450 Sutter named to National Register of Historic Places

Miller & Pflueger’s innovative skyscraper 450 Sutter was named to the National Register of Historic Places, as of last month. The stunning Mayan themed 26-story high rise building,  completed in 1929, was described in the application as a “masterwork” of noted San Francisco architect, Timothy Pflueger.

The listing is on the National Parks Service Web site here.

Congrats to Harsch Investment Properties, the owners of the 450 Sutter Medical/Dental building. The company just completed a major restoration project, and the scaffolding that had been in front of the building for over two years has now come down.

450 Sutter Spotted in Coit Tower Murals

I recently went on the Coit Tower murals tour with San Francisco City Guides, where the tour has access to the second floor closed to the public. On the wall of the staircase leading to the second floor of the tower is a massive fresco mural depicting a walk up Powell Street. One sees a very large and familiar building.

450 Sutter in a mural at Coit Tower by artist Lucien Labaudt

Labaudt, who was also known as a dressmaker, was born in Paris and moved to San Francisco right after the 1906 earthquake. He had a dressmaking shop and was an artist in his spare time.  He eventually became known for his painting and theatre set designs and was chosen to join the 26 artists sponsored by the Works Progress Administration to paint the Coit Tower murals. The tower, designed by architect Arthur Brown, Jr., was completed in 1933.

Ralph Stackpole, who sculpted the large figures outside the San Francisco Stock Exchange for Pflueger, also worked on the Coit Tower murals.

Labaudt is probably best known in San Francisco for his murals at the Beach Chalet on the Great Highway. But he was also one of the artists hired by Pflueger to work on murals at George Washington High School. Along with the murals that adorn the staircase in the main entry hall by Victor Arnautoff, telling the story of George Washington, Labaudt painted another fresco mural in the upstairs library. You can read more about him in this oral history with his second wife, Marcelle Labaudt, in the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution.

Lucien Labaudt


At 80 years old, 450 Sutter looks fabulous

Last week, I went to the dentist at 450 Sutter, Miller & Pflueger’s ode to the Maya.  While I was there, the pleasant security guards (among the nicest in San Francisco) were changing the notices in the elevator, where management updates tenants about the building’s ongoing restoration project.  The guard let me keep last week’s notice.

In its place was a reminder that the gorgeous skyscraper had just turned 80 (silly me I totally forgot, even though the building’s opening date, October 15, 1929,  is in my book about Pflueger, Art Deco San Francisco).

450 Sutter celebrates 80 years!
450 Sutter celebrates 80 years

At 80 years old, 450 Sutter is looking pretty fabulous. While the old girl was gifted with a gorgeous bone structure, her appearance was enhanced by a major facelift. Over the past 2-1/2 years, Harsch Investment Properties, the owners, managed a huge project that involved replacing every window in the building and a serious cleaning and repairing of the terra cotta surface.

“As part of our final inspection process, we hired a special consultant to provide the ‘ultimate leak test,'” wrote general manager Stan Mackewicz, in a recent note to tenants. “The consultant (Mother Nature) successfully scheduled the test this last Tuesday, which amounted to one of the most powerful rain storms in the Bay Area in the past 50 years.”

Mackewicz, a vice president at Harsch, was happy to report that 2860 out of the 2862 new windows installed at 450 Sutter passed the test. Only two windows had some very minor water leaks, resulting in a little puddle on the window sills.

The windows of 450 Sutter are an important element in its novel design and structure. In 1929, it was not commonplace for a skyscraper to have windows wrapping around the corners of the building, as they do here. This was only possible with the use of the steel frame, which enabled builders and architects to do away with heavy masonry walls and support columns. It’s almost as if Pflueger & Co. were saying, “Look Ma, no hands!”

The last remaining temporary scaffolding will stay up at 450 Sutter while the final terra cotta work is done at the front of the building. Chad Miller, office manager at 450, said the scaffolding and swing equipment for the window work  should come down by mid-November, but that could change, based on weather conditions, etc.

Kudos to Harsch for its caring stewardship of this icon. What a grand way to celebrate 450 Sutter at 80. You go girl!

250 Sutter organic ornament and cornice
250 Sutter organic ornament and cornice

Random observations

Just two blocks down the street from 450 Sutter, one can quickly compare how modern that skyscraper was for its time. While giving the San Francisco City Guides Downtown Deco tour last weekend, someone in my group pointed out the stunning floral ornament at the cornice of this lovely retail building at 250 Sutter.

This small six-story building was built in 1909 and designed by the local architectural firm of Meyers and Ward.  It was originally called the Goldberg Bowen building, for the delicatessen at the ground level.  The building’s cornice and organic, Art Nouveau-like ornament, are of terra cotta as well, and are an interesting contrast with the neo-Gothic ribbing and arches.

Come on a Downtown Deco tour!

San Francisco City Guides Downtown Deco Tour on October 18 will explore many skyscrapers in San Francisco’s Financial District, including four buildings by architect Tim Pflueger. 
Telephone Building Lobby, (c) Tom Paiva Photography
Telephone Building Lobby, (c) Tom Paiva Photography

Meet at the Telephone Building, 140 New Montgomery, between Mission and Howard streets, at 11:00 am, Sunday, October 18. The tour is over mostly flat terrain and lasts about 90 minutes. We end up at 450 Sutter, Miller & Pflueger’s glorious ode to the Maya.

Speaking of the Maya 

Check out this recent research by some archeologists funded by NASA. They concluded that the demise of the Maya, which peaked as a civilization around 900 A.D., was in part the result of rampant deforestation and overfarming of their landscape.

The researchers used supercomputers and atmospheric modeling software. Computer simulations reconstructed how the deforestation could have played a role worsening a drought that occurred about the time the Maya society began to disappear.

Meet me at Timothy Pflueger Place

San Francisco now has a city street named after one of its finest native architects. In December, 2008, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution proposing to change the name of Chelsea Place, an alley off Bush Street that leads directly into the 450 Sutter garage, to Timothy Pflueger Place. The skyscraper 450 Sutter, a major medical/dental building downtown, was designed by Miller & Pflueger and completed in October, 1929, just weeks before the stock market crash of 1929.

Photo by Alicia Pflueger
Photo by Alicia Pflueger

On March 18, 2009 Pflueger family members, friends, fans and a few in the media, gathered to christen the alley. Former president of the board of supervisors, Aaron Peskin, gave some impromptu remarks, rather than reading the lengthy proclamation that declared March 18, 2009 Timothy Pflueger Day in the City of San Francisco. Champagne and sparkling apple cider flowed.  You can read more in the San Francisco Examiner.

It was an occasion not to be missed! There was even a contingent from the Art Deco Society of California, including founder Michael Crowe, and a few other volunteers of San Francisco City Guides, including some guides from our Downtown Deco tour.

The newly-named block is off the south side of Bush Street, in between Stockton and Powell. Pflueger Place is also in fine company. Just across the street is Dashiell Hammett Street, where the master of the hard-boiled detective lived for a brief spell during his San Francisco years.  And a few doors down is Burritt Street, where Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer was gunned down by Brigid O’Shaughnessy in Hammett’s best-known work, The Maltese Falcon.