Sunday, December 14, 2014

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! The story of the Tree in Union Square

   Original image collection of the History Room of the Oakland Library, Hand-tinted © Bennett Hall 2015)

Union Square's Christmas Tree c1915-1920
A tradition for over 130 years
Attributed to Emperor Norton


Since 1880, and every year since, a magnificent tree or a facsimile or creation resembling a tree, has adorned Union Square during the holiday season. This annual tradition has, like many things in the City's history, been credited to Emperor Norton (1818-1880), who it is said, in his normal fashion to such matters, simply decreed that this shall be done.   Norton, the City's great eccentric, has also been noted as the first person to envision bridges across the bay, not to mention he is a man who created his own currency.  Apparently, this was also the first public-space Christmas tree in the country.

Click here to order a print of the Tree in Union Square

Hand-tinted San Francisco Archive on the Flickr 

...But is this a Real Tree? 

The tree in this photograph is apparently not be tree, rather it is a work of landscaping artistry that surrounds and adorns the monument, using its structure to create the form of a tree. 

TODAY: For many years the trees cut for the Square were real - however starting in 2011, as no one really wanted the cut tree after the season, the decision was made to shift to an artificial tree.   This Story explains the details of the 17 1/2 ton 86' high creation adorned with 33,000 LED light bulbs.

The Emperor in full regalia


Union Square's name originated from pro-Union rallies held on the eve of the Civil War. Built on what was originally a sand dune, the Square became a public park in 1850.

Learn more about first Emperor and his important decrees

Order a print of the Emperor

(Original image collection of the San Francisco Images, Hand-tinted © Bennett Hall 2014)

Dewey Monument, Union Square viewing North 

Dewey Monument, Union Square viewing North c1905

Union Square, the center of the City in pioneer days, was deeded for permanent public use on January 3, 1850 during the administration of John White Geary, San Francisco's first mayor and postmaster. The 97-foot Corinthian column is topped by a figure representing Victory.


Dewey Monument Dedication

Dedication of Dewey Monument, May 14 1903

President Roosevelt dedicated the Monument in Union Square to honor the victory of Admiral George Dewey and the American fleet over Spanish forces at Manila Bay, the Philippines in 1898, during the Spanish-American War. The Monument is also a tribute to the U. S. Navy sailors.

Union Square c1915

Articles and stories in this post are © Bennett Hall / San Francisco Images / Business Image Group

Source: (Tree shot) Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library, digitally mastered by San Francisco Images / Business Image Group.  You can acquire copies of these images framed and unframed through our World Wide Archive Web Galleries. A portion of all sales will be donated to the History Room to assist them with their work preserving local history and to maintain their collections.

Can you help me date this picture? 

There is a question as to the date of this view - the image below shows details of the cars in from of the St. Francis Hotel -  Do you know a vintage car buff who could advise as to the makes and model / years so I can confirm the date.  If you know- please comment / send me an email. 


The Emperor also was the first to foresee and ultimate decree that a Bridge should be constructed across the Bay - here is his original declaration on the matter:

WHEREAS, we issued our decree ordering the citizens of San Francisco and Oakland to appropriate funds for the survey of a suspension bridge from Oakland Point via Goat Island; also for a tunnel; and to ascertain which is the best project; and whereas the said citizens have hitherto neglected to notice our said decree; and whereas we are determined our authority shall be fully respected; now, therefore, we do hereby command the arrest by the army of both the Boards of City Fathers if they persist in neglecting our decrees. Given under our royal hand and seal at San Francisco, this 17th day of September, 1872

If you like what you see here and would like to help support local history, please become a member of the Oakland Public Library History Room.(Oakland History Room)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

San Francisco History on Display at Swiss Louis on Pier 39

Main Dining Room • Overlooking marina area, Forbes Island and Golden Gate Bridge


Swiss Louis, a long time San Francisco tradition established in North Beach in 1936, chose to showcase its City local roots by installing a collection of San Francisco historical images for their flagship restaurant on Pier 39.  These dramatic vintage views of our City form a key design element of their restaurant's experience, second only to their spectacular floor to ceiling views of the wharf and Golden Gate Bridge. 

