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San Francisco’s second-tallest building finally breaks ground

Mayor, developers tout dual-tower complex as gateway to China at groundbreaking ceremony

A scale model of the Oceanwide Center tower.
A model of the future Oceanwide Center tower one, amidst its model peers.
Photos: Adam L Brinklow Renderings: Foster + Partners

A slightly soggy red carpet greeted city bigwigs and developers Thursday, as a morning shovel ceremony finally kicked off construction on what will eventually be San Francisco’s second tallest building.

Mayor Ed Lee promised that rain means good luck on auspicious occasions as he talked the project up as a community benefit and a way to foster closer ties abroad.

Standing at a podium flanked by one American flag and one Chinese flag, Lee, who just returned from a trip to China, praised Oceanwide Center (named for its Chinese developer) for “creating a relationship” between San Franciscan and Chinese interests.

Supervisor Jane Kim almost jumps the gun and breaks ground on her own.

“We are proud to turn over this dirt in front of us,” he added.

Luo Linquan, the Chinese Consul General to San Francisco, repeated the mayor’s refrain, calling the imminent high-rises “a good model for the city’s prosperity and relationship with China.”

He added that his initial disappointment that Oceanwide wasn’t allowed to eclipse Salesforce Tower in height was mitigated upon reflecting that the world’s second-largest economy was enabling the city’s second-tallest building.

Oceanwide is actually two towers, designed by London-based Foster + Partners and local architect Jeff Heller of Heller Manus, with the chief spire reaching 910 feet.

Renderings look a little bit like something out of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, surrounded with a steel exoskeleton and topped by a crystalline crown.

That external frame favors big, open floor plans in the one million square feet of office space inside, to appeal to startup sensibilities.

The shorter, 625-foot at 519 Mission will be mostly a 171-room Waldorf Astoria hotel.

The two buildings will add 265 homes to the city between the two of them, but Oceanwide won’t tie the final bow around the thing until 2021.

Architect Heller called the development a sign that the city had “realized that true sustainability means high-density development around transit.”

In addition to the two buildings, the development adds a network of public plazas tying together nearby alleys, including green space originally designed to look so lavish and tropical that city planners doubted it could survive San Francisco’s climate.

In a nod to the slightly slanted writing on the wall about construction in San Francisco, Foster + Partners partner Stefan Behling also promised “the deepest foundation piles on the West Coast, 400 feet, all the way to bedrock.”

Behling assured Curbed SF after his speech that “it’s always been that way.” But you really can’t be too specific about that kind of thing these days.

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