636-648 4th Street Site

Plans to raze the K&L Wine Merchants building and adjacent Latte Express in order to make way for a 350-foot tower, with 427 residential units over a 3,100-square-foot commercial space fronting Fourth Street, have been submitted to San Francisco’s Planning Department for review.

636 - 648 4th Street Rendering

Solomon Cordwell Buenz has been engaged to design the proposed tower to rise across the 636-648 4th Street site, a site which is currently only zoned for 85-feet in height but could be up-zoned to 250-feet under the proposed Central SoMa Plan, as reported by the Business Times.

As proposed, the development would include parking for 119 cars and would need an up-zoning on top of the up-zoning in the works in order to proceed as envisioned and designed.

UPDATE: As noted by a plugged-in reader below, K&L Wine Merchants is moving into the former T.J.Maxx building at 855 Harrison Street, between 4th and 5th. The temporary use permits for the move were filed late last year.

93 thoughts on “Designs For 350-Foot Tower To Replace K&L Wine Merchants Building”
  1. Wow, that’s actually pretty nice. I think the rendering’s out of scale, though – that brick loft building a block south has to be at least 60′ or 70′ high; so by comparison the rendering makes the new building almost look like a supertall, instead of only 350′. They should tone it down before the NIMBYs get in an uproar.

    1. p.s. I hope that the color shown here is intended to be brick red, in an homage to the surrounding industrial buildings, and not yet more International Orange…

  2. That is going to be the second move for K&L in the past decade. They were on Harrison between 2nd & 3rd.

  3. great looking project and clearly the “right height” for the downtown core. hope it makes it through quickly, although i know it wont

  4. Pleasantly surprised with the design. I hope they get the height they desire but I have a sneaking suspicion that they’ll settle somewhere in the middle of the 250′ up-zoning from the Planning Department and their proposal of 350′. I don’t think the Planning Department wants to set the precedent of spot zoning for their Central Soma Plan.

    [Editor’s Note: Plans For Three Towers Up To 250-Feet On Flower Mart Site (a nearby project which would require spot zoning as well).]

  5. This is the kind of urban renewal needed in San Francisco.. too bad it’s only 30 stories on a major subway/ regional rail/ high speed rail terminus.

    [Editor’s Note: 37 stories as proposed and rendered above.]

  6. Stunning, good location for that density! New 47 line connecting to BRT, New HSR station, New Caltrain subway, and a new park a few blocks away off of Berry. This will be a valuable location.

      1. 47 connects to BRT on Van Ness. HSR stops 2 blocks away, as does the future Caltrain subway at 4th and King.

      1. I can hardly keep myself from laughing. There is NO BRT on Van Ness. HSR does not exist. Future Caltrain “subway” (it’s really an extension from 4th/Townsend to the TTC) has been pushed back how many times now, so don’t count on a 2029 ribbon cutting ceremony.

        A valuable location near existing mass transit would be on Howard or Folsom in western SOMA, but that plan is reserved for low-rise construction.

      2. If Caltrain is undergrounded and extended to the Transbay Terminal before I retire in ~2031 (and have to leave S.F. due to cost of living), I’ll buy everyone on here a drink.

  7. I like tall buildings, I live in one, but…

    SF just throws up these buildings willy nilly with no real planning. No considerations of view corridors, staggered heights, setbacks, streetscape, etc. Or if there ARE plans the developers just lobby for exceptions and get them.

    As opposed to Vancouver, where there are many, many more buildings but it’s much better planned and better looking.

    1. No Planning? SF has some of the strictest land use laws and planning processes in the country. Maybe you don’t like the crazy process (I don’t) but to say there is no planning confirms you’re not informed…

    2. You can change zoning all you want in built areas but it is up to private owners to develop. The area you prefer in Vancouver I assume is more analogous to Mission Bay

      1. And to the extent that Mission Bay was a lost opportunity for a middle class mid-rise neighborhood I agree

        1. Totally agree. On a smaller scale I see this same faulty logic in the suburd where I live. They are going bigger now but are so worried about height that they get these 4-5 story boxy buildings with no variation. Yet there is some nice examples of taller more interesting buildings from the 1950s around. It is so reactionary the way planning is done now.

    3. you must not be an architect. i’d love to give you a tour of the joys of the planning department sometime.