Tour Swiss Louis San Francisco History Collection

The collection was curated and produced by
Bennett Hall,  of Business Image Group, drawn from their San Francisco Images archive of local photographs of the Bay Area.  Feature mural-size pieces are printed on canvas, hand-tinted by Hall. Each piece was locally framed by Eco Framing using sustainable U.S. forested and milled frame moulding made from solid walnut.

Swuiis Luis banquet

Banquet Seating
1) Worker on Cables during construction of the Golden Gate Bridge
2) Transamerica Pyramid under construction, 1972

It started more than a half century ago in 1936 when a Swiss Italian immigrant named Louis opened the original Swiss Louis Restaurant in North Beach in San Francisco on Broadway Street.

Over the years, as the popularity of the restaurant grew, so did the need for larger facilities. In 1978, after 42 years on Broadway in North Beach, this popular dining establishment moved to Pier 39 near Fisherman’s Wharf. Today, as in the past, Swiss Louis Restaurant continues to provide diners a cozy and casually elegant dining atmosphere.

The current owner, also from Italy, came to Swiss Louis almost 40 years ago and continues the tradition of serving the finest Italian dishes and the freshest seafood.

Swiss Louis on Pier 39, bar area and lounge

Main Lounge and Bar Area, Swiss Louis on Pier 39
2nd floor - North side facing Golden Gate


Articles and stories in this post are © Bennett Hall / San Francisco Images / Business Image Group

PURCHASE: You can acquire copies of these images framed and unframed through our World Wide Archive Web Galleries. A portion of all sales will be donated to the History Room to assist them with their work preserving local history and to maintain their collections.

Monday, June 23, 2014

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Construction

Bay Bridge, West Tower, c. 1937

The Bay Bridge originally accommodated 3 lanes of car traffic for each direction on the upper deck, the lower deck being reserved for trucks, buses, and trains. In 1957, the railroad tracks were removed to allow eastbound traffic on the lower deck and westbound traffic on top.

Designer Charles H. Purcell
Chief engineer was Ralph Modjeski.
Construction began July 9, 1933

Picnic on Yerba Buena Island 
Viewing East toward Long Wharf & Oakland Mole, 1886

First established by the military in 1868, Yerba Buena Island was originally intended for artillery batteries to defend the Bay. It served as a regular Army camp until 1880, when the island was then transferred to the Navy.  Extending into the Bay in the distance are the Long Wharf, used for shipping, and the Oakland Mole (right), which served commuters traveling across the Bay. 

The railroad extended its Oakland wharf to the edge of the deep water in San Francisco Bay to allow larger vessels to connect with its overland trains and to shorten the trip by ferry to the opposite shore. The Long Wharf (on the left) was used for shipping, Oakland Mole pier (right) was used for passengers. The pier extended over 2 miles into the Bay, serving commuters traveling to and from San Francisco and the East Bay.

This 116 acre island later became the mid-point of the Bay Bridge,
which was completed in only three years, opening in November 1936.

The Push to Span the Bay

San Francisco's leaders recognizing that they were on the wrong side of the Transcontinental railroad, realized that to protect their growing economic ambitions that bridging the Bay was not optional - this was a matter of when not if.

The Emperor has Spoken: 

A Bridge Shall be built...


WHEREAS, we issued our decree ordering the citizens of San Francisco and Oakland to appropriate funds for the survey of a suspension bridge from Oakland Point via Goat Island; also for a tunnel; and to ascertain which is the best project; and whereas the said citizens have hitherto neglected to notice our said decree; and whereas we are determined our authority shall be fully respected; now, therefore, we do hereby command the arrest by the army of both the Boards of City Fathers if they persist in neglecting our decrees. Given under our royal hand and seal at San Francisco, 
this 17th day of September, 1872
     –Emperor Norton

(PS: what was the reason we are not naming this after him again?)
Emperor Norton Bridge Campaign

(this image from collection of San Francisco Images)

 Bay Bridge Tower Construction from Rincon Hill Area c. 1934

Charles M.Hiller, photographer, from the Library of Congress


 Bay Bridge Construction from Telegraph Hill, c. 1934


 This view over waterfront piers shows one of the four towers of the Bridge
at different stages of construction. Building a bridge across the Bay had been a dream since the days of the Gold Rush often attributed to  Emperor Norton  who in 1872 issued a decree demanding
the construction of the bridge. 

