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A Look At S.F.’s Tallest Towers (At Least Until Saleforce Tower Is Fully Constructed)

With Salesforce Tower to reach 1,070 feet and several towers coming to the Transbay Terminal to rise over 800 feet, a new set of giants is coming to town. Before these towers take top prize for the city's tallest buildings, we looked at San Francisco’s current tall towers and what makes them a special part of the city.

Transamerica Pyramid

The Transamerica Pyramid In San Francisco

Height: 853 feet
Year Built: 1972
Use: Office
Owner: Transamerica
Architects: William Periera & Associates

When Transamerica proposed its new headquarters, it faced significant public pushback, with many saying this oddly shaped building doesn’t fit in San Francisco. The building’s original plans were for a 1,000-foot tower with 500k SF of office. When Transamerica scaled back its plans to 853 feet capped with a 212-foot spire, the city approved the project. For two years after its construction, the Transamerica Pyramid was the tallest tower west of the Mississippi. Until Salesforce Tower, it has long held the title of Northern California’s tallest tower.

The building boasts a large conference room on the 48th floor with 365-degree views of the city below. The structure was built with concrete, glass and steel, and many of its windows rotate 365 degrees for easy cleaning. The Transamerica Pyramid took the Loma Prieta earthquake like a champ—swaying back and forth for over a minute, but sustaining no damage. Transamerica Pyramid received LEED Platinum certification last year.

555 California St


Year Built: 1969
Height: 779 feet
Use: Office
Owned By: Vornado
Architects: Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons; Skidmore Owings & Merrill; Pietro Belluschi

Prior to the Transamerica Pyramid, the former Bank of America Center was the tallest tower west of the Mississippi. The office was a challenge to design. On top of seismic requirements, the building’s column-free open floor plans (at the time a rarity) required significant floor strength. Structural engineer HJ Brunnier came up with the solution of a welded-moment resisting rigid steel frame along with welded box columns and three-foot-deep girders welded into the columns for maximum strength, according to the Pacific Coast Architecture Database.

Bank of America owned the tower until 1985, when it sold the building for a staggering $660M to Walter Shorenstein, representing the largest office transaction at that time, according to PCAD. Ownership changed a few more times until Vornado bought a 70% share from a Hong Kong investment firm in 2007 for a whopping $1.8B.

Fun fact: President-elect Donald Trump owns 30% of the building through a limited partnership, reports SF Gate.

345 California St


Year Built: 1986
Height: 695 feet
Use: Office and 11-story hotel
Owned By: Metropolis Investment Holdings
Architects: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

345 California Center was originally planned to be 98 feet taller and topped with condos, but height restrictions squashed the developer’s original plans. Loews Regency bought the 11-story hotel from Mandarin Oriental last year. The hotel includes 5k SF of meeting space, an 8k SF spa and fitness center, and views of the Bay.

Millennium Tower

Millennium Tower in San Francisco

Year Built: 2009
Height: 645 feet
Use: Residential
Owned By: Millennium Partners
Architects: Glenn Rescalvo and Handel Architects

Millennium Partners’ $350M Millennium Tower is currently the tallest residential tower west of the Mississippi, according to the San Francisco Business Times. Because of the tower’s height, several innovations and technologies were used. The concrete-reinforced structure used W-sec steel link beams to create the shearwall core coupling beams. The building also incorporates a tie system of welded grid reinforcement (aka Baugrid), reducing the volume of rebar and eliminating all hooks.

Despite the tower’s unique engineering innovations, the tower has been plagued with controversy over the last year. It has been sinking and tilting and has already sunk 16 inches and is leaning two inches. Recent satellite data confirmed the tower and several other Bay Area sites (including some around Pleasanton) are sinking. The tower was built into the Colma Foundation of dense sand, which many have partially blamed for the tower’s problems.

One Rincon Hill South Tower


Year Built: 2008
Height: 641 feet
Use: Residential
Owned By: Principal Green Property Fund
Architects: Solomon Cordwell Buenz

One Rincon Hill South at 425 1st St is considered one of the most successful pre-sale buildings with 90% of its 376 condos and 14 townhomes reserved two weeks before the sales office opened in 2006, reports the San Francisco Business Times. Reservations were later canceled when the stock market crashed in 2008; since the market’s recovery the building houses over 650 residents.

The building features super-fast elevators rocketing from the ground floor to the 61st floor in 26 seconds. One Rincon Hill is built to withstand a massive earthquake and gale-force winds and even has two 100,000-gallon water tanks to help counter the building swaying in high winds. The building is not without controversy and many complained about the original design (which included a clock tower) as well as the high price and how it blocked others' views of the bay.

Principal Real Estate Investors and Urban Pacific Investors built One Rincon Hill Phase 2 in 2014, a 52-story tower with 299 units.