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Mapping every building that was once San Francisco's tallest

In honor of Salesforce Tower, soon to be the tallest building in San Francisco, and all of those who ruled the roost before it

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What's the tallest building in San Francisco? For the first time since 1972, you may have to stop and think before answering.

Two weeks ago we reported that the in-progress Salesforce Tower had finally surpassed the venerable Transamerica Pyramid as the city's highest high-rise. But that turned to be a touch too early. Well, second time's the charm, as the soon-to-be landmark did indeed pass the crucial 853-foot mark this week, and developer Boston Properties says they should hit 867 by the end of the day tomorrow.

The pyramid had a good run as the city's greatest profile for over 40 years. In honor of its long reign, here's a look at every standout San Francisco building that once (however briefly, in some cases) held the title.

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The Presidio

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When you're the first, you're automatically the tallest (and the shortest, and both the best and worst designed, and the most strawberry-flavored, etc). The original Presidio went up a few weeks before the original Mission Dolores, making it our first tallest building by default. It didn't last long, though, as the first adobe structure collapsed after just a few years. (Apparently they hadn't reckoned on the fog.)

Casa Grande

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...but if you wanted to split hairs, you could argue that the Mission and the Presidio were not yet part of the city, because in those days there was no city. And there wouldn't be until 1832, when English sailor William Richardson (who elected to jump ship and marry the Presidio commander's daughter rather than return home a decade earlier) created the first permanent residence in what would later be called Yerba Buena and, even later than that, San Francisco. It was initially just a tent shack, which he later upgraded to the city's first wooden home, and eventually an adobe house dubbed Casa Grande.A plaque on Grant Street marks the approximate location of the old Richardson place, although it's as hard to find now as the actual home would have been in the peninsula wilderness of the time.

Montgomery Block

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Earthquake and fire have long been the twin furies that kept San Francisco buildings from climbing too high. In 1853, a local lawyer imagined a fireproof building that would take up an entire city block and soar a whopping four stories high, hiring noted architect Gordon Cummings to design it. People thought he was nuts. But the "Montgomery Block," as the imposing structure came to be known, made an impressive landmark on what was then the shore of the bay, and it charged $1,000/month for primo office space.

Old Saint Mary's Cathedral

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But it didn't take long for someone to come knock the Block off. Only a year later, Old Saint Mary's enjoyed its dedication, and with the tower clocking in at about 90 feet it became king of the roost. The first cathedral in California, much of its old stone came over from China.

Palace Hotel

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Banking magnate William Chapman Ralston made and lost a fortune in San Francisco during his remarkable but tragic life. The 120-foot-tall Palace Hotel opened in 1875 and remains his lasting gift to a city that. Unfortunately, it took a lot out of him in return. Four years in the making, the 1906 earthquake wiped out most of the original building.

De Young Building

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In 1889, the first recognized skyscraper jumped up into the city skyline, 218 feet at the time. (More stories have subsequently been added.) In 1905, fireworks blew off its belltower, and then of course the earthquake a year later did another number on it. De Young built it as the first home of the San Francisco Chronicle, to reinforce the prominence of his paper to the local community. And it worked pretty well, until...

Central Tower

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...the publisher of competing paper the Call put up an even bigger building a stone's throw away. The Call Building, now known as Central Tower, ranges 315 feet. Remodeled many, many times over the years, you'd barely recognize it now compared to its original public face.

Standard Oil Building

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The Jazz Age brought about new building methods and an ever-increasing American love affair with taller and taller Deco and Neo-Gothic buildings. The Standard Oil Building on Bush Street reached the 328-foot mark in 1922, housing Standard Oil (now known as Chevron) for half a century. In 1975, a terrorist bomb blew off most of the 21st floor (President Gerald Ford was in town, although his speaking engagement was at another building nearby), but no one died, and the rest of the building remained intact.

Pac Bell Building

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If you were to put money on which San Francisco building will never go out of style, the Pflueger-designed, eagle-bedecked tower on Montgomery Street would be one of your safest bets. At 435 feet, it breezed by all competitors for the loftiest heights in 1925. It was also the first tall building south of Market, making it a true trendsetter in light of everything that's happened since.

Russ Building

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Pflueger's Pac Bell building was only king for a few years until the equally as stylish (but oft overlooked) Russ building came along. By most accounts the two buildings tied for tallest at 435 feet each, although one or two records give the Russ a slight edge at 436.

650 California

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The mid '60s ushered in yet another boom, setting off a series of increasingly taller buildings topping each other every two years, starting with 650 California, which soared to 466 feet in 1965. It doesn't look terribly exciting to modern eyes, but the SOM design was state of the art at the time.

44 Montgomery

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And then just two years later, 44 Montgomery Street achieved a height of 565 feet. But its time in the limelight was just as short-lived as the high-rise it unseated, because in 1969, along came...

555 California

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...555 California, whose still-distinctive crenelated facade broke the bank at 778 feet. Another SOM design, it was a favorite establishing shot of movies throughout the '70s, including "The Towering Inferno"...which building owners probably would have preferred not being associated with despite its box office success. It's still often dubbed the Bank of America Building, even though BofA moved out in 1998.

