650 California (www.SocketSite.com)
When the construction of 650 California Street was completed in 1964, the 34 story tower was the tallest building in California, a title long since passed.
Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for Hartford Insurance with an exoskeleton of precast white concrete into which the floor-to-ceiling windows of the 466-foot tower are recessed, the Hartford Building was bought by Tishman Speyer for $230 million last year.
While Tishman is now “redefining” the building’s lobby and converting a bit of office space into a fitness center, locker rooms, and a conference room, the classic building isn’t about to be reskinned or repurposed a la the renovation of 100 Van Ness that’s now underway.
The Renovation Of 100 Van Ness And 400 New Rentals Are Underway [SocketSite]

26 thoughts on “Defining And Redefining The Classic Hartford Building At 650 California”
  1. An “exoskeleton”, in architecture anyway, would be actual load-bearing elements such as columns, bearing walls and floor slabs that create the outside face of the building. The precast panels on this building are more than likely attached to the actual structure, so it’s not an exoskeleton. Probably the closest thing in SF to a high rise exoskelton is One Maritime Plaza which has multistory steel diagonal bracing on the outside of the buidling.

  2. Thank goodness. This fad for re-skinning 60’s and 70’s buildings in all glass is ill-advised IMO, especially in places like 100 Van Ness, where the outside has a great texture.

  3. As James Kunstler has been predicting, high rises are some of the most inefficient structures designed in the world today. The cost of updating the infrastructure of these buildings is enormous and they are large consumers of energy and resources, so despite the cheerleading from the “Yes Density!” crowd, (and I agree, density is good), very tall buildings are not a good long term urban solution.
    Leon Krier says very tall towers are “urban hypertrophy” and there may be a point to this. 50 years from now will One Rincon owners be able to afford a massive repair to the tower surface, elevators, pumps, pipes, conduits, etc? In Chicago where the first very tall residential structures were built, buyers stay away from pre 1970 towers because of massive HOA assessments for overdue repairs.

  4. @Snark17. Not sure by your sig if you actually feel that way. I hope not.
    I like the trend of modern day re-skinning such as 680 Folsom and 100 Van Ness. I would also be glad to see some architecturally significant buildings un-re-skinned, such as the Chronicle Building that became the Ritz-Carlton Residences. Prime candidates would be the original AAA building at 150 Van Ness, and the horrible, crumbling mess on that is 995 Market. I believe the new 100 Van Ness will nicely complement the Richard Meier One Van Ness slotted cylindrical tower.

  5. @ Kunstler fan: Can you elaborate on how one would achieve efficient, urban density? Do we limit structures to a certain height? The overdue repairs you cite in Chicago were massive due to, well, being overdue weren’t they? The same thing happens when a single family home needs a new roof, ducts and HVAC system, new plumbing, etc. No one escapes repair, maintenance, and upgrades.
    Besides being potential hypertrophies, I believe some towers, such as the Chrysler Building or even our own Transamerica Pyramid, which I personally find appealing (and I know appeal is subjective), provide a visual counterpoint to a swath of same-height concrete and steel, views, light, as well as a touch of spirit. They spark, and are evidence of, the human imagination in a way that 650 California will never be.

  6. Re:SomaSoldier
    I happen to like the scale of streets in Europe much better than a Chicago style city and feel that streets of 4 to 7 story buildings are more suited to San Francisco. This would mean that so-called “urban” dwellers in places like Noe Valley who live in single family homes with yards and garages would need to learn to adapt to real “urban” living. Clustering a bunch of 50 story towers in one small part of the city does not create vibrant neighborhoods. The whole western side of San Francisco as well as many southern neighborhoods could use some real density.
    With the ongoing discussion here lately about how we need to give up cars because of higher density, I want to know why people still think that single family homes are acceptable in a “world class” city? Time to stop curb cutting for new add-on garages in Noe Valley and start building higher density housing instead!

  7. Kunstler fan wrote:

    50 years from now will One Rincon owners be able to afford a massive repair to the tower surface, elevators, pumps, pipes, conduits, etc?

