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An Open Letter to the Salesforce Tower From the Transamerica Pyramid

"Hang in there, buddy."


Dearest Salesforce Tower,

It’s me, your new neighbor, the Transamerica Pyramid. Just wanted to drop you a line to say welcome to San Francisco, the City That Knows How (to Make You Feel Crappy About Yourself ).

Now, I know it probably doesn’t seem like the most welcoming town right now. People have been a little upset since your massive metal—pardon the term—erection appeared in the middle of the skyline. Everybody’s up in arms about the way your $1.1 billion head keeps popping up where it doesn’t belong. And they’ve been calling you some awful names: The Pencil. The Buttplug. The Salespenis. The Dick Building (they’re not always very imaginative with their name-calling). But listen to me, honey: Don’t take any of that personally. If there’s something San Franciscans like complaining about, it’s newcomers. And Los Angeles. And right now, you’re a lot more objectionable than Los Angeles.

You’ve just got to take it in stride, you big sex toy! (I joke, I joke.) I’m here to tell you that this kind of abuse just comes with the territory. This city prides itself on being so alluring and progressive and tolerant, but the minute you try to build a new life here, you’re scum. Sure, they all love and revere me now. But back in 1969, protesters came out against my architect, William Pereira, and his design for me. One lady, all primly dressed, wore a big pyramid hat that read “Stow the Shaft.” The less kind critics called me Pereira’s Prick. To be honest, it still stings.

The thing I learned, though, is that it actually isn’t personal. The only way San Franciscans know how to deal with change is by blocking it and filing lawsuits. And it’s even worse when you just happen to carry the name of a monolithic corporate entity. On this, I had it worse than you. The Transamerica Corporation was the Salesforce of its day. It used to own a bunch of American companies, from Bank of America to United Artists to Budget Rent-a-Car. A Los Angeles Times writer, after calling me “the world’s largest architectural folly,” accused me of blatantly stamping San Francisco with the Transamerica brand. Architecture magazine compared my arrival to destroying the Grand Canyon. (Exaggerate much?)

What changed? Well, Transamerica turned out not to be a corporate behemoth of much consequence. In the ’80s it shrank, selling off pieces of itself. Later it moved its headquarters back to Baltimore. If Salesforce’s star eventually wanes, well, that’s not necessarily bad for you.

Also: Time heals. People moved on to other fights. The year after I debuted, Sutro Tower was finished. And if you think they hated me, hoo boy! They called him a “sword of Damocles” hanging over the city, can you believe it? And they used the same line of attack: He represented the will of faceless corporations—this time TV stations—intent on ruining San Francisco. And guess what: Now those same angry gadflies have grandkids who proudly get tattoos of Sutro Tower on their bodies!

Here’s the thing. Eventually, people just get used to us. A new generation of San Franciscans grows up, and that strange red metal claw atop Twin Peaks that Herb Caen once predicted would stalk down the hill and mate with the Central Freeway becomes a permanent point of pride. For God’s sake, people are nostalgic for Candlestick Park these days. You had to be a sinking drunk like Millennium Tower to love that place!

My advice: Put that phone down. Stop dialing Willie Brown. He can’t fix this for you—even if he is a bridge. Be patient and ride this out. You’ve got to pay your dues and take your lumps. They won’t call you Marc Benioff’s Member forever. If you want a chance at being liked, you have to throw your lot in with the rest of San Francisco. Rise when we rise. Fall when we fall. Oh, and tell your friend Marc you need a public observation deck. That always helps.

Sincerely, The Transamerica Pyramid


Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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