Construction of the Bridge finally commenced in 1933, and was completed only three years later. Timothy L. Pflueger was the chairman of the committee of consulting architects on the
Bay Bridge project.

The crossing from Yerba Buena Island to Oakland was spanned by a 10,176 foot cantilever bridge, the longest bridge of its kind at the time. To enable a shorter path across the Bay, a tunnel was created through the Island - the largest diameter bore tunnel in the world at 76’ wide, 58’ high. The Bridge was completed in 1936, accommodating automobile traffic on the upper deck, and the Key Rail system, buses and trucks on the lower deck.

Workers under the Caisson supporting the San Francisco
Bay Bridge during construction
"Underneath the world's largest caisson, 92' wide by 197', which we will launched today at Moore Dry Docks, Oakland, this section will be christened when a beribboned bottle will be broken over its brow by Mrs. C. H. Purcell, wife of Chief Engineer of the SF Bay Bridge. 

This caisson will be be sunk through mud and clay to bedrock and form the bottom of a concrete and steel structure extending 478.5 feet from the floor of the bay to a point 298.5' above the water midway between SF and Yerba Buena Island"

Installing the Shroud atop of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, 1936

"Installation of "Shroud" on the $77MSF-Oakland Bay Bridge on the center anchorage. 
The shroud will cover eye-bars and "A-Frame" atop this mid-water monolith to which giant cables are attached.  It will soon be filled with concrete for a rigid grip. 6-20-1936"

Workers on North Catwalk

Crew securing 100-foot sections of wire-mesh flooring on the cables at
Tower West two • August 17, 1935

Bay Bridge Lighting During Construction, December 1935

Chosen for their soft, non-glare illumination, the sodium vapor lamps hung from the
Bay Bridge’s western span suspension cables added a festive quality.
The Bridge was now less than a year from completion,
and would soon enable significant expansion to the East Bay.

East Side of Yerba Buena Island during construction of Cantilever Section • c.1935


 Yerba Buena Island during the construction of the Cantilever section of the Bay Bridge
Two 500-foot anchor arms are started to connect 1400' of double deck bridge just east of Yerba Buena Island.  The western anchor arm, shown at the right, will be completed when it reached Pier E2
in the water just off the island  The 1400-foot cantilever span will not be joined until early 1936 accordingly to Chief Engineer C. H. Purcell

Hoisting the last section of the Cantilever section of the Eastern Span from a barge positioned on the Bay below. This is very nearly the section that collapsed on to its lower deck during the 1989
Loma Prieta Earthquake • c1936


West Tower of Bay Bridge, Under Construction, 1935
The West Tower of the Bay Bridge rises 281 feet above the Bay,
with a concrete anchorage sunk 235 feet below the water line. Its
total height is taller than that of the largest of the Pyramids of Egypt
and it contains more concrete than the Empire State Building.

(this image from collection of San Francisco Images)


North and South Cables spanning the Anchorage of the Bay Bridge, Photographed October 15, 1935


Opening Day Ceremony, 5th Street Terminus
November 12, 1936

5th Street terminus (off ramp) of the Bay Bridge on the day of its ceremonial opening - traffic moved in two direction in the day of c ours with the Key Line system and other rail systems on the lower level. Remember, when the Bay Bridge opened automobile traffic was on the upper deck, moving in two directions, with rail and public transport on the lower deck.

This image shows the elegant original design with a plaza-style experience upon entry or exit from the Bridge.  I hope to find a image of the center point and will post that as soon as I can locate it.