Transamerica Pyramid

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This 1972 classic of course needs no introduction, and at a now-iconic 853 feet many thought this was as high as the city would ever dare go. It's held the crown the longest, and even now that it's been forced to step aside it will probably continue to cast the tallest shadow in the hearts and minds of San Franciscans.

Salesforce Tower

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The king is dead; long live the king. Although until it's completed we should maybe dub Salesforce Tower the heir apparent. And that's your block by block history of the tallest orders in the city. Did we miss one? Let us know where and we'll measure it up against the others.

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The Presidio

When you're the first, you're automatically the tallest (and the shortest, and both the best and worst designed, and the most strawberry-flavored, etc). The original Presidio went up a few weeks before the original Mission Dolores, making it our first tallest building by default. It didn't last long, though, as the first adobe structure collapsed after just a few years. (Apparently they hadn't reckoned on the fog.)

Casa Grande

...but if you wanted to split hairs, you could argue that the Mission and the Presidio were not yet part of the city, because in those days there was no city. And there wouldn't be until 1832, when English sailor William Richardson (who elected to jump ship and marry the Presidio commander's daughter rather than return home a decade earlier) created the first permanent residence in what would later be called Yerba Buena and, even later than that, San Francisco. It was initially just a tent shack, which he later upgraded to the city's first wooden home, and eventually an adobe house dubbed Casa Grande.A plaque on Grant Street marks the approximate location of the old Richardson place, although it's as hard to find now as the actual home would have been in the peninsula wilderness of the time.

Montgomery Block

Earthquake and fire have long been the twin furies that kept San Francisco buildings from climbing too high. In 1853, a local lawyer imagined a fireproof building that would take up an entire city block and soar a whopping four stories high, hiring noted architect Gordon Cummings to design it. People thought he was nuts. But the "Montgomery Block," as the imposing structure came to be known, made an impressive landmark on what was then the shore of the bay, and it charged $1,000/month for primo office space.

Old Saint Mary's Cathedral

But it didn't take long for someone to come knock the Block off. Only a year later, Old Saint Mary's enjoyed its dedication, and with the tower clocking in at about 90 feet it became king of the roost. The first cathedral in California, much of its old stone came over from China.

Palace Hotel

Banking magnate William Chapman Ralston made and lost a fortune in San Francisco during his remarkable but tragic life. The 120-foot-tall Palace Hotel opened in 1875 and remains his lasting gift to a city that. Unfortunately, it took a lot out of him in return. Four years in the making, the 1906 earthquake wiped out most of the original building.

De Young Building

In 1889, the first recognized skyscraper jumped up into the city skyline, 218 feet at the time. (More stories have subsequently been added.) In 1905, fireworks blew off its belltower, and then of course the earthquake a year later did another number on it. De Young built it as the first home of the San Francisco Chronicle, to reinforce the prominence of his paper to the local community. And it worked pretty well, until...

Central Tower

...the publisher of competing paper the Call put up an even bigger building a stone's throw away. The Call Building, now known as Central Tower, ranges 315 feet. Remodeled many, many times over the years, you'd barely recognize it now compared to its original public face.

Standard Oil Building

The Jazz Age brought about new building methods and an ever-increasing American love affair with taller and taller Deco and Neo-Gothic buildings. The Standard Oil Building on Bush Street reached the 328-foot mark in 1922, housing Standard Oil (now known as Chevron) for half a century. In 1975, a terrorist bomb blew off most of the 21st floor (President Gerald Ford was in town, although his speaking engagement was at another building nearby), but no one died, and the rest of the building remained intact.

Pac Bell Building

If you were to put money on which San Francisco building will never go out of style, the Pflueger-designed, eagle-bedecked tower on Montgomery Street would be one of your safest bets. At 435 feet, it breezed by all competitors for the loftiest heights in 1925. It was also the first tall building south of Market, making it a true trendsetter in light of everything that's happened since.

Russ Building

Pflueger's Pac Bell building was only king for a few years until the equally as stylish (but oft overlooked) Russ building came along. By most accounts the two buildings tied for tallest at 435 feet each, although one or two records give the Russ a slight edge at 436.

650 California

The mid '60s ushered in yet another boom, setting off a series of increasingly taller buildings topping each other every two years, starting with 650 California, which soared to 466 feet in 1965. It doesn't look terribly exciting to modern eyes, but the SOM design was state of the art at the time.

44 Montgomery

And then just two years later, 44 Montgomery Street achieved a height of 565 feet. But its time in the limelight was just as short-lived as the high-rise it unseated, because in 1969, along came...

555 California

...555 California, whose still-distinctive crenelated facade broke the bank at 778 feet. Another SOM design, it was a favorite establishing shot of movies throughout the '70s, including "The Towering Inferno"...which building owners probably would have preferred not being associated with despite its box office success. It's still often dubbed the Bank of America Building, even though BofA moved out in 1998.

Transamerica Pyramid

This 1972 classic of course needs no introduction, and at a now-iconic 853 feet many thought this was as high as the city would ever dare go. It's held the crown the longest, and even now that it's been forced to step aside it will probably continue to cast the tallest shadow in the hearts and minds of San Franciscans.

Salesforce Tower

The king is dead; long live the king. Although until it's completed we should maybe dub Salesforce Tower the heir apparent. And that's your block by block history of the tallest orders in the city. Did we miss one? Let us know where and we'll measure it up against the others.