ClockTower (Image Source: dbarchitect.com)

A recent debate about the impact of Bay Bridge traffic and noise on a number of Rincon Hill developments leads to a logical end beginning: soliciting input from those who have lived in a similarly situated development over the course of the past 14 years.

Developed by Rick Holliday, and designed by architect David Baker, the ClockTower at 461 Second Street is a true loft development of 127 live/work units (converted from warehouse space in 1992).

The ClockTower – actually three interconnected buildings – once housed the venerable Schmidt Lithograph Company, whose designers and printers produced classic California fruit-crate labels. The original three-story brick and timber plant that Max Schmidt built was expanded over the years to include a six-story concrete building and finally, to signal the company’s success, the 170-foot-high steel-frame clock tower. Now Holliday has converted these three distinct structures – 230,000 square feet in all – into 127 open floor-plan spaces, offering tenants live/work units with views of the freeway and the Bay.

The three building spaces were ingeniously divided to create 44 distinct floor plans; each design was repeated as few times as possible. Baker likens this group of buildings to an old city “quarter” – an arrondissement – with its spatial variations. “Modern cities are too rational,” he says, adding that “it’s nice to lose your way once in a while.” So, not coincidentally, there is a labyrinth of passageways connecting the different spaces. Newcomers have to use a map to get around.

And right below the tower clock, an exclusive Bavarian-style beer hall (once reserved for the Schmidts and their friends), which had fallen into shameful disrepair, was rebuilt as a million-dollar penthouse, its panoramic views oddly enhanced by the stream of cars on the freeway below.

Would any past, current, or prospective inhabitants of the ClockTower care to shed some light on the development in general, and the impact of the Bay Bridge in specific? And if you know someone who might be able to provide some insight, but isn’t currently plugged-in (it happens), perhaps you’ll be kind enough to pass this along.

We’re going to spend the rest of the afternoon daydreaming about our own little Bavarian-style beer hall penthouse in the sky…

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Rincon Hill Resident

    Does it have to be 14 years? I’ve lived at the Avalon apartments since March 2004. Am I qualified?
    I really haven’t had an issue with the whole traffic congestion thing that everyone seems to be ranting about. Granted, I live on a closed off street so I don’t bear the brunt of the problem that others do, but still, take last weekend for instance. The Fleet Week traffic really didn’t cramp my style in any way. If I needed to go anywhere, I just walked. Last time I checked, I that was the whole point of living in the area in the first place.
    Also, I notice that no one has really addressed the pros or the cons of living in the area given the massive project that has been undertaken to redvelop the Transbay Terminal and develop the Folsom corridor.
    Clearly that project will provide some serious invconveniences along the way, but once completed, should elevate the area to the ranks of the finest neighorhoods in the city. I think that aspect is something that most short-term thinking investors (as opposed to true residents) are not taking into account when deciding whether to buy or not buy in the area.
    [[Editor’s Note: Great local knowledge, but we’re really looking for ClockTower centric feedback on this one. We promise to lead a general Rincon discussion a little later this week. Regardless, thanks for “plugging in.”]

  2. Posted by matt

    I lived in the clocktower about 10 year ago and it is a great building but let me tell you the traffic was a nightmare! When we sold we had to disclose to the buyers that some days between 4-8 you can’t get into the garage. I would get home from work and try to walk the dog and the crosswalks and intersections were completly blocked. It is VERY warm and sunny there so there is no chance of opening your windows to cool down without the fumes and the honking and the people shouting out their windows at each other. The weekends were bliss! Peace and quiet.

  3. Posted by Anonymous

    Weekends may have been peaceful and quiet, but I’ll be that’s changed considering the building’s proximity to the ballpark (during baseball season).

  4. Posted by Anonymous

    True dat on the ballpark proximity. What a nightmare that is for residents of the area. That’s interesting about the not being able to get your car in or out between 4 and 8. It looks like 1Rincon has already taken pro-active measures to eliminate that issue. There will be a dedicated lane for accessing the property on the left side of 1st Street and leaving won’t be an issue since all of the traffic is usually on the north side of Harrison traveling west towards 1st.

