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Folsom Bay Tower, in pictures

Started: 2019-10-26 16:14:31

Submitted: 2019-10-26 18:22:57

Visibility: World-readable

Watching the Folsom Bay Tower climb above SoMa

When I started working at the Google office in San Francisco three years ago, there was a parking lot across the corner of Spear and Folsom that owed its existence to the long-demolished Embarcadero Freeway.

181 Fremont and Salesforce Tower under construction above a Soma parking lot
181 Fremont and Salesforce Tower under construction above a Soma parking lot

In the picture above you can see the parking lot, plus an Audi billboard on the left. This billboard sat on the side of a one-story building on the lot. This building's footprint left room for the elevated, double-decker Embarcadero Freeway, here on its way from the Bay Bridge (behind me and to the left) to the Embarcadero waterfront on the right. The freeway was intended to girdle San Francisco's waterfront but was never completed; it was damaged in the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 and was demolished afterwards, leaving behind evidence of its footprint if one knew where to look in the buildings that grew up around the freeway and still remained.

(The picture above also shows two skyscrapers under construction: the office-and-condo tower 181 Fremont, several stories above Salesforce Tower (now the tallest building in San Francisco) -- and the now-infamous Millennium Tower, the leaning condo tower.)

Every day at lunch a taco truck appeared in the parking lot, and on Fridays my team would go visit the taco truck for lunch, then sit outside in the sun (or the fog) on the Embarcadero at Rincon Park and eat our lunch. (Our theory was that the free food in the cafe was overrun by people on Friday, so we made a tradition of eating outside the office.) In the fall of 2016 one of the candidates in the presidential election threatened that, if the election didn't go his way, there would be a "taco truck on every corner" -- which I took as a promise, one more reason to vote for his opponent, because I love taco trucks and I'd be thrilled to have one on every corner, especially if it meant I didn't have to cross the street to reach the nearest taco truck.

Alas the election did not go the way I hoped it would, forestalling the promised Golden Age of Taco Trucks. And when the taco truck put up a sign announcing that it would be moving I took it as one more sign of the dark age falling across the nation, forcing me to go much further to find the nearest foil-wrapped Mission-style super burrito for lunch.

The real reason for the taco truck's closure, though, was more prosaic: the lot was to be developed into a brand new skyscraper, the Folsom Bay Tower, filling the lot and erasing one more piece of evidence of the late and entirely unlamented Embarcadero Freeway.

Construction underway at Folsom and Spear
Construction underway at Folsom and Spear

A fence went up around the lot in January 2017, followed quickly by the demolition of the old building. My normal route to work took me down Spear Street for three blocks, when I arrived at my BART station before my train arrived and had time to position myself down the platform to shorten my walk once my train arrived at Embarcadero Station; but sometimes the train arrived at the station at the same time I did and I hurried to board the nearest door.

Demolition underway at Folsom and Spear
Demolition underway at Folsom and Spear

This meant I ended up two blocks down Market Street so I took an alternate walk to my office, heading down Beale Street (past PG&E headquarters), past the end of the under-construction transit center, around the corner of the construction site of the Park Tower at Transbay, past the temporary transbay bus terminal; this took me past the construction site at a different angle, giving me a different view of the demolition, excavation, and construction work.

Excavating the foundation of the Folsom Bay Tower
Excavating the foundation of the Folsom Bay Tower

As the excavation proceeded I could peer down into the new pit from my office across the corner. I spotted in the pit what looked like a series of steel pilings along one side, which went down several stories below ground. I took these pilings to be the physical remains of the Embarcadero Freeway: the pilings once supported the freeway, and when the freeway was removed the pilings were cut off at ground level and paved over, but the pilings remained under the ground, buried and forgotten until now.

Excavating the foundation of the Folsom Bay Tower
Excavating the foundation of the Folsom Bay Tower

One morning I walked past the construction site to see the remains of the pilings being loaded onto a truck to be carried away, presumably to be recycled as scrap.

Excavating steel pilings
Excavating steel pilings

At length the foundation was excavated, and I could see new piles being driven into the ground to support the new building. (Sometimes my meetings took me into conference rooms on the corner overlooking the building site, giving me the opportunity to look down into the pit to observe the preparations being made below the ground level, preparations that were almost entirely invisible from the sidewalks surrounding the block.)

Foundation excavated for the Folsom Bay Tower
Foundation excavated for the Folsom Bay Tower

From above I could see, clearly, the distinction between the walls built to protect the excavation and the walls built that were actually part of the building. (I imagined that the walls built during the excavation might not be structurally necessary for the building itself -- but that there was no way that the building could actually be built without the excavation.)

Concrete pump pours core of the Folsom Bay Tower
Concrete pump pours core of the Folsom Bay Tower

Finally the core of the building began to be visible above ground level. I studied the structure I could see, trying to tell how it was being built: much of the structure was designed to frame the reinforced concrete core, then jack up the frame to the next level, climbing several stories above the rest of the building.

Core of Folsom Bay Tower climbs above ground
Core of Folsom Bay Tower climbs above ground

After a couple of weeks the building's floors followed the core, being built on their own series of forms. (In the picture below you can see not only the construction work, but also the completed towers of 181 Fremont (blocky and angular, with the large diagonal truss strengthening the building visible on the surface as a design feature) and Salesforce Tower (curved and graceful and defined by its exposed ribs).

Core of the Folsom Bay Tower climbs above street level
Core of the Folsom Bay Tower climbs above street level

By the time I left San Francisco to move to Seattle in July 2018, the irregular footprint of each floor was becoming visible. The tower's design looked like someone took a tower of Jenga blocks and twisted it, so that each block stuck out at an angle from its neighbors.

Folsom Bay Tower climbs above street level
Folsom Bay Tower climbs above street level

When I returned to visit in October, the building had climbed more than a dozen stories, making the irregular footprint somewhat more obvious.

Folsom Bay Tower climbs above SoMa in San Francisco
Folsom Bay Tower climbs above SoMa in San Francisco

By May, the tower had topped out and most of its windows and balconies had been installed.

Folsom Bay Tower, topped out with most of its windows installed
Folsom Bay Tower, topped out with most of its windows installed

By October 2019 the windows reached the top, except for a scar along the nearest edge is where the construction elevator ran before being disassembled.

Folsom Bay Tower, nearly complete
Folsom Bay Tower, nearly complete

From the corner of Spear and Folsom, where the taco truck once stood, the nearly-complete tower climbs to its full height, awaiting its final finishings for its hundreds of condo units.

Folsom Bay Tower
Folsom Bay Tower
I distrust few things more deeply than acts of literary explication.
- William Gibson, foreword to _Dhalgren_