Ghirardelli Square, considered the first successful adaptive reuse project in the country, has a history that spans more than a century and covers three continents. This specialty retail and dining complex, housing shops and restaurants, was originally a chocolate factory established by Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli.
Born in 1817 in Rapallo, Italy, Ghirardelli served as a Genoa confectioner’s apprentice and at a young age developed a strong interest in the business. He left for Uruguay when he was 20 years old, then sailed around Cape Horn to Peru where he became a coffee and chocolate merchant.
James Lick—Ghirardelli’s neighbor in Lima—left for San Francisco in January 1848 taking 600 pounds of Ghirardelli’s chocolate with him. He arrived just thirteen days before the first shiploads of gold-rush pioneers. Lured by his friend’s tales of the gold rush, Ghirardelli joined Lick a year later and opened a general store supplying mustard, coffee, spices and, of course, chocolate.
Between 1852 and 1895, Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Factory was located at four different sites before the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company took over the Pioneer Woolen Mills on North Point Street—today’s site of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Manufactory & Soda Fountain and Ghirardelli Square.
In the 1960s the chocolate manufacturing operation was sold and transferred to San Leandro. A group of San Franciscans, fearing Ghirardelli Square might be demolished, purchased the property. Unique shops and restaurants were created within the old factory, combining the latest in retailing and fine cuisine with the flavor of old San Francisco. The project officially opened on November 29, 1964.
Today, Ghirardelli delights visitors with its lively retail mix, while maintaining Ghirardelli’s tradition as a trendsetter for the rest of the world. In 1982 the owners applied for and were granted National Historic Register status, a move that ensured the preservation of Ghirardelli Square for future generations.
Always on the cutting edge of retailing in the United States, Ghirardelli Square continues to serve as a model for restoration complexes throughout the country such as Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston and Baltimore’s Harborplace.