After a very long time period with no Special Events at San Francisco city hall, they are now back! When San Francisco city hall closed due to the Pandemic back in April of 2020, many scheduled events had to be cancelled or postponed. As San Francisco city hall wedding photographers, the building closure had the same effect. We personally cancelled at least 20 scheduled weddings with only a few of our brides and grooms wanted to move their celebration to a different venue. When City Hall reopened back in June of 2021 things went mostly back to normal. Weddings once again began to be scheduled and we were very happy to start photographing them again.
There was one major difference with the normal routine at San Francisco city hall – no events were scheduled. This was an effort to keep things safe because of the Pandemic still looming large in everyone’s minds. Why invite hundreds of guests into the building with Covid-19 still a threat? I also think that it takes large corporations a while to start to schedule their events and so that was also probably part of the delay. Well, this all ended yesterday, May 12, 2022. We arrived in the morning to photograph a wedding and found the entire building redecorated and the Grand Staircase roped off to prevent access. It was actually one of the biggest events we had seen in some time, so it was a bit of a shock. Especially after NO events for so long.
Negative Effect on Civil Ceremonies and Wedding Pictures
Admittedly, it was very nice to be photographing San Francisco city hall weddings again without the threat of a surprise event disrupting all of our plans with the bride and groom. When events occur at San Francisco city hall it is not uncommon for areas available for wedding photography to be cut in half. This almost always includes no access to the Grand Staircase, a San Francisco city hall wedding photography favorite. Is this fair to a newlywed couple who had expectations of full access to the entire building for wedding pictures? Of course not. Does the Event Department at SF City Hall care? Not really. There are certain individuals who work in the Event Department who are willing to try work with us to still get pictures. However, In general, most of them are powerless to help much with this problem.
In addition to this attitude is the fact that no Website or listing of events is kept up to date so engaged couples can plan accordingly. Since the Event people at San Francisco city hall are seemingly okay with inconveniencing brides and grooms, you would think they could at least publish a calendar of events. Many years ago, I asked a fairly high level SF City Hall official about this subject and the answer I received was somewhat surprising. You see, City Hall feels that ALL they owe a couple is a legal marriage for the price of their Ceremony Fee. They perform dozens of weddings each day and bring in thousands of dollars, but in their minds a bride and groom are just paying for the legal marriage. While this may appear to be true on the surface there is a much deeper issue. The fact is, a very large percentage of San Francisco city hall brides and grooms ONLY want to have their marriage there because of the beauty and the photographic opportunities throughout the building. Thus, a huge amount of the revenue that City Hall derives from their weddings is from engaged couples who would not have booked a wedding there if it were just “any old building”. They are profiting from the concept of City Hall as a beautiful wedding venue, but not always willing to work with couples who get disrupted by special events.
What Can be Done?
A bit more flexibility among Event Staff would go along way. For example, roping off the Grand Staircase for the entire afternoon before the event is not always necessary. Some limited access to this iconic photographic destination would be very helpful while they are still setting up. For our wedding yesterday, we asked one of the very nice event staff members if we could sneak onto the Staircase for no more than 2 minutes to get a couple of quick shots. He not only agreed, but he told us where to access the stairs (from the top) to be the least disruptive. When we tried it, a different staff member practically ran up to us and rudely kicked the bride and groom off the Staircase before we could even obtain one photo. I tried politely explaining to her that we DID get permission to do this and she basically told me that she didn’t care. She was making the rules and nobody was allowed. Chances are this woman really had very little authority, but decided to wield her power just because she could. My feeling is that she should have at least asked us who we talked to and then went to speak to him to get things straightened out. Was this a professional way to handle this? Not at all!
Another solution was mentioned briefly at the beginning of this article. Post a calendar events on the same website page where brides and grooms go to book their San Francisco city hall marriage ceremony. This allows them to decide on a different day if there is a potential conflict between their wedding and a San Francisco city hall special event. Many engaged couples will not care. If they were only seeking a legal marriage and did not hire a professional San Francisco city hall wedding photographer, chances are it really doesn’t matter to them. However, people like my couple yesterday WOULD have probably chosen a different day to get married if they had the option.
The Future of San Francisco City Hall Events and Weddings
With people spending more and more money to arrange for relatives and friends to come to their San Francisco city hall wedding there are bound to be complaints lodged with the city when special event disruptions occur. Add that money spent to the ever increasing SF City Hall wedding photography costs and you could have a couple who is very upset and might decide to sue City Hall for the money they lost. Will they get anywhere with their complaints or lawsuits? Probably not, but I doubt that San Francisco city hall wants to have to defend themselves against lawsuits or answer complaints. In my opinion, we could well see something change in the future. I have heard rumblings from others that this could become a bigger issue if city hall really starts scheduling lots of events. It will be interesting to see.