Special Projects | Mechanics' Institute

You are here

Special Projects

Photograph of books on shelvesThe Mechanics' Institute has a variety of special projects that allow donors to designate their contribution for a specific purpose.


Initially a library dedicated to the intellectual needs of engineers, inventors, and creative types, today's library collection has materials in all subjects: literature, fine and performing arts, history, philosophy, business, and finance. We also have periodicals that are hard-to-find in electronic format, the latest bestsellers and films, and audiobook, e-book, film, and music collections. The library hosts a myriad of activities each year, including writers workshops, book groups, and technology classes.


The Archives collects, organizes, and preserves the historical records of the Mechanics' Institute, including, but not limited to, organizational records, photographs, historic membership records, Board of Trustees reports, reports and ephemera from the Mechanics' Institute Industrial Fairs, and Chess Club records and photographs.

Endowed Book Funds

The endowed book fund program provides special funds for the purchase of books in perpetuity. The annual income and growth of the fund is applied directly to the purchase of library materials. Use of the fund is unrestricted or, in consultation with the Library Director, may be designated for the purchase of materials in a particular subject area. Special designation in the library's catalog honors the donor or the name of the collection. Endowed book funds may be established with a minimum gift of $25,000.

Material Donations

The Library accepts donations of books and other materials that comply with the Donations Policy.


Chess Room

The Mechanics' Institute houses the oldest continuously operating chess club in the United States. Many World Champions and other top players have visited the chess room — from Emmanuel Lasker and Jose Capablanca in the early 20th century to Bobby Fischer in the 1960s to Boris Spassky and Anatoly Karpov in the 21st century. Grandmasters Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky, who learned the game at the Mechanics' Institute as youngsters, represented the United States in the 2015 World Chess Team Championship. Activities are offered for all levels of player, from beginner to Grandmaster. Activities included classes for children and women, Tuesday Night Marathon tournaments, and Wednesday night blitz games.

Chess Room Chairs

Commemorate a loved one or honor a person, family, or business, by naming a chair in our historic Chess Room. Your gift will entitle you to a personalized engraved brass nameplate mounted on the back of a Mechanics' Institute chair. Chairs are available for a $500 contribution. Named chairs are also available in our Fourth Floor Meeting Room event venue. To make a chair donation, please use this form.

Youth Chess Outreach Program

Established in 2013 by the Mechanics' grandmaster-in-residence, the Youth Chess Outreach Program began at Marshall Elementary in the Mission District with just 10 boys and girls, and now takes place in 20 public schools across San Francisco — serving approximately 500 students each week. The program brings chess instruction into elementary, middle, and high schools, with a focus on socioeconomically disadvantaged areas of the city.



The Mechanics' Institute hosts over 70 cultural events each year, ranging from meet the author events to series like "Mechanics' Today" and "Transforming SF" to walking tours of the Barbary Coast and architectural sights around the city.


The CinemaLit Film Series presents 35 films each year, featuring classic and contemporary American and foreign films. The evening begins with introductions by prominent film critics, writers and reviewers and ends with a lively discussion after each film. Curated by film critic and journalist Michael Fox, CinemaLit is open to members and the public.


Capital Projects

The Mechanics Institute stands as an oasis in the heart of the Financial District. The building at 57 Post Street was constructed in 1910 and granted landmark status in 1981. The building has aged gracefully since 1910, thanks to an ongoing maintenance plan. However, as stewards of the building we must maintain its integrity so that it will be ready to face another 100 years.

The Mechanics' Institute building was constructed to accommodate a major general library, space for meetings and discussions, and rentable office and retail space. Central to the mission of the Mechanics' Institute is the use of this building. It not only houses our outstanding library, world-class chess room, and over a hundred programs and events each year; it also provides a space for our nonprofit partners to create a sense of community and serves as a gathering place for the people of San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.

As part of our endeavor to improve the building, we have the following capital projects:

Future of the Library Fund

Help us equip the library for our next century of supporting the educational pursuits of Bay Area residents.

Library Doors

The doors to the library on both the second and third floors are in need of replacement. The current doors, while functional, are susceptible to impairments from temperature fluctuations and need adjustments for ADA compliance for historical structures. A gift of $25,000 would allow us to replace one set of doors.



Become a partner in the continued and future success of the Mechanics' Institute with a gift to the endowment. Originally established through a bequest by philanthropist James Lick in 1876, the endowment provides an enduring resource, invested with a set percentage of the market value spent each year to offset the operating budget.

This resource builds our library and its collections, supports the chess room, and sustains our ongoing cultural and educational programming. A gift to the endowment is a powerful and enduring way to leave a legacy and strengthen the Mechanics' role in the cultural landscape of the Bay Area for generations to come.

Named endowment opportunities for the purpose of funding a specific project are available for a minimum of $25,000. These opportunities can be funded over a period up to five years. You or a family member can continue to add to its principal at any given time once established. An endowed fund can also be established with estate gifts as part of our James Lick Legacy Society.


For more information on supporting a special project, please email [email protected] or call 415-393-0105.