VLN: 20th C. Architecture: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 (1967-1982) 14 15

20th century architecture slide show

Chronological listing of 10 selected architectural works in the San Francisco Bay Area (1971-1983).

1967, Financial District, Embarcadero Center,
Bounded by Clay, Battery, Sacramento, Drumm, California, and Market Sts. and M. Justin Herman Plaza, San Francisco.
John C. Portman, Jr.

An 8 ½-acre portion of the 51-acre Golden Gateway Redevelopment Center fostered by M. Justin Herman, San Francisco's entrepreneurial Redevelopment Agency director from 1959 until his death in 1971. Called a city-within-a-city, the project was built incrementally over 14 years in tandem with the growth of the financial district. Often scorned in its early stages as a merely formal gesture at multilevel urbanity, its present daytime population now fills its many levels. The complex of four towers linked by footbridges plus the Hyatt Regency Hotel is exceptional for its successful integration of shopping--on the first three levels of each block-sized podium--and office towers, whose coverage is limited to one-third of the site. The towers, clad in rough-finished, precast concreate, are composed of slablike elements stepped to create 10 to 14 corner offices per floor instead of the usual four. Their slender profiles are a welcome departure from the heavier towers on the skyline. The city's requirement that one percent of development money be spent for art has endowed the Center with a number of works of art, including sculptures by Willi Gutman, Michael Biggers, Nicholas Schoffer, Anne Van Kleeck, Louise Nevelson, Barbara Showcroft, and Robert Russin; and tapestries by Francoise Grossen, Lia Cook, and Olga de Amaral. Circulation is baffling, but directories in each building give the locations of shops, restaurants, and works of art.

The Center is introduced on Market Street by the Hyatt Regency Hotel, completed in 1973 and one of Portman's most successful atrium hotels. The great interior space has a monumental spherical sculpture of aluminum tubing by Charles Perry titled Eclipse. Seen from the Embarcadero, the staggered floors of the hotel recall an old-fashioned typewriter keyboard. A dreadfully dull main entrance addresses the automobile rather than acknowledging its important gateway corner to pedestrians (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 33-34).

From Maritime Plaza, cross one of the footbridges to the south to the Embarcadero Center (73), four towers designed by John Portmkan Jr. in another phase of the Golden Gateway Project completed in the 1980s. Portman emphasized verticality by massing attached towers with narrow vertical windows. The buildings are most appealing at night during the Christmas season when they are outlined with white lights. The first two floors are devoted to shops, restaurants, and a movie theater complex (Wiley 2000: 172-73).

In the next phase [of the Golden Gateway project], completed in the 1980s, John Portman Jr. designed the Hyatt Regency at the junction of California and Market Streets and the Embarcadero Center, four office towers just south of the Golden Gateway project. In the final phase, completed in 1982, Fisher Friedman Associates built additional residential buildings north of the Golden Gateway Apartments around Sidney Walton Park (Wiley 2000: 86-87).

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1967, Financial District, Bank of California Tower,
400 California St., San Francisco.
Anshen and Allen.

The [1907 Bank of California by Bliss and Faville is the] banking temple at its best, with a beautifully detailed Corinthian order for the colonnade. Inside, the banking hall is a great cage with a coffered ceiling. Next door, the 1967 tower's fretted floor spandrels pick up the rhythm of the fluted columns. The ground floor cornice of copper stamped with curvilinear pattern holds its own against the Classical riches of its neighbor (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 30).

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1969, Financial District, Former Bank of America World Headquarters,
555 California St., San Francisco.
Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons/Skidmore Owings and Merrrill/Pietro Belluschi, consultant.

The city's most important office building but no longer owned by the world's largest bank. The tower's faceted form was partly inspired by Pflueger's 450 Sutter building. The height and dark red color insure its dominance of the skyline, but at sunset it becomes eerily transparent. The shaded, windswept north plaza has a polished black granite sculpture by Masayuki Nagare dubbed "the Banker's Heart" by an irate citizen. An opulent three-level banking hall fronts on Montgomery St. (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 27).

