Page of History

The Skyscraper Museum recently reposted one of its earliest (vintage 1997) web pages “to match our online projects produced or redesigned during the past 18 months. . . .” The website had undergone a technical change from “hard-coding” to a content management system, which accommodates the museum’s historical content in a much more manageable format. The illustrated chart above shows a timeline of “the world’s tallest building” dating from the first “skyscrapers” to today’s title-holder, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. This graphic is only the tip of the tower, though — The Skyscraper Museum’s website has plenty of other features to hold the attention of anyone who has even a passing interest in tall buildings.

Hello, Old Friend

The Transamerica Pyramid, which opened in 1972, was designed by William L. Pereira & Harry D. Som; note the elevator “wings” on two sides of the structure; photo by David Mark via Pixabay.

To call San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid “iconic” seems woefully inadequate. When it opened in 1972, the tower, named for the insurance and financial services giant that built it, was (and still is) one of the most recognizable buildings in the world (and for many in the Bay area, one of the most beloved). At 48 stories and 853 ft, it was also one of the world’s tallest (No. 8 at the time), and is a tourist attraction in its own right. The Pyramid is in the news because, according to Yahoo! Finance, investors purchasing it officially closed on the deal this week, at a sale price of US$650 million (just a little more than the 1972 construction cost of $US32 million). As the country’s largest commercial real estate transaction since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, observers see the purchase as a huge endorsement for San Francisco, even as recent headlines have played up an exodus from the city. The buyers plan to invest in the property “and return it to its glory days,” the source said. This is welcome news to ELEVATOR WORLD, which has reported on the landmark ever since way back in the day.

When we visited the iconic tower as it was under construction (EW, August 1972), we were given an update on the elevators’ safety systems, which included firefighters’ control and “equipment designed to withstand both horizontal and vertical seismic forces” — a pretty good idea in earthquake-prone San Francisco. Earlier that year, we noted that Otis, the vertical-transportation (VT) supplier, made the Transamerica Pyramid the first skyscraper west of Chicago to have sky lobbies (EW, June 1972). The tower’s VT system was also notable for its “inside-outside” elevators (EW, February 1971): up to the 29th floor, elevator cars run through the core of the building and, above that, run within “narrow vertical pop-outs or wings on two sides of the tower.” Such innovations, and its one-of-a-kind architecture, made the Pyramid a truly newsworthy achievement nearly 50 years ago. Hopefully, before long we’ll have new reports on a modernized and technologically updated VT system to share with you.


[1] Wikipedia, “Transamerica Pyramid

“You Need to Get Down Here!”

Old postcard touting The Detroit; via Fox 13 News

“You need to get down here! Don’t tear that out!” Those are the words Pete Mortellano of Tampa-St. Petersburg-based G&M Contracting heard over the phone when G&M employees were working to incorporate a restaurant into The Detroit, an 1890s hotel-turned-condominium building, Fox 13 News reports. What the person on the phone was referring to was a fancy antique elevator, with an ornate green cab trimmed in gold, along with all its mechanisms. In addition to the dazzling cab, also entombed in the walls were an electric motor, transfer case, spool, cabling and a hand-wired, hand-numbered switching panel. The system was made by The Warner Elevator Mfg. Co., and was in use when John F. Kennedy campaigned in Tampa-St. Pete in 1959. Fox newscaster Lloyd Sowers said the owners of the new restaurant plan to preserve the elevator, which “even though it hasn’t moved in decades, is now the express elevator to a different age.”