The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Anyone who’s visited San Francisco, since 1972 has seen the Transamerica Pyramid, one of The City’s most iconic structures.

I was in my teens when the building design was unveiled and quickly met with derision from the media and from public officials. It was criticized as something that would be more appropriate on the Las Vegas skyline than San Francisco’s.

The original plan called for the building to 1148 feet (350m) in height, effectively blocking views of the bay and skyline from Nob Hill, home to The City’s monied and exalted. In order to pacify the upper crust, the designers changed the height of the pyramid to its current 853 feet (260m).

I took a recent Sunday excursion to San Francisco’s Downtown to photograph this once detested structure. (On Sundays Downtown and the Financial District are nearly deserted).

From the building’s base and rising four stories, the pyramid features a web of beams that support the structure and also adds to the uniqueness of the building.

Peeking through the beams at a neighboring building


A view straight up.

Beginning at the 29th floor, two wings (or fins) rise to the top of the structure on opposite side of the pyramid. Besides adding to the distinctive design, these wings house elevators and stairways.

Below: Views from the ground at one of the “winged” sides of the pyramid. I used different black and white filters for different effects. If you use your imagination you wouldn’t know it’s a building.           

I purposely kept the lens flare on this image.

Below is the color image of the above.     

Fun pyramid facts.
The four-story base contains 16,000 cubic yards (12,000 m3) of concrete and over 300 miles (480 km) of steel rebar.
It has 3,678 windows.
The building’s foundation is 9 feet (2.7 m) thick, the result of a 3-day, 24-hour continuous concrete pour.
The building was designed with a myriad of seismic countermeasures in the event of an earthquake.
In 1989 when a magnitude 6.9 quake struck the Bay Area the top floor swayed for a minute from side to side by about one foot (30cm). Despite that terrifying ride the building sustained no structural damage.

6 thoughts on “Monthly Monochrome: Transamerica

  1. eden baylee says:

    Hi Paul, so fascinating, and I love the 4th picture in your blog, the one you introduce as: “Below: Views from the ground at one of the “winged” sides of the pyramid…building.” Those windows look like red wine glasses to me. The dark parts are the wine in the glasses, and they are attached to the stems of the glasses.

    See them?

    It’s an optical illusion. Very cool.

    I read up a bit more on the building and found there is a plaque commemorating two famous dogs, Bummer and Lazarus, at the base of the building. I know you love dogs, so thought this was an interesting fact. 😉

    Hope you’re having a good Thursday. 🙂

    1. Paulie says:

      Hi Eden. I went back and looked at the fourth shot and what I see are mugs of PBR beer 😉.
      Actually yes I do see the wine glasses but I’m seeing white wine against a black background (I like your wine better since I’m not a big fan of white wine).

      When I was there I saw a plaque, not sure if it was the same one that mentioned dogs because I didn’t stop to read it. That’s probably a reminder that I should take the extra few moments to enjoy what I’m shooting in addition to focussing on the composition.
      Thursday is good. Sixties and sunny. Enjoy your day as well.

  2. annecreates says:

    These photos are awesome! I love the view of the building straight up!

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you. I took the straight up shot using a wide angle lens to make the building look taller.

  3. Scott Blake says:

    Those are some very interesting photos. I had a job interview there once and remember some fascinating lobby displays. I also remember it being very near Clown Alley.

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you.
      Yes, I managed to catch a glimpse of some of the lobby displays from outside of the building.
      Clown Alley was one block away on Columbus and Jackson. It is now a tapas restaurant called Bask.

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