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.