The Julia Morgan Ballroom is an opulent and expansive venue that will comfortably accommodate hundreds of guests, and it commands a prime spot in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district. A Julia Morgan Ballroom wedding is not cheap, but if you’re planning an elegant wedding with a large guest list, it’s worth the bucks.
The purpose of this article is to give you some vital info when considering a wedding at Julia Morgan Ballroom, and also to share my knowledge about special considerations when it comes to Julia Morgan Ballroom wedding photography.
The Merchants Exchange Building at 465 California Street houses the Julia Morgan Ballroom on its 15th Floor. Construction of the building was ill-timed, as the 1906 earthquake struck just a few months later. The building survived, and for decades housed the exclusive ’Commercial Club’ of San Francisco, where business leaders the political elite met to discuss affairs. In 1995, the building changed ownership, and the Club was restored and re-branded as the Julia Morgan Ballroom, in honor of the architect herself, who once had an office in the Merchants Exchange Building. Since then, a wedding at Julia Morgan Ballroom has been synonymous with elegance and grandeur.
Planning Your Julia Morgan Ballroom Wedding
The JMB can accommodate up to 350 seated guests, or 800 guests for a standing cocktail reception. This makes it perfect for large wedding ceremonies and wedding receptions alike. The Ballroom comes in at a whopping 4,300 square feet, which means that even with a large guestlist, you’ll still have ample space on the dance floor. Adjacent to the ballroom is the lounge and bar area, which can play host to a splendid cocktail reception.
While the stately JMB awaits you on the 15th Floor, the first thing you’ll notice when you enter The Merchants Exchange Building is the magnificent, gilded lobby. With gold paneling, marble floors, and extravagant ceilings, the lobby is in itself a perfect place to hold the your wedding ceremony. After the ceremony, the elevators will whisk your guests up to the JMB for the cocktail hour and reception.
The gilded elevator doors in the lobby.
The magnificent hand-carved ceiling.
Ceremony in the lobby of the Merchants Exchange Bldg.
From a wedding photographer’s perspective, the Julia Morgan Ballroom is a dream, but an experienced photographer should be able to navigate several challenges in order to ensure perfect Julia Morgan Ballroom wedding pictures.
Location, Location, Location
The JMB is perfectly situated in the heart of the Financial district. In my wedding photography, I search for settings with beautiful light, textures, backgrounds and colors, as well as striking, timeless locations. Within just a few short blocks of the JMB, all of this is readily available. From the cable car line that runs right down California Street, to the shapes and textures afforded by financial district skyscrapers, to the Embarcadero towers and the waterfront, the bulk of San Francisco’s classical architecture is at your fingertips. This means we won’t have to go very far at all for a pre-ceremony portrait session. The entire financial district area is our playground. An added bonus is that the streets are completely transformed at night, when the lights of the metropolis around you can serve as a perfect background for photographs.
Ambiance from Floor to Ceiling
The walls and ceiling of the JMB become even more impressive when you find out they’re all hand-carved. They are an unforgettable experience, and in photographs they are simply striking. The ballroom also has huge fireplaces, and in combination with the warm lighting of the chandeliers and sconces, create a warm, welcoming ambiance.
Keep in mind that the JMB is a huge space, and big spaces need a lot of light. With just the rudimentary lighting, the place is not super camera-friendly (especially to videographers). Don’t skimp on adding some up-lights and some glowing centerpieces to your tables. The more warm ambient light you have, the better your Julia Morgan Ballroom wedding photos and video will look.
Finally, be careful with the wood paneling in the lounge and bar area. The shiny wood will reflect standard camera flashes, and these ghastly reflections will wreak havoc on the photographs, destroying the natural warmth of the JMB’s tungsten lights. A professional photographer should be able to illuminate you and your guests while protecting and enhancing the ambiance you paid for.
Formal and Family Photographs
Formal photographs are important, and the Merchant’s Exchange Building offers several prime locations. Outside the entrance is always a good option, either in daylight or with the night lights of the city as a backdrop. The gilded walls of the lobby provide an opulent and classic backdrop. Upstairs, depending on the number of people in the photos, the lounge area or the ballroom itself can serve as places to organize the portraits.
For more information, check out the Julia Morgan Ballroom reviews on Yelp, as well as the Merchants Exchange Building official website.