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What’s the Second Tallest Building in SF?

Written by Liz LindqwisterPublished Nov. 30, 2022 • 3:02pm
The San Francisco skyline is pictured as seen from Bernal Heights Park on Sept. 27, 2022. | Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

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The mirrored crown of Salesforce Tower is hard to miss—and for good reason, as the 1,070-foot tower today reigns as SF’s tallest building. Often lit up with themed visuals and LED-powered light shows, the cloud company’s headquarters has become, to many, a beacon and symbol of tech’s enduring presence in the Bay Area. 

But before Salesforce Tower opened its doors in 2018, an 853-foot skyscraper held the title of tallest tower for nearly five decades: The Transamerica Pyramid. 

The Transamerica Pyramid and Salesforce Tower are seen at sunset in on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. | Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Transamerica Pyramid was opened in November 1972 and, at one point, ranked among the 10 tallest buildings in the world. Its futuristic, triangular shape instantly made Downtown SF more distinctive but some locals viewed its unique design as an affront to the city’s rapidly changing skyline

San Francisco’s Downtown skyline has changed dramatically from the days when the 90-foot tower of Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in Chinatown was the tallest building in the city—and the state. Ten of the city’s top 12 tallest buildings were built within the last 50 years, the majority of which were constructed after 2000. As of 2018, The New York Times found that SF had more than 160 buildings over 200 feet tall, most of which were clustered together in the city’s downtown corridor. 

The Transamerica Pyramid stands at the north end of Downtown San Francisco on Oct. 31, 2022. | Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Today, SF boasts a collection of roughly 27 skyscrapers, all clocking in at more than 450 feet. It is the second tallest city in California, the fifth tallest in the country and the 56th tallest city in the world.  

As the city’s housing and affordability crisis worsens, many San Franciscans are pushing for the construction of taller buildings, transforming Downtown into a more vertical, more dense, more affordable and more populated urban core.

But before today’s push for more housing, San Francisco experienced a series of “building booms” that raised its skyline by hundreds of feet. 

San Francisco’s largest building boom occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, when dozens of skyscrapers shot up in the city’s downtown corridor after three decades of halted construction. 

The Transamerica Building was constructed during this period, and it remained the tallest building in SF until Salesforce Tower snatched the title in 2018. 

Construction is underway on the Transamerica Pyramid on June 3, 1971, in San Francisco. | Wayne Walters/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

A Ranking of San Francisco’s Tallest Buildings

Before the 1960s boom, many of San Francisco’s tallest buildings were constructed in the 1920s, during a construction craze that erected dozens of Art Deco and Neo-Gothic-style towers, all pushing past 300 feet. Towering over the 1920s skyline was SF architect Timothy Pflueger’s 435-foot-tall "Telephone Building,” a structure that stood tied for the title of SF’s tallest building in 1925 when it opened. 

Here is a list of the city’s tallest buildings today, following the city’s three most consequential building booms. 

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Liz Lindqwister can be reached at [email protected]


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