In the two blocks west of Montgomery on California, there is a cluster of modern buildings, the most dominant of which is the Bank of America (B of A) Building (49) (1969) at 555 California by Wurster, Benardi and Emmons and SOM with Pietro Belluschi as consultant. In topping the city skyline along with the Transamerica Pyramid, the B of A Building indicates the direction in which Downtown was headed before the numerous campaigns against high rises. Clad in carnelian granite, the 52-story tower is faceted to provide views from every window. There is a large banking hall on the southwest corner of California and Montgomery, and the tower shades a large plaza, served by tapered steps, with a massive black sculpture by Masayuki Nagare, which local wags call the "Banker's Heart." Since B of A was gobbled up by NationsBank of North Carolina, the building has been a reminder that fewer and fewer locally headquartered corporatons can claim to be global giants (Wiley 2000: 169-70).

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Transamerica Building Transamerica Building
1971, Financial District, Transamerica Building,
600 Montgomery St., San Francisco.
William Pereira and Assoc.

The Montgomery Block, a structure of hallowed memory and the engineering marvel of its time, became the first major structure erected on the marshy sand bordering the east side of Montgomery Street at Washington. Rising four stories above a deep basement, this block-square building boasted two inner courts, masonry walls more than two feet thick, and heavy iron shutters at every window. The entire building was floated on a redwood log raft sunk into the sand.

Former New Yorker Gordon Cummings, architect of the Parrott and Montgomery Blocks, borrowed the engineering skills of his patron, Henry Wager Halleck, one of San Francisco's leading attorneys. (Halleck had studied military engineering at West Point; he was to gain renown during the Civil War as Chief of Staff of Lincoln's armies.) Halleck's courage in investing the staggering sum of $3 million stands out as an example of the bravado which built the western metropolis, for what man in his right mind would float a $3-million investment on a raft? Idwall Jones, in his history of the Montgomery Block, Ark of Empire, described the building as "a manifestation of faith, a dream more durable than iron or stone."

The names of the occupants and of those associated with "The Monkey Block," as it came to be called, read like a Who's Who of California history. It sheltered such famed attorneys as Hall McAllister, George Peachey and Frederick Billings, as well as Halleck himself. These men were chiefly engaged in settling the nearly unresolvable disputes before the land claims court.

In later years the Montgomery Block provided office space for the newly affluent "Silver Kings" of the Comstock Lode. Then, in its gentle decline, it became the headquarters for the San Francisco Argonaut, the haunt of such famous journalists as Robert Louis Stevenson, Ambrose Bierce, Bret Harte, Mark Twain and Frank Pixley, the Argonaut's editor.

By the turn of the century, the building had become a haven for painters and sculptors. In one of the Montgomery Block's rooms, architect Willis Polk and artist Bruce Porter designed the memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson which stands today in Portsmouth Square. They first sketched the plan on a tablecloth during lunch at the Palace Hotel, and then took the tablecloth with them to Porter's studio to finish the concept.

In the bohemian restaurant run by Poppa Coppa in the basement of the Montgomery Block, these young men and a score of other local artists met to toast the great city which all believed would soon arise from the ruins left by the 1906 disaster. Many of these same men, led by Percy Stidger, the Block's manager, had helped to save the Montgomery Block from the dynamiters, and to protect those historic structures lining Jackson and Pacific Streets, many of which were later restored to become today's Jackson Square.

In the light of today's preservation movement it seems hardly possible that in 1959, as the Montgomery Block was attaining its 106th year, it was demolished to make way for a parking lot. To avoid public outcry, the wreckers planned to make quick work of the demolition, but the building's iron framework and massive brickwalls stubbornly resisted, and the carnage dragged on for months, producing a mountain of historic used brick. A dream more durable than stone? The Transamerica Pyramid now occupies the site. Sic transit gloria (Alexander and Heig 2002: 56-57).

