A look inside the ‘secret’ crown jewel of San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid

By Douglas Zimmerman, SFGATE

On a recent helicopter ride above downtown San Francisco, photographer Ryan Fitzsimons discovered the top of the Transamerica Pyramid is made out of glass.

Fitzsimons clicked several images of the top of the tower and shared them on his Instagram page and with SFGATE. “I thought it would make a cool image and a good story, because I think most people are unaware,” he explained.

A 32-pane, cathedral-style glass top adorning the Transamerica Pyramid is commonly known as the building’s “crown jewel.” Inside the room is a 6,000-watt beacon “jewel” light. On special occasions, it is lit and viewable around the Bay Area. The crown jewel is the highest room on the 853-foot-tall Transamerica Pyramid, completed in 1972.

To get to the crown jewel is not an easy journey. After taking an elevator to the panoramic-view 48th floor (which is a boardroom that can be rented out by building tenants), you then have to ascend an additional 212-foot spire to get to the top of the building. First, you climb a tall staircase with steep steps inside the middle of the hollow metal structure. At the top of the stairs, there are two more steel ladders to climb to get to the crown jewel room.

MORE: Images capture the Transamerica Pyramid, SF’s most famous ‘photo bomber’

The 48th floor and crown jewel have never been open to the public. However, in 2008, CBS San Francisco was given access and was able to show the journey to the tip of the pyramid:

As for Fitzsimons, he was excited about discovering and sharing his photos of San Francisco’s crown jewel with everyone else.

Transamerica Pyramid in photos: Once controversial structure is now beloved

“I aim to capture a moment, but I also really hope to create images that are iconic, but from new angles,” he said. “It’s just such an iconic S.F. building that it makes for a great photo.”

Online Photo Editor Douglas Zimmerman oversees SFGATE’s Instagram and covers the Bay Area soccer scene on SFGATE’s Beautiful Blog. View his latest stories and send him news tips at dzimmerman@sfgate.com.

Start receiving breaking news emails on wildfires, civil emergencies, riots, national breaking news, Amber Alerts, weather emergencies, and other critical events with the SFGATE breaking news email. Click here to make sure you get the news.


The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) just awarded 505 Sansome Street, part of the Transamerica Pyramid Center, the highest certification in environmental sustainability – LEED® Platinum.  The building, which was built in 1981 and is one of the few open-air buildings in San Francisco, underwent an in-depth review and received certification after scoring high marks in the following areas:

    • Achieved an ENERGY STAR rating of 95.
    • Water Efficiency: Achieved a 37 percent indoor water use reduction, which is a calculated water savings of 683,000 gallons per year, based on LEED criteria and a theoretical baseline of typical water usage.
    • Reduced Mercury:  LED Lamp purchases produced a significant reduction by more than half in the levels of Mercury from the building’s previous LEED Gold certification in 2009.
    • Transportation: A 75 percent alternative commutership record among tenants was achieved, including the use of BART, Muni, walking, biking, or High Efficiency vehicles.
    • Natural Lighting: 56 percent of all regularly occupied spaces are naturally day-lit.
    • With an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of 116 (reduced from 140), 505 Sansome uses considerably less energy than the median national average for a building of similar size and use, which translates to more than $478,000 in avoided energy costs.
    • Janitorial purchases were 86 percent sustainable by cost.
    • Building Management System (BMS): BMS has allowed for better control of the HVAC system by having programmable set points for heating and cooling, as well as better control of the boiler system.
    • Heat pumps have been replaced with new models that offer the highest Energy Efficiency Ratio possible. This reduces the energy consumption needed to provide tenant office comfort.
    • Prior lighting control systems were replaced with local motion sensor lighting controls. This reduces the amount of time the lights remain on in unoccupied spaces and greatly reduces energy consumption.
    • A waste diversion rate of 58 percent was achieved and included composting, recycling and reduction of the waste stream.
    • Providing indoor bike parking as well as indoor locker room and shower facilities.
    • Providing access to the Pyramid Center garage with electrical vehicle charging stations.

“We place a high priority on environmental sustainability for all of our properties,” said Mark Novack, Real Estate Portfolio Manager for Aegon USA Realty Advisors LLC, an affiliate of Transamerica Pyramid Properties, LLC, the owner of the Pyramid Center. “The hard work and commitment by the Cushman & Wakefield management team, as well as our partners at BuildingWise have resulted in the LEED Platinum certification for 505 Sansome, as well as the adjacent Transamerica Pyramid’s certification in 2011.”

505 Sansome at Transamerica Pyramid Center is a 20-story, 185,000 square foot office building offering a fresh air design with Redwood Park access, City views from the upper floors, and rare, open air balconies for a health-conscious workplace. The building was designed by famed architect of the Transamerica Pyramid, William Pereira, and continues to enjoy a more than 90 percent occupancy rate. LEED Platinum PDF