Clyde Sunderland, Photographer, from the Library of Congress

Eye Bolt of the Original Eastern Span

Hand-Tinted black and white photograph by Bennett Hall ©1980/2014
shot with an 8 x 10 view camera on mobile dolly


Articles and stories in this post are © Bennett Hall / San Francisco Images / Business Image Group

Emperor Norton Bridge Campaign


the New Eastern Span construction:  "The Bridge Builders" by Joseph Blum Photography

Flickr Collection on the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island

Wikipedia on the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge

Bancroft Library Digital Archive of Construction


Donate to the Oakland History Room at the Oakland Library

SOURCES: Unless otherwise indicated, these images were sourced from the Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library, and have been digitally mastered by San Francisco Images / Business Image Group.  

PURCHASE: You can acquire copies of these images framed and unframed through our World Wide Archive Web Galleries. A portion of all sales will be donated to the History Room to assist them with their work preserving local history and to maintain their collections.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

In Remembrance ...Returning sailors, new recruits at the enlisting office, Fort Point

Returning Sailors at Hunter’s Point, January 1945

Enlisted men, wounded in battle and home again after many months,
eagerly read American newspapers. This ship, the USS President Hayes,
was an attack transport in 1943 serving the Pacific area, and participated
in the successful invasion of Guam in July 1944 and Leyte in October.

Enlisting in the Marines. Recruiting office. San Francisco, California

photograph by John Collier (1913-1992)
Published: 1941 Dec.

Top of the Mark, Mark Hopkins Hotel

Opened in 1926, the Hotel was named after Mark Hopkins, founder of the Central Pacific Railroad. In 1939, the 19th floor penthouse was converted into a glass-walled lounge offering 360 degree views of the City. WWII servicemen toasted the Golden Gate for luck before shipping out.

Victory Parade, Spanish-American War, c. 1898

At the turn of the century, San Francisco was the jumping-off point for America’s imperialistic adventures 
annexing land in the Pacific. Crowds lined Market Street to celebrate the homecoming of their 
'California Boys' in appreciation of their efforts during this War.

Golden Gate from Above Fort Point, c. 1890

Fort Point was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1853 and 1861 to prevent entrance 
of a hostile fleet into San Francisco Bay during the Civil War. Between 1933 and 1937 the Fort was used 
as a base of operations for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. 
Hand-tinted by Bennett Hall / 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"Cup Tasting" at #2 Harrison, San Francisco c1930, now Google's San Francisco workspace

Google and Mozilla expand their San Francisco footprint into 350,000 square feet of landmark Hills Plaza, originally headquarters of Hills Brothers original coffee processing plant on the Embarcadero


The tradition of quality analysis, innovation and experimentation continues today at the site of
Austin and Reubin Hills original "cup tasting room". This property, built by the Hills Bros. at #2 Harrison, is where vacuum packing and other innovations in the coffee processing industry spurred the explosive growth of their company.  The aroma of roasting coffee from Hills Bros. plant dominated the waterfront experience for generations. The plant and company's executive operations continued through the properties redevelopment in the 1990s while they were owned by the Nestle Beverage Company.  They later relocated to Los Angeles and are now owned by Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA.  Google, Gensler, and Mozilla are now primary tenants.

This photograph shows the company team at the table conducting cup-testing (c.1930), #2 Harrison, led by Reuben Hills, Reuben Hills, Jr., Elliot Cofer, Dick Bennetts, Gene Hoelter and younger members of the Commodities Department.  This testing procedure continues today with highly qualified personnel using the most advanced equipment to augment their expertise in judging coffee quality by taste and smell, although no longer at this location.


Hills Bros. was founded February 14, 1878, in San Francisco when two brothers, Austin H. Hills (1851-1933), and Reuben W. Hills (1856-1934), formed a partnership to sell retail dairy products in a stall in Bay City Market located at 1146 Market Street.  Three years later they became owners of Arabian Coffee & Spice Mills. This marked the beginning of their growth to become one of the nation's largest and most notable coffee companies.  Burned out by the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, these courageous brothers went on to achieve their destined mark in coffee history.  This building was the home office and plant for Hills Bros. from January 1926 until April 1990, when remodeling began to make this structure a vital part of the new block-square Hills Plaza.

Current on exhibit at #2 Harrison is a permanent exhibit that I designed  and produced in the 90s for the re-developer Betawest, under the design guidance of Whistler Patri Architects and project lead architect David Colleen.

