esconderlo por miedo a los “hounds” que pululaban por el “Wild West” de entonces.

    • An online translation of Armando Miguelez’s comment on 10th April 2018 is:

      In the weekly “Hispano-America” of San Francisco there is a note on February 6, 1926 (p. 1) in which it is said that a certain H.M Furman claims a treasure (coins of 50 pesos gold, jewels, diamonds, documents of titles of property) that it says to have under that building left to Lí by his ancestors Susana Wolfskill and Manuela Bringas in 1850 that they had to hide it for fear of the “hounds” that swarmed by the “Wild West” of then.

      Hugh Farmer

  • Nick Bartel

    To David re. the Parrot Building – I found this information in The Oldest and the Newest Empire: China and the United States written by Rev. William Speer (1822 – 1904), a Presbyterian missionary who served in Canton and in San Francisco. (There is some information on him in Wikipedia; the book is available in Amazon, but difficult to read on Kindle and paperback because it is a photocopy of the book written in 1870.)
    “…The Chinese were equal to the occasion. The most remarkable monument of their capacity is a large and handsome pair of stone buildings, under one roof, three stories in height, which have been generally occupied by banks or express-offices, upon Montgomery, the principal business street of San Francisco. This pair of buildings is composed of granite, in our style of architecture, of which every stone was cut, fitted and laid in its place without mortar in the province of Canton; the who was taken down, shipped with the men who were to erect it on this side of the ocean and erected in 1852, to the entire satisfaction of the gentleman who contracted for it. The cost of these buildings was a hundred and seventeen thousand dollars; they were at once rented for the sum of thirty six thousand dollars a year.” [Location in Kindle version 6003] Please let me know if this helps you. Nick B., San Francisco

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