Tower Power: San Francisco In 1934


THIS AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH was taken by Charles Hiller as a way of documenting construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. At that point, in November of 1934, the bridge was two years into its four-and-a-half years of construction, with the north (Marin) tower standing tall in the distant middle of the photo.

However, the foreground of Hiller’s image is mostly dominated by buildings, tall buildings — skyscrapers, as they were called at the time. When the photo was taken, San Francisco’s tallest structure was the Russ Building on Montgomery Street, which was topped off at 436 feet (unfortunately, it’s indistinguishable in the photo). And it remained the “tallest in town” through the Great Depression and World War II until 1964, when a high rise at 650 California Street ascended 466 feet into the atmosphere.

Since then, 36 more towers have been built in San Francisco that exceed the height of any structure in Hiller’s rather crowded 1934 photo. Any structure, that is, except the Golden Gate Bridge’s north tower, which rose 750 feet into the blue.

At present, the city’s undisputed highest structure is the soon-to-be-completed 1,070-foot-tall Salesforce Tower.


This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Tower Power”.