An Iowa State University graduate, Brunnier nearly succumbed to the lure of baseball while working at his first engineering job in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He spent his weekends pitching semipro ball, but he rejected a contract offer from the Pirates to pursue a career in engineering. That eventually led him to San Francisco. He opened his own structural engineering office in 1908.
Henry Brunnier was a 26-year-old engineer when he came to San Francisco after the earthquake and fire of 1906. He remained in San Francisco for more than 50 years, establishing an engineering firm that has helped design many of the City's best-known landmarks.
Among its first commissions, the firm designed the sea wall along the Embarcadero and designed the Santa Cruz Wharf. It also provided the structural design for the nine-story Sharon Building across the street from the Palace Hotel. Brunnier's firm relocated its offices to the Sharon Building after it was completed in 1912 and has remained there ever since.
In his firm's early years, Brunnier entered into a long and rewarding partnership with George Kelham, one of the City's foremost architects. In the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s, the office performed structural engineering for many of Kelham's buildings, including the San Francisco Public Library, the Standard Oil Building, the Federal Reserve Bank Building, the Shell Building and the Russ Building (which, until 1964, was San Francisco's tallest skyscraper).
Brunnier, the former baseball player, also worked with Kelham to design Seals Stadium, home of the minor league San Francisco Seals and acclaimed as the finest minor league facility in the United.States. At Sixteenth and Bryant it was the first ballpark to be designed for night games and was noted for its extensive system of underground pipes to drain rainwater off the field, so that games could resume quickly after a storm.
Brunnier helped supervise the design of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, constructed between 1933 and 1936.
Following World War II, his office was responsible for the structural engineering of many of the City's most prominent corporate headquarters and offices. These include the 52-story Bank of America World Headquarters, the 22-story Crown Zellerbach Building, a 22-story addition to the Standard Oil Building, the 34-story PG&E Headquarters, the 22- and 40-story Chevron office towers on Market Street, the Golden Gateway Center, the Fairmont Hotel tower, and the 30-story California State Automobile Association headquarters.
Brunnier was a "landmark" citizen as well as a designer of landmark buildings. He helped establish and served on the first California State Board of Registration for Civil Engineers and was elected the first president of the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California. He also was active in the San Francisco and California Chambers of Commerce, was president of the California State Automobile Association, the American Automobile Association, and worldwide president of Rotary International.