A Block That Changed To A Pyramid!

In 1963, when I was hired by Butte, Herrero and Hyde who were located in the Belli Building, the Montgomery Block building that had been at the nearby corner had already been razed. There was a fenced, large, open lot at that location.
It was still a vacant lot through the late 1960s.
Then newspaper articles and an uproar emerged about the plans to build a very tall “pyramid” which was designed in 1969 to tower 1,040 feet on that lot at the corner of Washington and Montgomery streets.

Alvin Duskin at that time was running for the office of San Francisco Supervisor. He was known for selling women’s clothing, a product from his father’s knitting mill.  Some of his knitted fashions had long skirts—but when he began making a sweater, a little longer— that was a mini-dress! That was during the 1960s! His business grew with a factory at 520 Third Street. He had 250 employees.
In opposition of the mayor’s stand on the “high-rise” issue, Mr. Duskin campaigned for Proposition T to keeping San Francisco as the small and charming city of the past. Why let it grow high with the cold, dark, windy streets? Big grey buildings will bring in commuters, more traffic, and fewer jobs for the SF citizens. How safe are tall buildings in an earthquake area? The Transamerica Pyramid was to be on landfill that was above the mud of the bay! (Later, during construction, work was temporarily stopped when the remains of a ship was discovered.)

Here is an ad (too much to read, here) but the photos and headline give a clue to his argument for Proposition T that was to limit the height of new construction.



The topic of the day was this issue. The San Francisco Chronicle called it “…a pyramid so unusual it might have drawn a wink or a gasp from the Sphinx.” There were praises and criticisms from far and wide.

Sixteen local artists created an Alvin Duskin campaign “coloring book”. At that time, Bob Pease was the president of our communicating arts club. Recently, I emailed and asked him about the coloring book, he wrote: We had our monthly meetings at Gino’s on Spring St. where Alvin was invited to talk about Prop.T – we got excited and did the coloring book all with donated art from our friends, ended up printing 100K in two printings! It almost worked! That was our major promo at the time. Glad to see Alvin never giving up!

The results of early polling started plans for height restrictions in many districts, but on Election Day, Proposition T failed.  Alvin Duskin went on to champion the anti-nuclear movement in the mid-1970s. He also became a pioneer in renewable energy and carbon capture.

As it turned out, the plans for William Pereira’s Transamerica Pyramid were changed. The height was trimmed down to 853 feet, which necessitated “ears” on the pyramid—the ears were the locations of the two elevators. The construction was completed in1972.

If built today, with the extreme heights of the new buildings in San Francisco, The Pyramid would be its original planned height and all four sides would be smooth and flat. I was able to visit the top floor of the Transamerica Pyramid, when I was a part of the design group who created the Transamerica Annual Report. That top floor was small, but the views were, and still must be, amazing from that unique location.
The Belli Building, did not survive the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. Unsupported bricks don’t make it. Melvin Belli’s widow, although a person representing the San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, was not able to save the landmark building. In this view, it is under wraps to protect pedestrians.

View of today’s Montgomery Street, Belli Building to T. Pyramid.