Hills Bros. Company History

Future Site of Hills Brothers Coffee Company 1851

In 1851, the shoreline of San Francisco Bay came close to the foot of Rincon Point.  This resulted in extensive land-filling before this building could be constructed on the first block of Harrison Street in 1924.hand-tinted by Bennett Hall for exhibit in lobby of #2 Harrison Street

Hills Bros. Arabian Coffee & Spice Mills, located at the corner of Sansome and Sacramento Streets was factory and home office for the growing company from 1884 to 1894.  This site later became the site of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Construction progress of 2 Harrison, November 8, 1924

Overlooking Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Exposition, and
the Hills Bros. Coffee Plant 1939

--from James Holden mural showing a woman viewing the World's Fair on Treasure Island in 1939, from the top of Rincon Hill.  The Hills Bros. Coffee illuminated sign on the roof of the Hills Bros. building at 2 Harrison Street is easily readable from the Bay day or night.  We published this image and 5 others by Holden depicting the history of coffee and Hills Bros as a set of notecards for Nestle in 1996. (available through our studios in limited supply)

hills warehouse-s

Thomas Hodge (in derby hat) in Hills Brothers Warehouse, 1905

Hills Bros. disposed of its Retail Diary Business in the late 1880's.  The company continued its operations as Commission Merchants wholesaling butter, eggs, cheese, walnuts and honey in addition to the Arabian Coffee & Spice Mills (photo 1905).  This commission business, located at 23-25 California Street in the Hansford Block, involved a third partner, Thomas Hodge (in black derby and morning coat), who died shortly after helping to revive the Earthquake-stricken business.  Two years later in 1908, that part of the business was turned over to three former employees and operated successfully for several years. 

Thomas Hodge's son, Carroll (Hodge) Wilson, was employed by Hills Bros. in 1924, starting in the warehouse and eventually retiring in 1966 as a vice president and member of the board of directors.  Mr. Wilson has continued in his retirement years to work with Nestle Beverage Company preserving the memories and archives of Hills Bros

hills 2 Harrison cross section

Cross-section Elevation of No. 2 Harrison Street Facilities

This cross-section illustration of the Hills Bros. plant at 2 Harrison Street shows the path coffee beans traveled after arrival in the warehouse until they were blended, roasted and vacuum-packed for shipment.  The orange bins in the center of the Green Coffee Mixing Tower were used in combining various lots of coffee to prepare the final Hills Bros. blend.  The cup testing rooms are at the top right side of the building.

Storefront Display, Merchant Corp, led by Carol T. Wilson, later Archivist of Hills Bros. Company

Storefront Display, Merchant Corp, led by Carol T. Wilson 
Archivist of Hills Bros. Company

Hills Brothers Coffee, Merchant corp program who set up store displays for local area stores - crew of 26 at the peak of the program. A three-quarter ton panel truck was designed to accommodate all the display materials used by the Advertising Service Representatives.

Similar displays were installed throughout Hills Bros. marketing area by a crew of Advertising Service Representatives.  Beginning with two men in 1924, this team grew to twenty-four in 1936, when changing styles in grocery store architecture outmoded this type of advertising.


We believe legacy is a valuable asset, one earned not purchased.
If you've got it, by all means, tell your story well.


note: all photographs are from original source images;  hand-tinting © Bennett Hall

Additional Reference on Hills Brothers Coffee Company:

Behind the Cup - vintage film on Hills Bros from 1930

Our Portfolio of Projects involving History

Our Exhibit Program Methodology

History of Hills Brothers - Blog post on San Francisco Images

Hills Bros Flickr Gallery

Chronological gallery of San Francisco history:


Leasing and building office at Hills Plaza

Hills Bros from Wikipedia 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Happy 75th Anniverary to Treasure Island and the Golden Gate Exposition

This collection of photographs date back to Emperor Norton who was credited with being the first to envision a bridge spanning the Bay. 

Our blog post on the Emperor

Picnics and journey's to what was also called Goat Island and Yerba Buena (Spanish for Mint) were a common diversion.  Treasure Island, a massive land fill project was originally envisioned as the site of the San Francisco airport, when China Clippers ruled the skies.  The construction of the Bay Bridge changed everything of course and in 1939 the Golden Gate Exposition was arguably one of the world's most spectacular fairs.

