The top of 140 New Montgomery.

How much can the story of one building tell us about the rich and varied history of San Francisco? We discuss the evolution and past inhabitants of San Francisco’s landmark high-rise, 140 New Montgomery. The early skyscraper, constructed in 1925, once served as headquarters of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company and now houses Yelp and other tech companies. The Art Deco office tower recently underwent a $60 million restoration.

Photos of 140 New Montgomery Street

By Lane Hartwell [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: V31S70/Flickr

Photo by Wally G/Flickr

By Goodshoped35110s (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Alexis Madrigal, senior editor for The Atlantic and author of the article "A 26-story history of San Francisco"
Therese Poletti, journalist, author of "Art Deco San Francisco: The Architecture of Timothy Pflueger" and technology columnist at Marketwatch
Cathy Simon, design principal at Perkins+Will, an architecture and design firm which worked on the 140 New Montgomery project

  • Another Mike

    For interest, Gladding McBean is still in business, and still makes terra cotta decorations for buildings.

    For decades, Gladding McBean also made Franciscan dinnerware as well.

  • Doug Smith

    My comment is not very illuminating, but I feel I’ve always had a personal relationship with this building. In the mid-1940s, my father drove a delivery van in the city, and–with regrettably youthful driving habits– took a corner too fast and clipped a corner, leaving a gash that lasted for many years. I’m glad it got fixed and look forward to seeing this beautiful landmark. Congratulations to all involved on a lasting achievement.–Doug Smith, Berkeley

  • SFNative

    What an incredible discussion, thank you all for this conversation. I was knocked over by Alex Madrigal’s 26 chapters –one for each floor of this building–at The It’s the best piece i’ve read in years about the changes in San Francisco and we have much to be proud of! I love the tone of this chat, it’s pointing out the positive side of change in our city.

  • SFNative

    Can Cathy and Alexis do a walking tour of our City? I’d go!

  • Guest

    During the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, I was on the 20th floor giving a presentation to AT&T executives for a telecom start-up. The building swayed back & forth, and all these men in $4,000 suits jumped under the tables. Then we got up and inked a deal.

  • In reference to other iconic SF buildings, I’ve always been drawn by The Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill as truly representative of San Francisco, and its triumph over the 1906 earthquake. I actually worked at The Fairmont during the early 90s, and there’s a great lobby level hallway lined with a century of historic photographs. The one that’s always stuck out for me was the striking picture of The Fairmont in the days immediately after the 1906 quake. It stands alone on top of Nob Hill, surrounded by huge piles of burnt out rubble, largely unscathed, its enduring architecture both defiant and incredibly elegant.
    Before its sale to a corporate hotel group, The Fairmont was owned by the Swig family, and was very much run as a family business. They were great employers, and highly aware of their civic duty as stewards of this fabulous building, and its place in SF’s urban environment, beginning with their generous decision to immediately open up the just-built hotel to shelter homeless residents. Even though it’s now run by a faceless, generic corporate entity, the building remains the centerpiece of Nob Hill, with powerful and quiet urbanity gazing upon the city at its feet.

    • Another Mike

      Originally, the hotel was known as the Fairmount. I wonder when the “u” disappeared.

  • miguele3

    Next door to 140 N. Montgomery is 115 N. Montgomery which was built prior to the 1906 earthquake, before any building codes and with minimal drawings. After the earthquake a lot of the facade remained in a neighborhood that was devastated. Oddly it was built exactly the same instead of having upgrades. It also has so many non-code compliant issues. Check out the earthquake photo in the lobby before the security desk.

  • Robert Thomas

    I think there’s a great affinity between 140 New Montgomery and and Ralph Walker’s beautiful 1927 terra cotta 140 West (“New York Telephone”; recently saved and restored after suffering severe September 11 2001 damage) in TriBeCa, across from the WTC in lower Manhattan. They are like modern, Communications Pillars of Hercules, bookending the nation.

  • Robert Thomas

    Yelp isn’t a technology company.

    Journalists are funny!

  • johnv

    I worked at 140 for Pacific Bell from 1986 to 1993 and again from 2000 to 2002. One of my fondest memories of that era was going on the roof on the Friday of Fleet Week. The Blue Angels would fly practice maneuvers before the big weekend show. I swear one pilot nodded at me on one particularly low pass. I wasn’t in the building at 5:04 on October 17, 1989, but spent most of the evening there and in to the night, as there was no practical way for BART commuters like me to get home that night. At around midnight, we were evacuated to another Pacific Bell building, 370 Third Street. Engineers were concerned about 140’s safety. Turns out her “L” shape is formed in two parts and each part moved independently during the quake. Damage was superficial. We were able to return to our offices later on October 18.

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