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.

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February 1, 2016 (San Francisco, Calif.) The Transamerica Pyramid is taking the celebration of the Big Game coming to the Bay Area, airing on CBS February 7th, to the next level with special lighting of the Transamerica Pyramid celebratory colors from February 1 – February 7.

The lighting will debut at 7:00pm on Monday, February 1 and will be broadcast live on KPIX 5 in their program, Countdown to Gold during a one-hour special broadcast live from Super Bowl City, co-hosted by Ken Bastida and Jennifer Montana.

The custom lighting project, produced by Island Creative Management, a local light specialty company on Treasure Island, runs through a sophisticated computer program that allows it to shift colors on scheduled command. The spectacle will give homage to the City by the Bay, the Big Game, and to the landmark Transamerica Pyramid.

The Transamerica Pyramid will feature two-tone lighting in blue and gold running up the edges of the building and changing every five seconds, then leading up to the spire, which will be lit in gold, topped off with the crown jewel for the length of the hour-long program. The same lighting effects will run throughout Game week changing at 30-minute intervals.

Island Creative Management is providing 24 LED RGB fixtures with the capability of up to 125,000 lumen for up-lighting the corners of the Transamerica Pyramid, The spire will be lit internally using 18 LED RGB fixtures with the capability of up to a 400,000 lumens.

Transamerica Pyramid Lighting

“We wanted to do something special as the Big Game comes to one of the finest city’s in the nation, and how better to do it than by lighting an icon to the City,” said Mark Novack, Real Estate Portfolio Manager for Aegon USA Realty Advisors LLC, Investment Manager for Transamerica.

“KPIX 5 is thrilled about Transamerica Pyramid’s contribution to the excitement of Game week and the debut of this innovative addition on live television on Monday,” said Bruno Cohen, KPIX 5 President and General Manager.

The live broadcast can also be seen on streaming video at www.cbssf.com/live.


JULY 28, 2015 (San Francisco, Calif.): The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has just awarded the Transamerica Pyramid the highest certification in environmental sustainability – LEED Platinum for the second time.

LEED EB certification expires every five years, which required the Cushman & Wakefield team who manages the building to track performance during the last four years to ensure that all performance requirements were met. This was balanced with BuildingWise’s Green Heartbeat program that assists in maintaining documentation throughout the course of the longer recertification period.

The success of recertification was measured by how much better the building performed compared to last time it was certified in 2011.

Requirements that were met or exceeded included:

  • Indoor Water Efficiency: Achieved 22.61% indoor water use reduction a calculated water savings of 709,280 Gallons per year
  • Outdoor Water Efficiency: Achieved 55.65% outdoor water use reduction, saving approximately 11,094 gallons during peak irrigation month
  • Janitorial Purchases: Calculated at 79% sustainable by cost
  • Transportation: 83.52% of tenants used alternative commutership, the largest concentration of which utilized public transportation at 3,494 trips per week
  • An ENERGY STAR Score of 89 at the time of submission
  • Energy Use Intensity at 135.9 kBtu/sf (36% higher than the national Median Property)
  • GreenHouse Gas Emissions reported at 4,389.4 Metric Tons of CO2, as compared to the median national property of 6,659.1 mtCO2, resulting in a 34.08% reduction
  • Purchase of 25% green power to offset emissions for two years
  • Involvement in a unique alternative compliance path to invest support in the National Fish and Wildlife Fund, supporting offsite habitat restoration
  • A 69.8% waste reduction in ongoing consumables, consistent with the waste audit report 69.8% diversion
  • Tenant improvement procurement for construction materials for all interior projects
  • Calibration of all building sensors and actuators, water meters, and energy meters
  • Pest control compliance

This recertification of the Pyramid comes on the heals of the recently awarded LEED Platinum Certification for its sister building, 505 Sansome, also located in the Transamerica Pyramid Center block.

“Environmental sustainability is a key focus for the projects in our portfolio,” said Mark Novack, Real Estate Portfolio Manager for Aegon USA Realty Advisors LLC, an affiliate of Transamerica Pyramid Properties, LLC, the owner of the Transamerica Pyramid Center. “The continued commitment by the Cushman & Wakefield management team, as well as our partners at BuildingWise has resulted in the LEED Platinum certification for both buildings at the Transamerica Pyramid Center.”

Currently, the Pyramid is on track for the next recertification in 2020, tracking performance, ensuring compliance, and counting points throughout the calendar years.