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San Francisco, California (U.S.)

City and County consolidated government

Last modified: 2015-04-11 by rick wyatt
Keywords: san francisco | california | bart | phoenix | goan institute |
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[Flag of San Francisco, California] image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 2008

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Description of the flag of San Francisco

Description: A white field, with a phoenix rising from flames. There is a motto beneath the phoenix on a ribbon, "Oro en paz. Fierro en guerra." According to Whitney Smith's The Flag Book of the United States [smi75a]:, the flag was official as of 16 Dec 1940.
Jon Radel, 25 October 1996

About the yellow border: the original flag was white with the Phoenix/motto, and a yellow FRINGE. When it came time to mass produce the flag, the yellow fringe somehow became part of the design of the flag itself. Then when an indoor flag is needed, you guessed it, it gets yellow fringe in addition to the yellow border!
Nick Artimovich, 23 October 1996

Motto: Translated, the motto is "Gold in Peace, Iron in War".
Jerry Lorigan, 26 October 1996

The phoenix was chosen as a symbol to commemorate not the 1906 earthquake/fire (which hadn't occurred yet), but the even more disastrous fire of 1852. This fire destroyed even more of the then mostly wooden city, which was quickly rebuilt, earning San Francisco the slogan "The City that Knows How."
James J. Ferrigan III, 8 December 1999

The border of the flag, termed golden in the descriptions (e.g.,, is shown in this (official) design as light orange. The crest shown on the flag (a real armorial crest, not the full achievement of a coat of arms) shows the phoenix emerging from a wall of flames, which rest upon a golden and black torse. The letters spelling out "San Francisco" at the bottom of the flag are usually (very dark) blue, but a version with black letters can be seen at (context at

An actual flag shown in use shows more important variations from the image at the official website: The large flag photo taken at the SF Ferry Building in 2006 ( shows golden yellow border, golden yellow scroll with black lettering and a much simplified phoenix design, in very dark brown, without any lining suggesting feathers in the inside of the outline, and with black and white torse - see a rendition of these colours here.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 2008

Origin of the flag

On January 8, 1900, San Francisco Mayor James D. Phelan addressed the S.F. Board of Supervisors, and as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle of January 9, 1900, stated: "I recommend to the Board finally to adopt a flag for the city of San Francisco. Other cities have their ensigns. Upon ours should be inscribed the sentiment now upon the city's seal. Oro en paz fierro en guerra. It is singularly appropriate by reason of the fact that California is the Golden State and San Francisco has become the point of debarkation for our troops, whose heroic work in the Pacific has been the principal event of the closing century, and our own California boys, mustered in San Francisco, were the first to the front [in the Spanish American War]. Gold is emblematic of prosperity and iron emblematic of fortitude and courage and when the war ceases we hope that productive industries and prosperity, of which iron is also emblematic, may permit us to read the inscription, Gold and iron in peace."

The Chronicle reported that Mayor Phelan had won a $50 prize for an article he had written on "How to Make Corporations Pay Their Taxes", in an article of February 21, 1900, "and at once offered to give the $50 as a reward for the best design to be submitted for a municipal flag, which he has for some time advocated."

On March 17, 1900, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in its editorial column, being no friend of Phelan: "By invitation of Mayor Phelan, designs are being submitted for a municipal flag. Competitors may choose a guinea pig, a rat or a monkey as the central figure."

On April 15, 1900, the Chronicle announced the selection of a design for the San Francisco flag, the design of John M. Gamble, stating: "A design for a municipal flag was yesterday [4/14/1900] selected from among some fifteen designs placed in competition before the Commission appointed for the purpose of recommending the most appropriate civic banner to the Board of supervisors .... Action by the Board of Supervisors will be necessary before the flag is regularly adopted as the official banner of the city, and it is probable that this action will be taken on Monday ...." The design is shown, along with Gamble in line drawings accompanying the article. The flag as designed does not bear the yellow border, nor any other border, nor the words "SAN FRANCISCO" as does the present flag.

In an April 19, 1900 Chronicle article it was reported that Mayor Phelan had transmitted the flag design to the Board of Supervisors for adoption, with the adoption issue coming before the Board on the following Monday at its regular session. The Mayor is reported to have stated: "New York and other cities have such flags, which are used on appropriate occasions. The desirability of a city ensign occurred to me during the reception of the troops returning from the Philippines last fall, when the city tug, which met every returning transport, had no official mark of identification."

