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

Making Office Buildings Attractive

It can be hard to make office buildings attractive enough for people to want to cluster in them in big cities these days, but Parkside Realty has done all it can to make return to the 12-story Fulton East in Chicago’s Fulton Market worry-free. The elevator space is the first one to see COVID-19-preventing updates, starting with touch-free operation so passengers don’t have to touch what Bob Wislow, chairman and CEO of Parkside Realty, calls “the germiest place in a building.” Check out the video above and ABC 7‘s article on the building to learn more about how the pandemic modified its construction plans and the interesting air- and surface-purifying systems it uses.

Mythical Luxury

The Waldorf-Astoria
A model interior of one of the new residences

Thanks to its outsized footprint, grand design and high profile, the Waldorf-Astoria, a super-opulent lodging/residence in the heart of Manhattan, has always carried a certain mythical quality. Sitting dominantly on NYC’s Park Avenue — a thoroughfare synonymous with high society — the Waldorf-Astoria has truly been a place to “see and be seen.” As a lodging of choice for every sitting U.S. president since Herbert Hoover (with the exception of current Chief Executive Donald Trump), this Art Deco gem is steeped in history. The building closed in 2017 for a US$1-billion renovation, but when it reopens it will offer guest rooms as well as residences for sale (studios starting at US$1.7 million). In a recent post by the Financial Times, architecture critic Edwin Heathcote looks back on the storied landmark, sharing tales such as one about a president who was secretly brought into the building — car and all — by an elevator connecting the hotel with a rail track below. If you have the money to make the Waldorf-Astoria part of your personal history, you won’t have too much longer to wait — the renovation is scheduled to be complete in 2021.