  5. Posted by matt

    There may be a dedicated lane on 1st, but how will you get to it? All the streets around are gridlocked. Folsom,Harrison,Bryant, Brannan, 1st, 2nd, all of them! You will be sitting there with everyone else trying to get to your dedicated lane!

  6. Posted by SocketSite

    We’re going to ask for everyone’s help in limiting comments on this post to those from people who have either lived in, visited friends in, or at least toured a loft in the ClockTower (i.e., first-hand knowledge and not conjecture), and specific questions directed to the same. Thanks.

  7. Posted by Anonymous

    I’ve toured the Clocktower and I am a resident of Rincon Hill. It’s been my observation that the left lane of 1st Street, starting at Mission, is always clear straight up to Harrison. I work at 2nd and Market and sometimes park in the alley (Stevenson Street) between 1st and 2nd when I work on weekends. When I drive down the alley towards 1st and turn right, yes, there is a huge backup of cars trying to get to the bridge, but i can always (always) cut over to the far left lane and have clear sailing all the way up to Harrison.
    I agree with those that say it will not be a problem. And quite frankly, I’m even a bit embarrassed that I even drive on weekends. I really don’t need to.

  8. Posted by Anonymous

    There are some units in the Clocktower on the second and third floors that face the bridge and several years ago Caltrans bought them when they started the retrofir from the existing owners and are using them as offices due to the hazards of being so close to the bridge and construction. There has been some cases of shattered windows on that side of the building.

  9. Posted by Michael

    I can’t add any real insight wrt traffic (I’ve only been in the ClockTower a handful of times), but I did look at purchasing a north facing loft in the development a couple of years ago. It looked out under the bridge and bridge noise was a non-issue.

  10. Posted by Clocktower resident

    I lived in the ClockTower for 2 years, but I worked in there for several years before that. If there was a back up on the Bay Bridge when I was trying to get home (or back to the office) you could figure that out pretty quick because all the onramps (5th St etc) would be a parking lot.
    On days that I could see it was going to be a mess in front of the building I would go into covert garage entry mode. I would enter the garage from 2nd Street going south…instead of trying to enter the normal way from 2nd going North.
    Basically you would hit the garage from the opposite side of the street people were sitting trying to get onto the Bridge. You would put on your blinker, make eye contact with the car blocking your entrance to the garage…point to the garage and wait for them to give you room to pass into. I was always polite and patient and I never had anyone refuse.
    It took a minute or two for them to realize what I was doing (that I wasn’t trying to cut in front of them to get on the bridge), a minute or two for them to have an opening come up and about 7-10 minutes to make my way up to Mission so I could come back down 2nd – you had to stay in the far right lane coming down second because people were backed up trying to turn on Folsom & Harrison to hit the Bridge. The days traffic was that bad was a handful a year. One day I did park my car in S.Park until the traffic died down enough to go move it back, but I only remember doing that once.
    All in all it was a lot less hassle than what I used to go through trying to get home from the pennisula when I lived in Nob Hill.

  11. Posted by Clocktower visitor

    I’ve visited friends there several times in the evening, after rush hour and not during ballgames, and never had traffic problems. Their unit faces Bryant on the top floor, and I’ve not heard much traffic noise. They do open windows.
    They use the place as a pied-a-terre, having another home about 60 miles away. They are able to park once and spend the rest of their time on foot/bus, much as Rincon Hill urban planners might hope for. I’m frankly surprised by the comments on the site from people who live on Rincon Hill and still drive (e.g. embarrassed poster Anonymous, above). I bet when more is built out, and there’s a better streetscape, more residents will leave their cars in the ample garages under construction beneath the new buildings in favor of walking to work. The percentage of Telegraph Hill residents with jobs downtown who walk must be pretty high. It’s such a nice walk, at least downhill. Someday soon the walk from Rincon will be at least half as interesting.

  12. Posted by 1RinconBuyer

    Clocktower vistor…..as I am the embarrassed driving Rincon Hill resident that you referred to above, I sure hope that you are right. I would always prefer walking to driving, but right now it’s not exactly the prettiest walk in around certain parts of Rincon Hill if you know what I mean. I can’t wait for that to change.