    Uh, yes.
    A 1 bed, 1 bath condo at One Rincon Hill comes with a $750 HOA fee. Everyone knows that HOA fees go up over time, buyers there certainly should plan on it, and there’s nothing stopping the fee from getting raised to cover all of the future scheduled maintenance, repair, and overhaul tasks you mention, should the owners association reserve fall short.
    And that’s not an expensive high-rise condo for S.F. or a particularly high HOA; a sub ten minute walk over to The Millennium and you could easily spend 20% more for the same size unit.
    The people who won’t be able to afford the increased HOA will be selected out before it happens or will be forced to sell.
    Your underlying point that high-rises aren’t now and for the foreseeable future won’t be a great “solution” for affordable urban housing is a good one, however; hopefully the technology for building and maintaining such buildings will go down over time. I’m not optimistic about that.

  8. @Jeff: I live in parkside/sunset area and couldn’t agree more, but when this area of town was built it was during the early suburbanization phase of the area…single-family row houses with garage parking and a small patch of yard. People would take the streetcar, not unlike the Key System in the East Bay, to commute to downtown SF.
    Should this area have been built with more height? Absolutely. It already had the density factor, although some could argue this point.
    @Brahma: $750 is reasonable for that building. A friend of mine lives in a 1BD co-op in Jackson Heights, Queens that was built in the 1930s. He paid 120k for it. His monthly co-op fees are $600, more than his mortgage, and keep going up because of the age of the building requires upgrades and he’s picking up the slack for longtime renters who can’t be evicted.

  9. In general, I’m with Jeff. I think it’s very hard to transition to higher density in the “neighborhoods” however, and it’s more expedient to concentrate your “4-7” story concept along commercial corridors and in transitioning industrial neighborhoods (SOMA, lower potrero hill, etc).

  10. Oh please Jeff, spare us your disdain for Noe Valley and our single family homes with a garage and yard.
    Noe Valley is just as “real urban living” as One Rincon. They each serve different kinds of families/occupants in different ways.
    My little yard serves a very useful purpose, for growing vegetables, fruit, trees, bird and squirrel havens. I’m completely urban: walking to the J Church, walking all over to eat and shop and buy groceries, and driving when I need to.
    All of our lower density but very liveable neighborhoods are great places to live, and are an integral and historic part of this great city.

  11. I agree with futurist. Neighborhoods each have their own purpose.
    But there will be more and more pressure to add density in the coming decades.
    The City will grow where people want/can live, work, commute.
    Higher buildings are already popping up at some corners along Market street west of Van Ness. This is a major development, where policy meets the market. When those are built, there will be a need to find potential for more density, either mid-block on Market replacing smaller buildings, or deeper into the neighborhoods.

  12. Futurist, your squirrel haven sounds very nice but Jeff makes a good point about density. He doesn’t disdain your squirrels (and your car), but makes an important point about increased density in the neighborhoods at large.

  13. Let Jeff speak for himself, ok? Jeff can certainly like the scale of Europe more. Guess what? we’re not Europe. Clusters of 50 storey towers? in the western side of SF> ? really. You don’t cluster large dense housing without superb public transit in walkable distance. And the Sunset and Richmond are not served by great transit.
    Density is good and acceptable in “certain” neighborhoods. Let’s talk about ALL the open land available south of Mission Bay, along the waterfront, the old industrial areas, and even out by Candlestick Park. All have potential for much higher density; many would become newly created neighborhoods.
    And I agree that increased density along Market St is a great thing. More is needed along Vanness and Mission as well.
    Our city is unique BECAUSE of some of our small scale neighborhoods.
    The tired complaint about “curb cuts in Noe Valley” is just old rhetoric. Funny how when ya gotta hate a neighborhood, a lot of people here get out the pitchforks and head to Noe Valley.
    Trust me; my squirrel family, both dads and their two kids are ready to attack.

  14. I have a similar set up in my backyard. Squirrels, birds, tall trees (even Redwoods). All the backyards together form a small urban forest on my block. It’s a luxury in such a City.

