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.