San Francisco’s Hill 3 Letters
San Francisco’s Hill 3 Letters – The reviews of the Transamerica Pyramid, from around the world after the design in 1969 revealed, were uniformly wild. The Chronicle’s architectural critic testified against the building of City Hall. Dozens of Telegraph Hill residents protested the construction zone in helmets. San Francisco city planners called the tower “an inhuman creation.”
But the Transamerica Pyramid, built on a white-hot controversial foundation, still stood tall at the end of Columbus Avenue – and emerged as an iconic symbol of San Francisco. In a city where despised projects become beloved (hello Sutro Tower!), the pyramid is king.
San Francisco’s Hill 3 Letters
July 28, 1971: The Transamerica Pyramid under construction in downtown San Francisco, as seen from Columbus Avenue. Clem Albers/The Chronicle
Covid Rent Relief: Already Applied And Still Waiting? Here’s What You (and Your Landlord) Can Do Now
With the building celebrating its 50th anniversary later this year, we looked to the Chronicle for the best photos of the skyscraper’s construction – and the harshest reviews.
The announcement of the building in the Chronicle was controversial enough, written with enthusiasm in a story announcing the arrival of Santa Claus in a local store.
“Yesterday a pyramid, so strange it might make a wink or a breath out of the Sphinx, was unveiled as the next addition to San Francisco’s skyline,” Chronicle reporter George Draper’s story began. “It will cut the sky like a stiletto, rising 1,000 feet above Montgomery Street between Clay and Washington, and will serve as the world headquarters for Transamerica Corp.”
A first look at the Transamerica Pyramid appeared in the January 28, 1969 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.Chronicle archives.
China Legitimizes Ivory, Again
The 1969 design was just over 1,000 feet, making it the highest point in San Francisco, overlooking Mount Davidson at 925 feet. (The Sutro Tower, an urban design controversy for another day, was completed years later in 1973.)
Called “super-superb” by critics, it was met with derision by the city’s planning director, Allan Jacobs, and redesigned into a shorter, taller model – at 865 feet still the tallest building. in the city.
Futurist architect William Pereira, who hails from Los Angeles and worked as a Hollywood art director, insists his new skyscraper would be good for the city.
“This pyramid design allows more light and more air to the streets and preserves the view,” he told the Chronicle. “All in all, I think we have a valid, rational design and, if you’ll forgive me, a beautiful one.”
San Francisco’s Painted Ladies Are Iconic. Here’s What It’s Like To Own One Of Them
If anything, Pereira’s redesign was more popular. Architecture critics from San Francisco and beyond rallied against the construction. Some highlights of the deck:
“Insensitive, inappropriate, incongruous, unavoidable and misplaced.” and “No less reprehensible than… destroying the Grand Canyon.”
“True architecture block. … This building would be just as bad in Los Angeles, where it was hatched, or in Las Vegas, where it belongs, or in Dallas, where buildings fight for attention. It certainly does not belong in San Francisco , which is sensitive and easily injured.”
“The city’s most important corporation has exercised considerably more restraint in their architecture than Transamerica, which is blatantly trying to put its ‘brand’ on the city. This is antisocial architecture at its worst.”
We Hated All Those Lists Of The Weirdest Places In Sf. So We Made Our Own
July 23, 1969: Protesters at the old Transamerica Building march against the new Transamerica Pyramid, announced in 1969 and built in 1972. Stan Creighton/The Chronicle
“Taste changes. But not the taste of tasteless.” The pyramid is “terrible nipple” and “a space needle that is just in the world second class.”
The worst criticism in ages came from Assemblyman John Burton, who said the pyramid would “blight the San Francisco skyline and virtually destroy the delicate beauty of Telegraph Hill and the Jackson Square area of the city.”
Transamerica officials seemed to be all smiles at the onslaught, to the point of passive aggression. One afternoon in 1970, pyramid officials passed out fortune cookies to protesters with pro-pyramid jokes inside.
Alcatraz Island (san Francisco)
July 23, 1969: Sally Walker hands out pyramid-shaped cookies during protests against the construction of the Transamerica Pyramid. Stan Creighton/The Chronicle.
Herb Caen reports that Transamerica Vice President John Chase appeared at a protest in North Beach, where opponents wore “Stop the Shaft” caps and were served a cake shaped like the Transamerica Pyramid. Caen wrote: “Attorney Francis Carroll cut off the head and presented it to Chase, with the plea, ‘Please take a piece of cake instead of a piece of San Francisco.’
Meanwhile, San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto has tripled his defense of the building. There is no reason, he said, that San Francisco should have “a monopoly on rectangular slabs.”