    4. Are you new here?

      This has to be the most micro managed city in the country. It takes decades sometimes for a single building to be built.

    5. I totally agree our skyline is becoming one big rectangle! Vancouver has beautiful sight lines.
      I am sad to see these very low scaled brick buildings with character and function get destroyed to become similar looking light sucking monsters that destroy the character of our sunny neighborhoods and turn it into the financial district!

  8. I meant good planning that doesn’t take 20 years. For example, the second street / folsom street improvement plan has been underway for over 15 years with no real progress.

    The central subway, the transbay terminal, the bay bridge rebuilding, HSR, etc etc are interminable. The city doesn’t know how to get stuff done.

    SF tends to endlessly debate some parklets and bike paths and shiny tall buildings and call it a day.

    1. The second street improvement plan begins construction in June.

      The Folsom St project is a bit further out, but is part of the Transbay Plan. I can’t seem to find a link right now.

      The Bay Bridge project isn’t a SF project, it is a Caltrans project. The Central Subway is on schedule last I heard. HSR isn’t just a city project, it is a mixture of TJPA, Caltrans, Federal Government, the State of California, and many counties and communities across the state.

      What you might be complaining about is the lack of funding for city projects, the delays due to environmental review, endless public input and community outreach requirements, and NIMBYism. These are real problems in SF, but only one of the two projects you mentioned is actually dragging out at the moment.

        1. yes, and this is the highest tech city in the world with the largest city budget on a per capita basis of any city in america. what an utter joke

      1. Funding is by far the biggest bugaboo as to why we don’t have the kind of cities we want to enjoy and you can thank the F’ing Pentagon and this country’s (insert the greatest epithet you can conjure here) foreign policy.

        1. Putting aside the Pentagon funding bs, and I agree with you, but you mean we don’t now have the kind of cities we want to enjoy?

          None? really? seems a bit dramatic to say that.

          1. They (none of them) are what they could (should) be.

            Can you imagine what might have been if even a few of the hundreds of billions the Pentagon pisses away each year had been applied differently?

        2. I disagree with pentagon spending as well, but that’s hardly an excuse for SF city cud get which is loaded due to property taxes and extra sales tax. SF has largest budget per capita of any major U.S. city. Unfortunately it also has highest % of city workers making over 200K per year, and arguably worst transportation system. Shame considering all the innovated who live here. MTA’s idea of innovation is a bus that is 2 mins faster per 3 Miles and a bunch of new bike lanes to be completed by 2025

    1. “no connection to SOMA” really? perhaps they should build it out of plaster and 2x4s and glue a few dozen homeless to the facade? Until 1998, SOMA was a post-industrial warehouse dump. A total sh*thole. It is only now becoming a legitimate part of the real urban fabric of the City; a real neighborhood, such as it is. Nothing built over there *should try to conform to any existing ‘context.’ the new buildings should *make the context

  9. Why do we do hight zoning if every single building wants an exception. This the Eastern Soma plan took forever to be agreed upon. Let’s go with that and stick with it. And accelerate the permitting process.

  10. K&L are moving into the former TJ Maxx building on Harrison between 4th & 5th. Heard this from their employees – I work near the current location and shop there regularly.

    1. Thanks for the information. Glad they will remain in the City – I am in there every other week.

  11. Some folks complain about a sluggish planning process. Others complain that the city has too many construction cranes in the skyline. Somewhere in the middle is a large group of people getting stuff done.

  12. I’m going to call bullsh!t. This is way, way out of scale. There is no reason to build 350′ towers in areas surrounded by 5 story buildings, and zoned for 85ft. I’m all for pragmatic redevelopment of parts of the city, but this does not seem necessary, or essential to the progression of the neighborhood or the quarter of the city—150′; perhaps.

    No need to comment on the completely masturbatory design.

    1. Out of scale? There were undoubtedly people said the same thing about the ferry building when it was proposed. Or Mission Dolores, or some pretty Victorian homes, or the golden gate bridge. Just saying.

