By Blanca Torres, SF Business Times

Why are pointy buildings so controversial? San Francisco’s Transamerica Tower, one of the most recognizable pieces of the city’s skyline, almost didn’t get built much like a similar structure, Paris’ Eiffel Tower.

Transamerica, a visual treat for locals and tourists alike, now offers a visitor center and gift shop opening April 19.

For such a well-known structure and the tallest in San Francisco, the opening feels a little past-due, but going forward, visitors can watch informative videos, look at historical images, and snap up Transamerica merchandise such as coffee mugs, fleece sweaters, and teddy bears.

The opening of the shop rouses nostalgia of the building’s past. I had the chance to visit the center/shop, tour the 48th floor and meet John Chase, who worked for Jack Beckett, the former president and chairman Transamerica Corp. who commissioned the building.
Chase was saddled with the task of getting the building approved in the late sixties when he was in his late twenties.

“When you’re 28, you think it’s going to happen,” Chase said recalling his naïveté about the San Francisco development process.

The building drew opposition from all corners of the city — residents, newspaper columnist Herb Caen, and even Chase’s younger brother.

The original design called for a 1,000-foot tall, narrow tower. It was scaled down to its actual 853 feet with a wider base that has enhanced its ability to withstand earthquakes.
Entitlements took about two years to secure and the harder part was assembling the land, which involved negotiating with various property owners.

“Could it be done today? No way,” Chase said.

Construction wrapped up on the building in the summer of 1972. Forty-one years later, Chase still finds the building “amazing.”

“I like seeing every sky scene in San Francisco and there’s the tower,” he said. “There’s no other building like it. It’s an identifier for the city.”

Blanca Torres covers East Bay real estate for the San Francisco Business Times.

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