Ultimately, Alioto had the Planning Commission on his side, along with the Chamber of Commerce. (The editorial page of the San Francisco Chronicle was also pro-pyramid, ignoring the Caen and Temko protests.) Despite a lawsuit from Telegraph Hill residents, Supervisor Jack Morrison pushed to move the pyramid to SoMa and numerous letters to the editor , there. pyramid rises quickly. It cost $32 million and was completed in the summer of 1972.
Iconic South San Francisco Sign Vandalized
2 of 6 June 3, 1971: The Transamerica Pyramid under construction in downtown San Francisco with Coit Tower in the distance.Joe Rosenthal/The ChronicleShow MoreShow Less
4 of 6 Workers complete the top of the Transamerica Pyramid on March 29, 1972. Art Frisch/The Chronicle 1972Show MoreShow less
5 of 6 March 29, 1972: Workers finish the top of the Transamerica Pyramid in downtown San Francisco. Art Frisch/The ChronicleShow MoreShow Less
6 of 6 May 17, 1972: An aerial view of the Transamerica Pyramid taken from a helicopter about 150 feet above the building.Peter Breinig/The ChronicleShow MoreShow Less
Hours In San Francisco: The Ultimate Itinerary
Historic World War II photographers Joe Rosenthal and Clem Albers captured stunning images of the half-built icon. The photos were taken from a helicopter. Once the skyscraper was almost complete, photographers took pictures of the skyline in five different neighborhoods in the city. (Many of the images in this column have never been published.)
Then something surprising happened. The pyramid has become a classic. It’s in postcards and snow globes. Subsequent skyscrapers are compared (often unfavorably) to it. In the “Star Trek” film and television universe, where Starfleet is headquartered in San Francisco in the 24th century, the only surviving structures are the Ferry Building and the Transamerica Pyramid.
Thirteen years ago, Chronicle urban design critic John King caught up with pyramid criticism. Henrik Bull, an architect who denounced the proposal at hearings and rallies, told King: “The good in the pyramid outweighs the bad in it. It is a beautiful building. And what makes it wonderful is everything we object to.
Alioto lived until 1998, long enough to see several anniversaries, and his predictions came true. For one problem, at least, he was the Emperor of the city of Norton, clearly seeing in the future, as the loudest voices declared him to be completely crazy.
San Francisco Hotels
June 19, 1972: The Transamerica Pyramid nears the end of its construction as seen from Columbus Avenue. Art Frisch/The Chronicle
“I looked once more last week at the Chrysler Building in New York and I believe it is the best building on this horizon,” Alioto said in 1969. “My personal opinion remains that the next generation of San Franciscans can well make a similar judgment about the Transamerica building.” When the City of San Francisco chose to demolish rather than rebuild two earthquake-damaged freeways in 1989, it began a natural history experiment in urban planning. Ultimately, this example would prove to the world that removing freeways from the city could boost quality of life. , economic development, and affordable housing.
Now, the City is looking to remove its first fully voluntary freeway: 1.2 miles of I-280, north of 16th Street, which currently connects US 101 to Mission Bay.
Even as the property tax base increased and thousands of affordable housing units were added after the Embarcadero and Central Freeway came down, removing the I-280 Spur would open up new opportunities for affordable downtown development.
How The Poor Neighborhood That Oj Forgot Turned Rich And Forgot Him Back
Former San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee approved the removal of the I-280 Spur and its replacement with a surface boulevard and the Bay Area nonprofit SPUR studied. In December 2012, a San Francisco City Planning Department report compared the direct costs and benefits of replacing I-280 with a modern freeway versus converting it to an urban boulevard and redeveloping the 4th/King Railyards.
Crucially for San Francisco, this project could reconnect disconnected neighborhoods like Mission Bay, Potrero Hill, and SoMa. Once undesirable land would be opened up for new housing and commercial development. In the face of the Bay Area’s housing crisis, this development could copy the highly successful Market & Octavia Area Plan—using a variety of housing and mixed-use buildings to fit the established character of the neighborhood.
In addition, the removal could serve as a catalyst for transformational projects such as the recently opened Transbay Transit Center and a possible high-speed rail station where I-280 now ends. The highway removal project, with its considerable political will and potentially high return on investment, is an important first step.
A new neighborhood at the 4th and King Street railyards is one of the many opportunities offered by the removal of the I-280 spur. “Together, these facilities consume more than 30 acres of land (about 1.3 million square feet) and represent obsolete uses of high-value areas,” wrote Gillian Gillett, there.