      The city needs tons of housing units, this is undebatable. And high rises provide the most housing units. And what better place to build high rises than along fourth street between mission bay and downtown? It’s a transit corridor with a new subway under construction, and there are already tons of high rises nearby. True that non of them are 350′ tall until you get over to Moscone center/downtown, but the ones in Mission bay/south beach are still pretty tall, and were no doubt complained about too, just as you’re complaining about this building. And honestly, 350′ really isn’t that tall, and would be about the maximum height allowed in this area under the central SOMA plan, on a just a few sites (most of it will be closer to your beloved 85′)…so who cares if one extra 350′ tower gets thrown into the mix? We need the housing anyways. And believe it or not, but there are also plenty of people who actually like having an interesting and growing skyline, purely from an aesthetic point of view.

      Or, we can constantly underbuild like morons, like we have been for decades–even on prime downtown/downtown-adjacent transit corridors–and continue to contribute as much as possible to the city’s insane housing prices. As an SF native who is not wealthy and wants to be able to keep living here, I’d prefer we build more housing rather than less.

      Also, the design is pretty nice. SF could use a little bit of color on it’s skyline (aside from blue/green), and this looks like it could add that without being tacky.

      1. Not the most eloquent response, but I understand your (and everyone else’s) concerns. I have the same ones.

        In no way does “taller” equal “better”. Sure, it can be, but there needs to be far more consideration to how these sort of heights, structures, and designs affect neighborhoods—likely for the next half century. 150′ is still pretty damn large, 350′ is literally 7 times the height of surrounding historic buildings (aesthetics aside), which are unlikely to be torn down. None of my sentiment has anything to do with stunting our skyline, or the growth that is implicitly necessary.

        My statement has nothing to do with building “less housing” but focusing on building more, smarter.

      1. Telling that anyone would ask to be told what they could easily read in up-to-date documents paid for by our tax dollars and made freely available (namelink).

          1. the docs on the page at namelink to go into detail about the reasons for the zoning height there. Read and be informed.

          2. good luck, hope you live in comfort.
            “I’ve learnt that through life you just get on with it. You’re going to meet a lot of dishonest people along the line and you say good luck to them. I hope they live in comfort. Then I start sticking more pins in their effigies.” — Roger Moore

      2. The central corridor plan had increased height zoning as the parcels are located closer to Caltrain, so that people could get to the station by associating the height of the buildings. Making a zoning exception throws the entire point of the central soma building height plan.

        1. “The central corridor plan had increased height zoning as the parcels are located closer to Caltrain, so that people could get to the station by associating the height of the buildings.”

          I haven’t read the plan. But if that’s really the point, it’s the stupidest f’ing thing I’ve ever heard. No one figures out where a train station is by associating it with the tall buildings. If this is really the sort of drivel the city puts out, whoever wrote this plan should be fired along with his or her boss and the boss’s boss. Ugh.

          1. Agree that’s an asinine rationale for a height limit. How many times do people need to be lead to a location before they find the way themselves?

    1. What’s the reason? Some misguided idea that SF is a quaint European town with no high rises? The misguided idea that high rises are the devil? The misguided idea that they block sunlight forever and stunt the growth of children? That traffic will somehow become gridlocked 24/7? That the “character” of a bunch of wide streets and old warehouses and one/two story commercial buildings will be destroyed?

      This is a perfect area for high rises/high density housing: it’s next to downtown, already has multiple high rises, is on a transit corridor with a new subway under construction, and is near a train station. What is gained by neglecting to build highrises here? Fewer housing units in a city that needs all it can get, and some NIMBYs get to pat themselves on the back. Oh and there’s 2% more sunlight on a crotchety neighbors window, on the 5th Wednesday of January or something. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are still moving in and looking for a place to live in a city that doesn’t have nearly enough housing units for everyone.

      1. The old height zoning restrictions are in place to accommodate the transportation infrastructure existing capability and current neighborhood use. The Central Corridor reviews and plan really do a nice job of discussing the demands and requirements of the area, and present several options that cover ideal build-outs of the area, of which high-rises are only a portion. As I mentioned, I’m not anti-development, and the projects I mentioned are look well within the plan guidelines. But I’ve missed seeing the corresponding plans to provide green space (outside of POPOS, the implementation of which developers have recently complained about and tried to work around) and I’ve missed (probably my own oversight) the corresponding street usability/traffic restructuring improvements that will support the increased residential and commercial density. I believe the 2nd street plan is coming close to being underway, but I’d like to see similar news covering the area we’re talking about here at the same time that I’m hearing that developers are getting more high-rise exemptions – that’s all. There’s a nice discussion of these topics starting around page 18 of http://sfmea.sfplanning.org/2011.1356E_PD.pdf. Please excuse my earlier cynicism, but it comes from a lack of optimism about what will actually happen and what will be compromised for development.