  13. Posted by Current Clocktower Resident

    I have lived in the Clocktower since 2000, and I agree with what others have said about the traffic. Bridge and baseball traffic can get heavy, but there are so many ways to get around it that it is rarely a problem.
    Traffic noise isn’t a problem where I am: closing the windows always shuts out the noise. Parking in the neighborhood isn’t that bad, especially compared to other places I visit around SF. One word of warning, though, is to not park on Bryant between 2nd and Embarcadero at night: it is not well lit, and cars get broken into at least every weekend.
    We’ll see what happens when we’ve got more people moving into the neighborhood with Rincon Hill.
    [Editor’s Note: Fantastic tip with respect to parking on Bryant! Thanks for “plugging in.”]

  14. Posted by Judy

    I moved into one of the courtyard-facing lofts this year. It is remarkably quiet even with the windows open. It does take some skill to negotiate traffic in and out of the garage during am and pm commute hours. But one does get the hang of it-plus there is a “keep clear” lane in front of the garage doors that gives you the right of way-at least legally.
    Pedestrians walking past the garage’s entrance or exit, however, are another story. They’re difficult to see so even when you do get the “go-ahead” from other cars, you have to inch forward ever-so-slowly so your car will be noticed by these walkers who are often oblivious to their surroundings. Even when pedestrians do see you, they don’t always let you enter or exit, even with a line of cars waiting for you to go ahead. A large side mirror, or warning exit sound would help, but I doubt this will happen.
    The recent Oracle conference made the streets noticeably more congested. But then if you live in this building, you don’t need your car that often. It’s probably one of the best locations in the City-and just far enough away from the downtown buzz.
    Then there’s the clocktower and Clock-if you know a little of its history, it’s a miracle to be still standing here-It’s a symbol of continuity against the ever-changing skyline of the City.
    Speaking as an artist, this is a great place to live-and the traffic “problems” are a small price to pay.

  15. Posted by Bill Williams

    My loft in the Clocktower was purchased by Caltrans to mitigate the construction impact. It faced the freeway: about 30 feet away. The impact from proximity to the bridge isn’t really as bad as people imagine.
    Surprisingly, it was one of the most quiet places I’ve ever lived.
    My requirements for housing include natural light; ventalation, and quiet/privacy. Out of these quiet/privacy ranked the best. It was so close to the bridge you could see the faces of people in their cars but the walls in the clocktower are so thick, they insulate like a castle.

  16. Posted by Chris Aldrich

    I lived in the Clocktower from 1993 until 1996 in one of the lofts in the actual clocktower building and I wish that I had never left. From the lobby, I would take one elevator up to the 2nd or 3rd floor, zigzag around to the other side of the complex, and then another elevator up to the 4th floor. There was a long corridor with windows on the right-hand side that faced the freeway, with the living spaces on the left-hand side. The hallway was a little noisy, but once inside my loft, it was very quiet. My windows were all on the south side of the building so I had a good view of the bay.
    More critical than the noise was the fact that the building shook, especially when there was not much traffic so that the big trucks would speed by.
    It was a great place to live, and there was a real feeling of community. I was very happy there.

  17. Posted by Sevestre Michel

    Je suis un français qui a été propriétaire d’un loft acheté en1992 ,malheureusement pour des questions de santé j’ai du revendre en1996 et rentrer en france.Ce que je désire témoigner ici c’est que j’ai passer au 461 on second street at Clock Tower building les plus belles années de ma vie.Les copropriétaires étaient des gens tous très sympatiques et je me souviens encore des pinics “Pot Luck” organises dans le jardin patio ou àSouth Park.Je regrette San Francisco et son “Wayne of Life. Vive l’Amérique ! Merci de m’avoir si bien accepté,oui MERCI !!! Michel Sevestre.

  18. Posted by Buying in the clocktower soon

    OK, really late to the conversation here. Was the building a coop or were the units classified as individual condos?

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