Our Slide show of Golden Gate Exposition Images

What lies ahead for our Waterfront and how do we have to wait for its renovation?

Who knows what will become of the world's most valuable islands?   Let's hope that "they" get this right!  I suggest a visit to Sydney and Darling harbour to study their  exceptionally well executed urban waterfront experience, combining hotels, museums, restaurants, open space supported by a seamlessly integrated water and light rail integrated transportation.  Sydney's development did have the advantage or pressure depending on how you look at it, of hosting the Olympic Games, and event that expediting every project possible being approved and funded for International spotlight.  Do we have to wait for the Olympics to be assigned to San Francisco - or could we "just do it?"

Many of these images are available through our web galleries:
World Wide Archive - San Francisco

Great story on Emperor Norton on SF Gate:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Happy Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year Parade, San Francisco • 1978
Hand-tinted black and white photograph by Bennett Hall

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Lost negatives of the Transamerica Pyramid

Transamerica Pyramid under construction May 1, 1972
600 Montgomery Street - Financial District

Order a print of this image

With structures presently going up supplanting the dominance, in theory, of the Transameria Pyramid, I thought it a good time to pause and reflect on the City's original iconic skyscraper that has reigned for over forty years, and share the story about our archive content on its construction.  We will add more images to this page as we scan from the approximate 1,000 original 2 1/4" square negatives in our collection.  This archive consists of the professional still photography, documenting the site development and construction, then CEO Becket signing the "first beam" as it was put in position, the gradual rise of the Tower, the demolition of the structures and retail stores on the site that preceded the skyscraper to its completion in 1972, and shots inside its tip.

"The Lost Negatives"  • Saving the Film from Oblivion ____________________________________________________________

Most of this content has never been seen before, in fact it was nearly lost.  We saved it from certain doom, which would have been silver reclamation to be specific.   This was the time when the Hunt Brothers were trying to corner silver, trading about $50 an ounce.  About the time I was producing the cover for Huey Lewis and News' epic album SPORTS in 1984, I attended an auction and purchased a massive collection of hundreds of thousands of original negatives, transparencies and prints when a local photo studio closed its doors, an entire career left for the highest bidder.   I say 'rescued', because my opposing bidder had only the plan to chemically dissolve the film to sell its inherent value converted into silver.  'Melting your film and prints down for its silver is a fate worse than death for a photographer's life work and images.   This I was intent to thwart and I won the highest offer for the lots involved.

After making this purchase, we moved about twenty loaded 4-drawer file cabinets and 300 linear feet of shelving jam packed with content, filling nearly a half semi-truck of film and prints to our studios on what was then called Army Street, the 'Old Sears' building. We proceeded to gradually shift through box and box of material, tossing the obvious worthless, yet gradually hidden treasure was revealed, most notably, the original negatives of the construction of the pyramid.  Saved! *
(*PS shout out to Bob and Connie Trupp for their part in this herculean process)

This process, culling the collection, is still going on today, with tens of thousands of images not yet reviewed, and likely it will never be completed.  Nonetheless, an important part of San Francisco history was saved.

Flickr Gallery on the Transamerica Pryamid

Construction Process
Construction began on the 3,478-windowed structure in 1969 and finished in 1972, overseen by San Francisco-based contractor Dinwiddie Construction (now Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company). The building's foundation is 9 feet (2.7 m) thick, the result of a 3 day, 24-hour continuous concrete pour. The four-story base contains 16,000 cu yd (12,000 m3) of concrete and over 300 miles (480 km) of steel rebar.  The building's fa├žade is covered in crushed white quartz, giving the building its light color, which undergoes a “brightening” about every 10 years, involving about 18,000 work hours.

