SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — There was a time when the Transamerica Pyramid dominated the San Francisco skyline.

It has been the backdrop for hundreds of movies and TV shows — a fixture in any tourist’s slideshow of photographic memories of a visit to the ‘City By The Bay.’

On Tuesday, it was time for the Transamerica Pyramid to share the limelight. The massive Saleforce Tower, soaring 61 stories — an amazing 1,070 feet — celebrated it official opening with day-long activities.

The building is the tallest west of Chicago with an asterisk.

It is the tallest building west of the Mississippi as defined by “architectural height” – meaning built out/usable space. Los Angeles’ Wilshire Grand Center is the taller than Salesforce technically because of its “structural height.” It has a 295-foot-tall spire that makes the structure taller than the Salesforce Tower.

Salesforce Tower also has the deepest foundation.

“In this building, we actually drilled into the bedrock so that we could socket the building in and lock it in tight,” said Salesforce Tower VP of Engineering Daniel G. Murtagh,

And while the design is rather simplistic, it has already become a fixture on the skyline. It does have a unique six-story crown that contains visual artist Jim Campbell’s “Day for Night” — an 11,000 LED light display that will play images recorded with cameras placed across San Francisco and will be visible at night from 20 miles away.

Also at the top: a system designed to use the weather to the building’s advantage.

“When everything condenses here, it’s just like a giant redwood tree,” said chief building engineer Reint Smit. “Everything condenses, it goes down through the grates to the roof and then collects in a storage tank down in the basement and gets reused through the building for irrigation.”

It’s one of several state-of-the-art systems for water, electricity heat, and air conditioning. All the systems are fully computerized and installed on springs to limit vibrations to the rest of the building.

The building’s specialized elevators travel at 1,400 feet a minute to reach uppermost floors of the tower.

Right now only ten floors of the Salesforce Tower are occupied out of a total of 61. Full occupancy may be another year off.

Architect Craig Hartman told KPIX 5 the beauty of the Tower is in the simplicity of its design.

“I believe that history has shown, and will continue to show that buildings conceived with simplicity and clarity are the ones people remember,” he said. “Let’s take the Transamerica Pyramid. Very simple, vertical form, not a great work of architecture, elevator shafts sticking out, but that simple form is very memorable.”

That is a view held by many San Franciscans.

“So, I think the Salesforce building is beautiful in the evenings when the sun sets it’s amazing the way it catches the lights,” a local resident told KPIX 5.

Hartman said the curves of the design give it a unique feel in fading sunlight.

“Making the corners of the building curved in stead of orthogonal or sharp corners, and that allows the light to move around the building in nuanced way,” he said.

His thoughts are echoed by others. Here’s a collection of comments from around the city.

  • “It’s also really interesting symbolically, for the new 21st Century San Francisco, what San Francisco has become.”
  • “The building stands for a new generation, definitely a symbol.”
  • “The prices are going up, the buildings are going up.”
  • “It certainly reflects the current climate of excessive capitalism.”

The San Francisco skyline has been pretty static for a long time — the Transamerica Pyramid was build in 1972. But the city’s deliberate effort to change that has been tightly coupled to the explosion of the region’s tech economy.

The result has been that downtown San Francisco has migrated to South of Market and Salesforce has planted its flag as the epicenter.

“It’s like a great obelisk or a campenili that marks the very center of San Francisco in the 21st Century,” Hartman said.

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