top of page

37°47'19.6”N, 22°24'05.3"W

She tells me that, in 1875, Mark Hopkins, Jr., one of the “big four” financeers of the Central Pacific Railroad, commenced construction on his Nob Hill mansion under his wife’s direction. Completed in 1878 after his death (ironically on a train), its turret was briefly the highest point in San Francisco. The mansion -- constructed of wood painted to look like stone —was destroyed by the fires resulting from the 1906 earthquake.

This process shot for "The Towering Inferno" (1974, directed by John Guillerman, with action sequences directed by Irwin Allen) shows a fictitious highest point in San Francisco, located at Market and Montgomery. Like Hopkins’ mansion, it will burn. Forty-four years before the Salesforce Tower, film audiences and reviewers were skeptical that any sane developer would choose an active fault zone to build a skyscraper of this scope.

Comparisons to 9/11 aside, this film, perhaps more than any other, represents the screw-the-odds sisyphean nature of California speculation. Beginning with the opening shots, a coastline-traveling helicopter that signals -- like the completion of the railroad -- the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny, the film introduces a mother lode of California symbolism.

From William Holden’s portrayal of the Hopkins-like self-made wealthy developer (whose daughter, played by Susan Blakely lives in a Hopkins-like Pacific Heights mansion), to the skyscraper’s dependence on federal funds for completion, to the fire-safety-be-damned disregard for 1906, to the ruling-class’s dependence on the self-sacrificing organized working-class firemen, to the massive downward release of water, stored overhead, as the ultimate self-contained solution to the problems below, to Holden's Mulholland-like comeuppance for unthinkable hubris (see the St. Francis Dam collapse), it’s all there.

Olivia tells me she was approached to play the role of the doomed "Lisolette Mueller," but turned it down. The part went to Jennifer Jones.

Adjacent to the Salesforce Building lies a new transit hub, which includes capacity for underground expansion of speculative high-speed railroad service.

bottom of page