BY PAT MURPHY
Copyright © 2009
An urban oasis is set to take shape in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District in the form of an outdoor piazza and expanded public park. The Aegon Group, owner of the Transamerica Pyramid, and Lowe Enterprises have publicly unveiled plans to expand historic but little known Redwood Park by some 80 percent and deed it back to the City of San Francisco.
The expanded park is the centerpiece of the development of 555 Washington St., a site adjacent to the Transamerica Pyramid. The developers are proposing a unique twist design by architect HellerManus for a 38-story companion residential tower that will result in a building footprint 30 percent smaller than what zoning for the site currently allows. The resulting extra space will be used for additional park land, which will include new trees, a rainwater garden and an outdoor restaurant.
The developers have been meeting with neighborhood groups and residents for the past year and support for the park concept and building design has been strong. “We challenged HellerManus to come up with a design that complements the Pyramid, that fits into the skyline and that was an attractive piece of architecture,” said project manager Andrew Segal, in a piece published by The San Francisco Business Times earlier this month. “By most accounts they have succeeded.”
The project is being hailed as a major improvement to San Francisco’s core downtown area – a neighborhood that is increasingly becoming more residential and could benefit from improved public open space. The development will help transform Redwood Park into a destination recreation area, featuring a pedestrian piazza along Mark Twain Alley.
“I think it will help make this area a more vibrant area – the more the merrier,” said Sarah Stocking, president of the Jackson Square Merchants Association, in an interview with The Business Times.
As designed, 555 Washington will be less than half the size of the Transamerica Pyramid and will fit into the existing backdrop of neighboring buildings.
The developers are sensitive to the pyramid’s history and special place in people’s hearts and minds. The top of their project falls below the skyline, preserving the pyramid’s capstone as the dominant feature of northern downtown.
“When you look at this building, it is self-evident that it is complementary to the Transamerica Pyramid,” said the proposed building’s architect, Jeffrey Heller, told the Chronicle. “It is far lower, and it is respectful.” Heller also said that while the structure is twice as tall as what is allowed, its square footage would conform to the current codes.
Some proponents like the idea of the new high-rise to the north of Market Street where little has been built since the mid-1980s. They believe that attracting more residents downtown makes sense.
Lynn Jefferson of the North Beach Neighbors association told the Chronicle her group favors the condo tower and the green space.
“San Francisco is very limited on housing and with respect to the height, this is downtown,” she said. “The building would be next to the Transamerica, which is twice its size.”
Mitchell Schwarzer, an expert on San Francisco architectural history, said that if the primary concern raised about the new building is its impact on the San Francisco skyline, it should go forward. He believes that the tower would be a good addition.
“The most prominent view will come from Telegraph Hill. With respect to the aesthetics of the skyline, you really won’t be able to tell,” said Schwarzer, a professor of visual studies at the California College of Art, told the Chronicle.
A draft Environmental Impact Report has been published and the development is expected to be considered by the San Francisco Planning Commission later this year.
An estimated completion date for the tower is currently scheduled for 2012. Socketsite has a nice stoy and renderings of the building.
And, the developers of the site will be unveiling a new website of their own soon at 555WashingtonSF.com .
More good news for our skyline—and for the union laborers, Carpenters Union, Plumbers, Dry-Wallers, and other working men and women who are struggling in this Depression-like economy in San Francisco.