James Lick Bust at the Mechanics’ Institute

One of the first things one sees upon entering the beautiful landmark building of the Mechanics’ Institute is the bronze bust of James Lick. Lick, a wealthy land owner, carpenter, and millwright had come to the aid of the Mechanics’ Institute several times between 1855 and his death in 1876. His remembrance of the Institute in his will, $10,000, so impressed our Board of Directors that in 1896 they commissioned the bust, designed by local sculptor Francis Marion Wells and cast by Messrs. Louis De Rome and Neil Whyte of the Globe Brass and Bell Foundry, to hang in our lobby as a memorial and testament to Lick’s generosity and commitment to the mechanics of this city.

This was not the first time Wells had sculpted Lick’s likeness. In 1890 when the James Lick Trust was considering the erection of what is now known as the Pioneer MonumentThe Pioneer/James Lick Memorial, north of new main library, SF (located across from City Hall, near the Asian Art Museum and the Public Library on Larkin Street) Wells submitted a design that consisted of a group of statues, commemorating different periods of California’s history, surrounding a pillar upon which was fixed a bust of James Lick.

Though Wells did not win that commission (the winning design was created by Frank H. Happersberger) his loss may have been our gain – using the same model, we secured our bust for only $250. A copy of the bust without the surrounding tablet and wording was also given to the Academy of Sciences (another beneficiary of Lick’s largesse) which at that time was on Market Street.

Originally bolted to the wall in 1896, our bust survived the earthquake and fire of 1906 – this was a small miracle because our building (also on Post Street) and entire library collection save the contents of a bank vault, did not survive. Once our new building was finished, now at 57 Post, the bust was replaced on the wall of our lobby in 1912.

The bust is four feet high by thirty-one inches across and the design consists of the head of the great philanthropist surrounded by an oval framework, with a spray of laurel leaves at the top and oak leaves at the bottom.  Just below the bust is this inscription:

 James Lick

Bequeathed to the Mechanics’ Institute


San Francisco

The sum of $10,000 for the

Purchase of Mechanical and

Scientific Books.

 The Institute is still purchasing books from the Lick fund over one hundred years later. I think Lick would be pleased.


Sacramento Daily Union, June 16, 1890 — The Lick Statue

San Francisco Call, January 22, 1896 — James Lick Memorial

San Francisco Call, February 25, 1896 — Recorded In Bronze

San Francisco Call, May 4, 1912 – The James Lick Tablet

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