The new rooftop sculpture garden at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has a treat in store for Timothy Pflueger fans. It offers a great view of the rear elevation of the Telephone Building, completed in 1925.
That year was important both in the design world and as a defining moment of the Jazz Age: it was the year F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was published, and the year the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes took place in Paris, an instrumental exhibition for the then-emerging Style Moderne now known as Art Deco, which had a wide-ranging influence around the world.
In San Francisco, it was a boom time, an era of growth and spending. The Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co. needed a new headquarters to house its growing administrative staff, a modern skyscraper befitting an innovator.
The vertical emphasis and the gradual setbacks in the towers deployed by the architects had recently been seen in the second prize winner in the Chicago Tribune Tower contest, a design by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen that was the real winner among most architectural critics.
From the SFMOMA rooftop, you can also see some of the exotic ornament on the building. Also look at the F-shaped pattern in the building plan, where the northern wing is the largest. Pflueger & Co. had originally designed 140 New Montgomery so that Pacific Telephone & Telegraph could expand its headquarters into an E-shaped plan in later years, but that never happened.
The back of the skyscraper also has some walls surfaced with just brick, and the terra cotta surface is clearly showing its age in some sections. The new owners, Wilson Meany Sullivan plan to restore the building as part of a big seismic retrofit and condo conversion project. You can read about their project plans here at Preservation‘s online edition.
The SFMOMA rooftop garden is worth a visit. It’s also a fitting link to Pflueger who was one of the museum’s first board members, when it was the San Francisco Museum of Art and located in the War Memorial Veterans Building.