110 The Embarcadero: Rendering (Image Source:
As we wrote about 110 Embarcadero when John King had the design scoop in early 2008:

Assuming Planning Commission approval this spring, the building could be up, open and growing leaves by the end of 2009.

As John Upton writes today:

The Planning Commission’s January [2009] approval of the project is now being disputed because an environmental-impact report wasn’t completed to study the historical significance of the building, the shadows that would be cast by the building’s height, which would exceed the parcel’s 84-foot height limit by 39 feet, and other factors.

The existing gray-and-white building, which replaced a burned-down barn after the 1906 earthquake, appears unremarkable from the outside. But inside, it played an important role in Depression-era labor battles.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider the appeal of the Planning Commission’s green-light on the project. In making its decision, the board will consider whether the existing structure is historically significant.

From a development standpoint the best case scenario is now up and open by the end of 2011 (no sooner than 2012 if an environmental-impact report is required).
Forget Bagdad By The Bay, This Is More Like Babylon (By The Bay) [SocketSite]
West’s greenest building faces delay [San Francisco Examiner]

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by ex SF-er

    The existing gray-and-white building, which replaced a burned-down barn after the 1906 earthquake, appears unremarkable from the outside. But inside, it played an important role in Depression-era labor battles.
    Huh? So you can’t redevelop any parcel of land that may have been involved in any historic event?
    I’m not arguing that the shooting of longshoremen wasn’t important, nor that 100,000 striking workers wasn’t important either.
    But that can be commemorated by a plaque on the sidewalk next to the building. It doesn’t require the building itself to be left intact.
    I think people confuse historic event/historic markers with historic BUILDINGS. I don’t see how an empty
    should we block off all development anywhere in the city that President Obama visited, since his election was historic?
    as for the rest, the height issue seems valid enough.
    SF needs to decide how tall it wants its downtown to be. Do they want 84 feet or taller?
    if they want 84 feet than this building should go elsewhere. If they want taller then allow the building.
    that said: I’m not sure if this building is economically viable anyway even if it is allowed to be 10 stories… does the math work during a RE downturn and a time of cheaper energy/commodities?

  2. Posted by DZinerSF

    This is an example of a misplaced attempt at preservation. Simply because something significant happened there, does NOT make it an historic structure; unlike 1268 Lombard which SHOULD be saved because it is indeed a significant building.
    Why add barriers to waterfront developement? and especially a green, innovative and potentially landmark building.
    Will this city ever move away from it’s provincial, pretentious past?

  3. Posted by Mark

    Shadows! Oh no!
    We need a Cap and Trade policy in place for Shadows before a single hammer falls again — anywhere in SF.

  4. Posted by EH

    What did/does Manhattan do about shadows and light wells and all of that? Do we learn anything if we look to cities that have already dealt with this problem (or nonproblem, depending on your NIMBYstance).

  5. Posted by jessep

    This is so insane. We have HUGE needs in this city, and the fact that we can’t build tall buildings is outrageous.
    People do not own views, we have a FUTURE to care about.
    Sick and wrong. The one thing I hate about living here: insane NIMBYism.

  6. Posted by jamie

    I hope Hines is able to move forward … I don’t want this to become the Rincon Hill neighborhood’s version of North Beach’s Pagoda THeater

  7. Posted by Eric in SF

    If the Union(s) don’t back down, this project is DOA.

  8. Posted by jacklix

    doesn’t really matter since they wouldn’t have broke ground anyways…. office rents right now are too soft to justify this construction. Development is dead for at least the next 24-36 months.

  9. Posted by DZinerSF

    @jacklix: perhaps, but just maybe, a full tilt GREENLIGHT on a project (ie: no extra hoops and NIMBY whinning) would actually spur construction in this town.

  10. Posted by Jim

    Another example of “preservation” run amok. Its the event that is important, not this completely insignificant building. The way to honor labor is to get construction workers building this magnificent new building during this terrible recession, not to sanctify an empty and useless building. As for the height…San Francisco is the only city I know that keeps the maximum number of people from where they most want to be – on the waterfront. As for shadows…we’d better cut down all the trees in Golden Gate Park – they are casting shadows on the park.

  11. Posted by midcentfan

    I think the top four floors couldgo and it could fit in nicely with the rest of the row of buildings facing the water, and loom only slightly over the restaurant.

  12. Posted by Bob

    I think armchair architecture critics who can throw about recommendations like “chop the top 4 floors off” without having any concept of how to make a commercial building pan out in this horrible economy should be forced to donate money towards the construction of said building.
    Of course – people should also know that this building will be shorter than the ymca on the other corner of the same block.
    Maybe we should chop some floors off that too? You know, everything in SF needs to be matchy-matchy.

  13. Posted by Mole Man

    Maybe this could be handled by swapping daylight access rights in a “Shadow Market”?

  14. Posted by Omegaman

    Straight up beautiful building if you asked me.

  15. Posted by realist

    All of the commenters who said that historic preservation value is judged only on the quality of the architecture and not by social or political events that happened there are simply misinformed (or simply, just not informed). Connection to key social or historical events can convey an important preservation argument for a building that is otherwise unimpressive. No, that doesn’t mean that any building that Obama walks into means it’s historic. But significant events in the life and death of major figures, local, national, or international historical events (yes, the General Strike qualifies as such), etc., are all legitimate reasons for considering the preservation of a building or structure. That doesn’t mean this building rises to that level, but arguing the case for tearing it down on the premise that social or historical are events are irrelevant is out-and-out nonsense. Those who argue that we should preserve nothing that provides connection to the past in the pursuit of progress are just as unreasonable as those who demand we maintain everything.