San Franciscans have come to accept, if not embrace, this tower as one of its signature buildings. The pyramid was designed by William Pereira & Associates and can be said to have inspired the city's spirited campaign against high rises. The building's distinctive shape is supported on an exposed cat's cradle of structural members. The Redwood garden to the east was designed by Tom Galli (Wiley 2000: 172).

The more big rectangular blocks are built downtown the better this looks NOT RATED (Corbett and Hall 1979: 211).

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1971, Financial District, M. Justin Herman Plaza,
Foot of Market St., San Francisco.
Mario Ciampi/Lawrence Halprin and Assoc./John Bolles.

Part of the Market Street Beautification Project, the plaza suffers some from its north orientation. Since the completion of the Embarcadero Center, the daytime crowd enlives the space as do frequent craft markets and entertainment. The fountain by Armand Vaillancourt used to have the double-decker freeway as a backdrop. Now that the freeway is gone, the array of angular concrete forms can no longer be joked about as a stockpile of spare freeway parts. For the moment it seems overexposed. The plaza's other sculptures are an equestrian statue of Juan Bautista de Anza by Julian Martinez, a gift from the governor of Sonora, Mexico and a 1986 painted and welded steel monument to the International Longshoremen's and Warehousmen's Union that commemorates the 1934 Maritime Strike. Ten local artists collaborated on the sculpture calling themselves METAL (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 37).

The [Justin Herman] Plaza is a monument to the man who reshaped the [Golden Gateway] area...Part of Market Street beautification, it used to stand in the shadow of the Embarcadero. The fountain, by Armand Vaillancourt, is one of the ugliest structures in the city (Wiley 2000: 173).

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1972, Financial District, Security Pacific Bank Building,
50 California St., San Francisco.
Welton Becket and Assoc.

A later [than the office tower at 100 California St.], less interesting building by the same firm. The Security Pacific Art Gallery, designed by Frederick Fisher in collaboration with artist David Ireland, is located on the first floor. Completed in 1990, the space is detailed in subtle and interesting ways; the window walls on the street are also used to showcase art (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 35).

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1977, Financial District, Bank building,
350 California St., San Francisco.
Skidmore Owings and Merrill.

A sculptural, contemporary version of the Classical skyscraper with the corners visually strengthened by paired columns. Panels of precast bosses attempt to overcome the blankness of the typical office tower; expanses of glass permit a view into the banking hall. At the top of the wall at the back of the property walrus heads wreathed in rope peer over tiny icebergs. Forlorn relics, they solemnly represent the Alaska Commercial Building that once occupied the site (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 30).

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101 California St.
1982, Financial District, 101 California Street Building,
101 California St., San Francisco.

An elegant silo that adds grace to the skyline; the sloping glazed atrium at street level is less elegant but the plaza is a welcome open space even if it does face north. (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 35).

A striking glass silo designed by Johnson/Burgee. Philip Johnson, who was still practicing architecture in New York in his nineties in the year 2000, played a major role in introducing European modernism to the United States via the 1931 New York Museum of Modern Art show on International Style (Wiley 2000: 159).

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1982, Financial District, Shaklee Terraces,
444 Market St., San Francisco.
Skidmore Owings and Merrill.

The rolled-back Market Street facade and finely scaled flush aluminum skin make this one of the more ingratiating of this generation of towers. It is connected by a hyphen to the 1908 Postal Telegraph Building by Lewis Hobart at 22 Battery Street. (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 33).

West of Front Street in the next block is the Sanwa Bank Building (14) (1982) at 444 Market, also by SOM. The rolling vertical curves are shaped in aluminum, and the top of the building features a series of setbacks with trees on terraces that predate the Planning Department's regulation calling for setbacks in 1985 (Wiley 2000: 160).

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1982, Financial District, Embarcadero Promenade,
Embarcadero, San Francisco.
MLTW/Turnbull Assoc./Donlyn Lyndon.

A nice beginning to a promenade that may one day stretch along the waterfront to Folsom Street. (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 37).

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add = Additions; nm = No Mention; rem = Remodelled; rest = Restoration