San Francisco’s iconic Transamerica Pyramid undergoing upgrades

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

San Francisco’s iconic 52-year-old Transamerica Pyramid is in the midst of a revival that’s resulting in new upgrades as well as the reopening of its beloved Redwood Park, which has been closed since the pandemic. 

The upgrades include a lively redesign of the lobby, which had been split in half over the years and was dim and foreboding. The work will also see the additions of an upper floor gym and a lounge for building tenants. 

“The first move was take as much as possible, which had already been incrementally put into place over time, and strip all that down to the bones,” said architect Ben Dobbin of Foster and Partners, which is overseeing the work.

The result in the lobby is a tranquil transformation — the room has been opened up, filled with gathering spaces, an ornate coffee maker and a retail area selling flowers and architectural books. The building attendants stationed in the once stoic lobby now look like receptionists in a luxury hotel. 

Newly installed picture windows allow in plenty of light and seem to invite the public into the base of the 853-foot pyramid that looms over the city’s Financial District. 

“We basically created an interior which would basically match what was happening on the outside,” explained Dobbin. 

Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area The lobby of the Transamerica Pyramid recently underwent upgrades aimed at blending the inside of the building with the outside.

Dobbin said designers took cues from architect William Pereira’s original design. The rough, rocky texture of the lobby’s pillars was designed to mimic the building’s original façade. The newly installed wood honeycomb ceiling was inspired by nature in the same way famed architect Antoni Gaudi channeled nature into his designs. 

“At its essence, it’s still an office building, it’s a place of work,” said Dobbin. “But it should feel hospitable and not corporate.” 

Perhaps the biggest changes to the building are the ones the general public won’t see. Work is underway to transform the building’s 26th floor into a gym, which will enjoy spectacular views extending from the Ferry Building to the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area A rendering shows the future gymnasium being installed on the 26th floor of the Transamerica Pyramid.

On the 27th floor, where occupants transfer elevators between the upper and lower halves of the 48-story building, crews are remaking a one-time observation room into a tenant lounge. The room will have a coffee bar, light dining and seating areas where tenants can entertain clients. 

“This building’s never had a space like this before,” said Dobbin. “We think this is really representative of the community of what will be the full Transamerica Pyramid.” 

The 48-story building was an innovation when it opened in 1972 – and also controversial. There were protests with demonstrators chanting “corporate egotism” and “stow the shaft.” Then-mayor Joseph Alioto and Pereira were able to convince the public to at least tolerate the project, which has become a familiar shape of the city’s skyline. 

“It’s absolutely visionary,” said Dobbin. “It’s not about creating the highest number of square feet on the site. It was about creating something which was really about the enhancement of the city.”

Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area The 48-floor Transamerica Pyramid is undergoing sweeping upgrades that will revamp the lobby, install new tenant amenities and re-open Redwood Park.

Another feature that helped enhance the experience of the building was the addition of a park filled with redwood trees imported from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The trees were about 18 feet tall when installed and now reach 150 feet in height. The park has been a tranquil destination for the area’s office workers trying to escape concrete and pavement. 

“It’s kind of a gift from the past to the future of the city to actually have this redwood forest,” said Dobbin. 

The work, directed by the pyramid’s new owner, Michael Shvo, has lightly spruced up the park, which has been closed since the pandemic. It’s scheduled to reopen this summer. 

Meanwhile, work crews have been filling adjacent Mark Twain Alley with cherry trees in preparation for the wider transformation coming. The city recently approved Shvo’s plans to build two new mid-level high rise office buildings on the block. The Redwood Park will now sit in the middle of the three buildings. 

Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area The Transamerica Pyramid’s Redwood Park will reopen this summer after a closure of several years.

“Most of downtown is concrete and metal,” said Michael Velzo, who works near the pyramid. “It’s nice to have that nature and that area to ground yourself.” 

Velzo has been a vocal champion of the historic Jackson Square area, which sits in the shadow of the pyramid. He’s hoping the return of the park along with the upgrades to the Transamerica Pyramid will light a spark in the neighborhood, which has suffered since the pandemic. 

“It’s making it more beautiful on the ground level,” said Velzo. “It’s certainly bringing in more interesting businesses that are going to bring more people to the area.” 

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.