  15. I think about this every time I see people salivating over nondescript highrises in Soma. They mostly get dated quickly, and there are so many in the FiDi that date from the 60s-90s that seem underutilized, and are almost forgotten, yet more or less permanent.
    For every Chrysler Bldg. or Transamerica Pyramid (which is iconic, at least in profile), there are blocks of buildings like this one (not terrible, just nothing meriting excitement).
    Personally. I think the ideal density is six stories. That’s actually the (general) height of the areas in Manhattan people think of as vibrant urban neighborhoods…

  16. Lively discussion as always.
    I love the re-skinning trend @ snark17 is referring to.
    Does anyone have any data as to the cost per SF of re-skinning a building like 1680 Folsom vs. building it from scratch?
    Thank you.

  17. O.K. futurist and lol, you can keep your trees and squirrels, and I like your hood. As Mark mentioned, there are a lot of suburban neighborhoods in San Francisco that should have been built with much higher density.
    My point really was about the western and far southern neighborhoods of the city. I am NOT in favor of 50 story buildings for these neighborhoods, but would love to see more 4 to 7 story buildings, especially in commercial areas.
    There is a lot of writing out there about what “livable cities” are, and I promise you, slamming a bunch of 50 story boxes together and slapping eachother on the back about how much “density” we have is not what good planning or great cities are all about. My fantasy is not for a bunch of glass towers on Rincon Hill, but instead for both sides of Golden Gate park to be lined with 7 story buildings that could overlook the park without creating shadows. You would get a lot more housing out of this concept than a couple of OneRinconHill towers.

  18. “that seem underutilized”
    I’m not sure what you mean, but there are very few vacant spaces in the financial district.

  19. The orginal estimate for renovating 680 Folsom was $87 million. Not sure how that compares with constructing new, but I can tell you it has taken a TON of work to get down to the original steel frame. I work near there and it tooks months of jackhammering to get the old concrete/stone skin off and prepare the frame for the seismic retrofit and the additional space. Lots of hand labor – single guys on cherry pickers working with small jackhammers. It is starting to progress faster now that the frame is exposed. They’ve done all the steel work for the vertical and horizontal extensions and have started to hang the curtain wall. Still haven’t done anything on the corner of 3rd and Folsom, but maybe that won’t take as long since they will be demolishing the building there and starting from scratch.

  20. I love the unobstructed North Bay views from 650 California. The exterior seems just fine to me. A little boring, but nowhere near as ugly as most of the buildings on 3rd & Market. Why does that area have such garbage architecture?

  21. This building use to house the KBHK-TV44 studios. I remember going there as a guest on a morming talk show and was amazed by the views from the producers office.

  22. This building does indeed have great views. I happen to work in this building, my office is the side shown in the photo, about halfway across on the 15 1/2 floor.
    You can see me waving if you look carefully enough..
    I am feeling fairly ambivalent about the changes though, I kind of like the slightly old fashioned 60s feel of the office, and the changes are pretty disruptive in terms of getting in and out of the building during the hiatus.

  23. I am starting to grudgingly appreciate the old Brutalist buildings of the 50s and 60s. I hated them for many years, but it is starting to grow on me.
    I think Noe needs to be upzoned and would love to see more 4-6 story buildings, especially near the J Church. The Sunset need more density, especially near GG Park, along Geary and along the N Judah. If we ever get Geary BRT going, everything within three blocks of Geary should be upzoned.

  24. Noe won’t be “upzoned”, I predict in our lifetime, and shouldn’t be. Many of our smaller scale ‘hoods are a significant factor in the special quality of San Francisco, and why many people choose to live here; small town scale in a larger city.
    Read my previous comments about many other more appropriate corridors and neighborhoods that would support higher density. And you’ll understand.

  25. Yes, there are plenty of better places to upzone, especially if you look outside of the City. Locations near transit hubs should be built up first before upzoning moderately dense places like Noe or the Sunset.

  26. “I’m not sure what you mean, but there are very few vacant spaces in the financial district.”
    “Underutilized” is probably the wrong word. They tend to be leased, but often as overflow space for firms that lease a lot of space in multiple buildings… and usually have a main address elsewhere, so they become kind of backwoods urban office space? I suppose if they’re being used, they serve a purpose… It’s just that older highrises become semi-invisible over time (far from the attention they get when they’re new).
    I’ve always love Brutalism. Maybe it’s from groiwng up in a California where William Periera designed half the malls and civic buildings.

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