  16. Posted by Delancey

    The embarcadero (not the “downtown”, ex-SF) has an 86 foot height limit for a reason–it is a narrow strip of rare open space in the city, and it is used every day by thousands of pedestrians, bikers, and runners. Tall buildings to the west would loom over the waterfront, and it gets cold damned quick when the shadow line covers you in the late afternoon–just watch how the outdoor seating at the Ferry Building cafes clears out when the shade hits.
    The YMCA building is the tallest building directly on the embarcadero for at least mile in each direction. It was built before the height restriction. Allowing a height exception for 110 is simply incremental flouting of development rules and land planning. If the building doesn’t pencil out at 8 stories, then don’t build it. Let the site lie until someone comes along with a better vision. And yes, there will be a better vision–waterfront sites get lots of attention.
    As for the green-cladding of this glass box, let me inject a couple reality checks:
    1. This isn’t even original for bay area midrises–2440 W. El Camino Real in Mountain View did this in the early 90s. (sorry, couldn’t find anything online about it, probably because it pre-dates the web, but it did get written up in a least one architecture mag).
    2. If you think hanging vines are going to be permitted to block precious waterfront views, please go back to Kansas. They’ll be ruthlessly cut back, accidentally ripped out, salted, whatever it takes to create or preserve a power view from a window office.
    The kerfluffle about the “historic” union hall shows the law of unintended consequences. If the proposal were within the height limit, I doubt anyone would have made a fuss. Sometimes a bad project is stopped for the wrong reasons.

  17. Posted by lolcat_94123

    lol. oh man, what a town.

  18. Posted by Joe

    If you think an extra 20 feet in height is going to make the difference between basking in the sunlight in your bathing suit and cowering in your eskimo outfit then you’re the kind of douche that uses kerfuffle in development comments.

  19. Posted by Delancey

    @Joe —
    39 feet (see original article), not 20 feet. After tearing down the Embarcadero Freeway the city of SF has decided to have graduated building heights from the eastern waterfront. Deal with it, or build somewhere else.
    Name-calling doesn’t advance your case any, and just points up the lack of any arguments supporting you.
    One more detail: the above rendering is based on a photo shot at around 8AM–look at the shadow from the palm tree. By noon onwards those building fronts are in shade.

  20. Posted by Deal Nancy

    You’re right. We need to cut down those awful trees and vanquish those horrific shadows.

  21. Posted by NoeNeighbor

    This building is to large for the area and looks out of place. You can develop something a few stories shorter and still make money. Though some of the green fanatics will like this because of its certification, it is really unfortunate that no attempt was made to make it work with its surroundings. It is just an akward and out of place building. (though I agree that the union hall could be demolished without a second thought).

  22. Posted by spencer

    why are people afraid of shadows?for God’s sakes, this is a ludicrous argument. there is no place for sunbathing anyway. are we afreaid that the spider status is going to get cold?

  23. Posted by Dan

    Apparently, Star Trek envisions a denser Embarcadero by the 24th Century:

  24. Posted by ex SF-er

    The embarcadero (not the “downtown”, ex-SF)
    wow. nitpicky semantics argument that neglects teh bulk of my post.
    it is pure semantics to call this area just a few blocks away from the most downtown-iest street in San Francisco (Market) and just a quick hop and skip away from San Francisco’s tallest towers “not downtown”. And I’ve never heard of your newly defined “Embarcadero neighborhood”. I’ll have to look that up.
    If you like, we can speak in extreme specifics about this area, but it’s just wordy for wordy’s sake. Fine.
    SF needs to decide how tall it wants its downtown and downtown-adjacent/SOMA adjacent/South Beach adjacent/Waterfront adjacent buildings to be. Do they want 84 feet or taller?
    if they want 84 feet than this building should go elsewhere. If they want taller then allow the building
    is that better for you?
    I didn’t argue that SF should increase the limit there. I argued that they should either leave the limit at current height and not allow this building as proposed, or raise the limit.

  25. Posted by Brian

    Any day now I expect to start hearing arguments such as, “My dearly beloved dog Fido (may he rest in peace) once pooped in front of that location and, therefore, the location should become an historic site.”

  26. Posted by Louis

    unfortunatekly realist is correct. it is well established in law – ceqa – that events of historical significance have to be considered along with the physical significance of the structure. the sad point is everyone in planning knows this very, very well – or should – and this issue should have been addressed the first time. it is very unlikely that it would meet the test required to force preservation.
    the comment that hines can “make money” with a shorter bldg is just silliness. tall structures with big floor plates are unfeasible now and for a while to come, and the dwarf project some call for here would never get financed or built. which i understand may be the goal.

  27. Posted by Sashok

    Redwood City 6-year-in-development, much $$$ spent downtown blueprint has just (days ago) been destroyed by the judge who ruled in favor of a single lawyer whose single 2-story office building would bear the “impact” of “greater shadows”, and Redwood City did not consider that in their plan.
    Absolutely unbelievable but true. The city is now going to redo the plan completely, deciding against risky appeal.

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