        As for the snark about quaint European SF-ness, IMO the bits of mid-rise development at 4th & Nelson Rising or Berry between 3rd & 5th would’ve benefited from a less boxy, less modern aesthetic; those corridors can feel claustrophobic and lacking in character. Brannan between 1st & 3rd could be heading in that direction. What’s wrong with a low streetfront presentation to allow in more sunlight, or maintaining the character of streets and alleys by allowing for highrises to be set back? I think you can both preserve some of the brick industrial character and also build highrises without turning the area into another Santana Row.

      2. There are a quiet a few strange people who want SF to be like Amsterdam, a city no longer important on a global perspective and clearly not anything like SF from global economic perspective

          1. A former financial capitol from the 1600s is only important to the bike crowd who see Amsterdam as the capitol of the world, since so many there use bikes. A city that has tourism as its largest employer is not what we want to become.

          2. Largest employer is a meaningless stat, since tourism is always going to employ a large number due to low wages. I wouldn’t be surprised if tourism does become our largest employer, but that really doesn’t matter.

            I certainly don’t Amsterdam as some kind of capital of the world, but to call it unimportant from a global perspective while SF is super important takes a new kind of arrogance. Perhaps if by “SF” you’re talking about all of the Bay Area or northern California.

          3. i feel comfortable with saying amsterdam is not an important city on a global scale. Amsterdam is a quaint city, most know for weed, prostitution and bicycles,. not something we want to emulate

            who would want to be like amsterdam? if you do, this is definitely the wrong place
            It has its problems but we are #1 in tech across the globe and known as capital of innovation. Of course I count the Bay area as it is the SF metro area. SF is the center of the BayArea.

            The GDP of the entire Netherlands is US$350 billion. the population of the entire country is 17M

            Bay Area Fast Facts
            Global & National Competitiveness

            below, as of 2011: and we all know it would be at least 10% higher by now.

            With a GDP of $535 billion, the Bay Area ranks 19th in the world when compared to national economies. At $74,815, the Bay Area has the highest GDP per capita in the United States and ranks ahead of global peers such as London ($56,997) and Singapore ($43,867). The region is at the cutting edge of global technology, and is a leader in many key indicators of regional, global and national competitiveness, including:

            The nation’s largest concentration of national laboratories, corporate and independent research laboratories, and leading research universities;
            The top global innovation center, with the highest concentration of innovation-related jobs in the U.S.;
            The largest number of top-ten ranked graduate programs in business, law, medicine and engineering in the nation;
            The highest density of venture capital firms in the world, with more than one third of total U.S. venture capital funding invested in the region;
            More Fortune 500 companies than any U.S. region except New York, the sixth highest concentration of Fortune Global 500 companies in the world (after New York, London, Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing), and a much larger proportion of small businesses than other metropolitan regions;
            The highest Internet penetration of any U.S. region;
            The highest level of patent generation in the nation, with more patents generated per employee than any other major metropolitan area;
            One of the two most highly educated workforces in the nation, with a high percentage of residents with graduate and professional degrees;
            A leading position in global trade;
            The highest economic productivity in the nation—almost twice the U.S. average.

          4. yes, amsterdam has trains, subways and trams. All things SF is not investing in, and instead public bike lanes and a bus line that is 2minutes faster per 3 miles .

            public transport in SF is a joke, and will remain so until someone begins to think big. we have more money per city than anywhere else in US and forward thinkers (except in city gov). hard to believe this transportation policy is real

          5. Agreed that SF underinvests, but it certainly isn’t because of the beans thrown at bike lanes. Amsterdam (again a completely unimportant and much poorer city than all-important global powerhouse SF) manages to fund a massive bike system while still having better trains than SF. Why? I thought that Amsterdam was some poor backwater compared to streets-paved-with-gold SF?

          6. look i agree with you that SF is not investing while amsterdam is. We are on the global stage due to footprint on the global economy and innovation. Its clear thats not coming from our city govt. im not saying amsterdam is a bad place. they clearly have a better city govt than us. why they have great public transport and ours is terrible is a question you need to ask politicians. Amsterdam is not alone in this distinction. Most of the worlds great cities and those in lower tiers, like amsterdam, have better public transport than SF. It is a true embarrassment of the city. My wife has a visitor now from Brazil who was shocked there is no subway here. our private enterprise and innovation is 2nd to none. our city govt is 3rd world.