The San Francisco flag appears to have been first displayed publicly during the annual San Francisco police inspection parade held on or about May 1, 1900 [ I can't immediately find the date of the Chronicle's report of the parade]. The flag is displayed in a line drawing accompanying the article, upon a staff. The mayor delivered a silken San Francisco flag along with the national flag. I have seen a photograph of what I believe to be this parade, with the San Francisco flag displayed on a staff.

Bill Trinkle, 12 October 1998

Early Flags of San Francisco (1900-1940)

[San Francisco Almanac 1899 image] image by Guillermo Tell Aveledo, 1 July 2000
1899 Almanac Image

The City of San Francisco's original flag is illustrated in the SF Municipal Almanac 1899-1900 edition. This flag was described as white with a black phoenix and scroll, with golden yellow flames, lettering and scroll reverse. There is no mention of fringe.

[San Francisco Chronicle image 15 April 1900] image by James J. Ferrigan III, 12 July 2000
April 1900 Newspaper Image

A slightly different image appeared in the SF paper on April 15, 1900. This flag is also shown without fringe. Both flags are shown with 8 points on the flames. This flag was used by the SF Police Department in parades and ceremonies.

[Overland Monthly Magazine image October 1929] image by James J. Ferrigan III, 12 July 2000
October 1929 Magazine Image

In 1926 the flag was described as no longer serviceable and a replacement flag was sought. This flag was replaced with a flag in 1929, an illustration of which appears in the Oct issue of Overland Monthly. Note the appearance of fringe.

In 1940 the flag was placed before the S.F.Board of Supervisors to be officially adopted, which it was on 16 December 1940.

The flag in City Hall was yet another version also bearing fringe. The fringe was described as "bordered in gold." This is the origin of the golden yellow picture frame border shown on the Museum of San Francisco's web site.

Both of the flag manufacturers in San Francisco, The Emerson Flag Co. and The Paramount Flag Co. began to produce versions of the flag. Paramount's more closely complied with the ordinance, Emerson's was more embellished, three colors in the flames and serifs on the letters. In 1963 Mayor George Christopher identified the Paramount design as the "official flag". Note the two color flames and the San-serif lettering. Both versions are still in use at City Hall.

James J. Ferrigan III, 12 July 2000

Port Authority of San Francisco

[Flag of Port Authority of San Francisco, California] image by Joe McMillan

In response to an inquiry about a flag seen flying at Pacific Bell Park during a World Series game, Renee Dunn, Manager, Communications, Port of San Francisco, wrote "The white flag that you see at Pacific Bell Park is indeed the Port of San Francisco's logo.  The building does represent the Ferry Building, which is the centerpiece of our waterfront.  The ballpark is on port property and the SF Giants have authorized flying the Port's flag."
Graham Bartram, 23 October 2002

The tower in question is the San Francisco Ferry building, formerly a busy auto and passenger ferry landing, now again serving smaller passenger commuter ferries and as headquarters for the SF Port Authority. It is a well known San Francisco landmark.
Michael Smuda, 23 October 2002

Bay Area Rapid Transit

[Flag of Bay Area Rapid Transit] image by Michael Smuda, 14 April 2001

B.A.R.T. is the acronym for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit operating in the San Francisco/Oakland area. BART is a public transit system, which makes it basically a government agency. The Board of Directors are elected in public elections representing various areas of San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The system operates computer controlled trains on six foot gauge track with third rail electrical pickup. One interesting feature is the Oakland to San Francisco tube, a two track bore running 265 feet under the San Francisco Bay for about 7 miles.

The flag is almost an LOB. The logo for BART is a black lower case 'b' and a light blue/teal 'a' in a white background the "BART' in black letters above the 'ba'. The flag is a light blue/teal rectangle (3:5) with the black 'b' and a white 'a' without the 'BART' portion of the logo. The logo can be seen on the BART web page at

Michael Smuda, 14 April 2001

Goan Institute of San Francisco

[flag of Goan Institute of San Francisco] image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 30 July 2007

The flag is blue with a white border. Blue symbolizes the sky and the ocean. In the center is a dove symbolizing that Goans are peace-loving at heart. The word GOA appears in the center of the dove. The words JUSTICE appears at the top of the flag and TRUTH at the bottom in orange letters, orange symbolizing the sun. The words EQUALITY appears on the left and FREEDOM on the right in green letters; green symbolizing the earth.
Thanh-Tam Le, 28 July 2007