Hand-tinting © Bennett Hall

Construction Progress from a standard position overlooking project 
July 30, 1971 • May 1, 1972 • November 15, 1972

(order print of this triptych - black and white)

Building the Pyramid

The Pyramid, which has no public access unfortunately other than its lobby, created considerable controversy in the day, yet it surprised everyone and eventually became a beloved symbol for the City, even a key component of Herb Caen's immortal logo.  The 48-story Pyramid has reigned as the tallest building in San Francisco since its construction, third highest California.  The Transamerica building was commissioned by Transamerica CEO John (Jack) R. Beckett, who made the claim that the design intent was that he wished to allow light into the street below versus the impact a conventional building may have upon the street experience.  It was designed by architect William Pereira, (check out this article on his work)

 Transamerica Pyramid under construction - June 29, 1971


Originally designed to be 1,150 feet tall, the building was lowered to 853 feet due to protests against changing the City skyline dramatically, it was sometimes referred to by detractors as "Pereira's Prick".  The proposal was rejected by the city planning commission, saying it would interfere with views of San Francisco Bay from Nob Hill.  However, its slender, pyramidal configuration does in fact allow more light to reach the street than a conventional, box-like building design and it ultimately succeed as a City icon.



Inspecting the-steel near the top of the TransAmerica Pryamid, San Francisco 1972
"Several thousand dollars in quarters and change were thrown
into the pit by observers surrounding the site at street level during the pouring, for good luck."

Ever wondered what it looks like INSIDE the San Francisco Transamerica Pyramid uppermost tip?
This is shot from inside of the tip of the Transamerica Pyramid as construction was being completed of the shell in 1972.

A Little Vertigo anyone?


Transamerica under construction from Montgomery and Clay Street •  June 29, 1971

The diagonal trusses and horizontal X-bracing at the base of the pyramid, along with the shape of the building distribute the shear force of the quake and reduce the moment impact of the wave.
Learn more about the seismic engineering including the base horizontal X-bracing crtical to keeping this building safe in the event of a major temblor
(thanks Dennis M. Barry
for sharing this)

Transamerica Building from Montgomery Street, Telegraph Hill • 10-15-1971

Did you know that only two of the building's
18 elevators reach the top floor?

Transamerica Building and other buildings under construction,  I know this plaza but cannot recall excatly where this was shot from  - If you recognize it - please let me know!
location TBD January 1972

Inside the tip of the Transamerica Pyramid, 1972

A glass pyramid cap sits at the top and encloses red aircraft warning light and the brighter seasonal beacon.  This 6,000-watt beacon was envisioned by the architect as the building’s “crown jewel”.

Montgomery Split by future site of Transamerica Pyramid c1885
Montgomery Ave ( left fork) later renamed Columbus Ave.


San Francisco Bay and its sloughs used to come up to Montgomery Street, and ships were anchored only feet from where the Transamerica Pyramid stands today.  Neighboring excavations have revealed the remains of ships where dry land is now throughout San Francisco.   The Pyramid was erected on the site of the historic Montgomery Block.  The hull of the whaling vessel Niantic, an artifact of the 1849 California Gold Rush, lay just a few feet from the base of the Transamerica Pyramid, the location marked by a historical plaque outside the building (California Historical Landmark #88). 

Old Transamerica Building, 4 Columbus Avenue, c. 1928 to the Pyramid.

Charles Paff designed this ornate flatiron building in 1907 for Banco Populare Italiano.
It was founded by Italian immigrant John Fugazi, who expanded his travel business into an independent bank. The Transamerica Corporation, established in 1928, was based here from 1938 until it moved to the Pyramid.
Order a print of this image

John King of the San Francisco Chronicle summed up the improved opinion of the building in 2009 as "an architectural icon of the best sort - one that fits its location and gets better with age."

Today, there are four cameras pointed in the four cardinal directions at the top of the spire which provide visitors with a virtual observation deck.  This lobby system was installed after the 27th floor observation deck was closed after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Four monitors in the lobby, whose direction and zoom can be controlled by visitors, display the cameras' views 24 hours a day.

Tip in the fog, by Bennett Hall

All content shown from original negatives in the collection of
Bennett Hall / San Francisco Images © 2014 • All rights reserved

Order Prints of San Francisco History

Reference on the Pyramid

San Francisco Gate Article on History of Pyramid

 Recent images inside the Tip by a seismologist via Huntington Post