          7. I’m just saying that using the “SF shouldn’t be like Amsterdam cuz Amsterdam is podunk while SF is awesome sauce” justification for poo-pooing bike lanes is questionable, when clearly Amsterdam is better at everything public infrastructure-related, even the things that you like. Maybe being better at some things influences other things (better bike lanes help with better transit, etc).

          8. Doubtful Amsterdam is po dunk. There are many great Dutch designers and architects currently and the Dutch have one of the most efficient agriculture/farming systems in the world considering their land is below sea level. Rijksmuseum anyone? I can fly in and out of Schiphol, do my grocery and sundries shopping (@ reasonable prices) in the Arrivals Hall, then hop on a train (located inside the airport) and go anywhere in Europe. The convenience and lower costs beat Heathrow any day, and in many ways, is much more advanced and convenient than SFO.

            There is no need to do comparisons at all. If someone enjoys Amsterdam and the Dutch as much as I do, it is far more enjoyable to enjoy time living there. SF, if it wants to be a global powerhouse, needs to look externally to other countries and adopt systems that work. No one needs to reinvent the wheel. Ask any Dutch person if doing something is more important than saying you will do something endlessly. The Economist Magazine had a blurb about how SF officials self-inflict wounds with their policies. I would agree.

          9. Has the Anon Amsterdam booster ever been to Amsterdam? Amsterdam does have a much better public transit system than we do, period.
            Also- thanks to Moto Mayhem for the statistics and FACTS that remind us all the Bay Area is a truly unique, powerful and interesting place. Amsterdam is fun, but rather boring after 2 or 3 days. I prefer to live in a region that has created inventions and new ideas that have changed the entire world NOW, not 400 years ago.

          10. Yes, of course I’ve been to Amsterdam. It’s one of the most important cities in the history of the world, though I will certainly agree with moto and you that the important parts mostly happened a couple centuries ago.

            That said, again, my question is why SF’s transit is sooooo much more terrible than this backwater called Amsterdam? And if we can all agree that uber-powerful SF does have pathetic transit compared to otherwise-pathetic Amsterdam, are there not other things that we could learn from Amsterdam?

            The arrogance of SF and folks like moto and yourself continually amazes me, that’s all.

          11. anon. i have no idea what you’re talking about. i have been saying Amsterdam is less important than SF, that SF private enterprise way beyond amsterdam, and that SF city govt way behind amsterdam. Also it is clear amsterdam public transit is superior and we should look to improve our public transit in a transformative way by building subways, trams and trains like they have. our only plan is to improve a 3 miles bus ride by 2 minutes and add bike lanes. that is not a comprehensive plan. SF transportation is terrible. you will get no argument from me. But amsterdam is not an important city from a global economic perspective. an economically podunk place should not have a better public transit than us. we can and should do better

          12. Which is exactly what the pro-bike people were saying. So I suppose you agree with them now? Amsterdam is better than SF at transportation, period.

          13. Anon94123 – If you’re bored in Amsterdam after 3 days then you’re missing out. You could easily spend half a day at the Westergasfabriek alone and that’s just a tiny obscure part of the city.

            I do agree that the SF bay area is a significantly larger place than Amsterdam though.

          14. “exactly what the pro-bike people were saying” good. i hope that means that the pro-bike people are in favor of trams, subways and train, in addition to their bike lanes.

            Whats happening in SF is bike lanes and a slightly faster bus. not good enough

  13. Any kind of high rise or other tall building would be a welcome improvement to this intersection. The location is pretty good … and it is just a bunch of parking lots and one story buildings. People can argue about the height. I live a few blocks south, in Mission Bay, and this corner could certainly use some good, urban development.

  14. Glad K&L found a new location. That space is quite a bit bigger as I recall. Looking forward to the new inventory!

  15. From K&L Jan 23rd newsletter

    “855 Harrison St just near the freeway onramp. 40 new parking spots and a GIGANTIC sales floor. Guess where you’ll be shopping for wine and whiskey this summer? See you there in July.”

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