AKA: American Telephone and Telegraph Company (A, T and T), Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, Headquarters Building, San Francisco, CA; A, T & T, Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company, Coast Division Building, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings; built works - infrastructure

Designers: Cahill, B.J.S., Architect (firm); Cantin, A.A., and Miller and Pflueger, Associated Architects (firm); Bernard Joseph Stanislaus Cahill (architect); Alexander Aimwell Cantin (architect); James Rupert Miller (architect); Timothy Ludwig Pflueger (architect)

Dates: constructed 1923-1925

26 stories

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140 New Montgomery Street
South of Market, San Francisco, CA 94105-3713

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When completed in 1925, the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Coast Division Headquarters was San Francisco's tallest highrise (and the tallest west of Chicago), 26-floors high, and notable for its simplified lines, free from revivalistic ornamentation. It became the city's first skyscraper occupied by a single business enterprise. Stylistically, the building was an early, transitional step away from ornamental revivalism in skyscraper design (à la the Woolworth Building in New York of 1913) and toward a reliance on simpler forms and rectilinear massing to compose a more distillled, geometricized aesthetic (more in the vein of Rockefeller Center in New York of 1939).

Building History

This 26-story high-rise replaced a concrete and brick, four-story office building at 140 Montgomery Street. Begun in 01/1924, the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, San Francisco, CA, was completed on 05/30/1925. The San Francisco architectural firm, Miller and Pflueger, worked with the architect of record, Alexander A. Cantin (1874-1964), as associated architects on the building. This new skyscraper accommodated 2,000 employees, who formerly had been located in eight separate locations. Many of the employees were women, who had their own eating facility in the building.

Stylistically, the building's elevation still recalled Gothic or Romanesque Revival skyscrapers elsewhere in the US. This conservatism is clearly seen at the first floor level, especially around the round-arched entryway. (This arched entryway echoed the first floor elevation of Eliel Saarien's 1922 unbuilt but highly infliuential Chicago Tribune Tower entry of 1922.) Shafts demarcating bays terminated in bases reflective of Romanesque/Gothic prototypes, and the ogee arches of doorways of the entry suggest earlier precedents.

An effort was notable, however, to exclude familiar Romanesque or Gothic ornamental vocabularies from the building's exterior. The lobby windows corresponded with contemporary movie palace architecture's recurrent use of abstracted volute forms. (Both Cantin and Miller and Pflueger would design many movie theatres during the 1920s and 1930s.) The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company's Coast Division Building was an early, transitional step between revivalism and styles aimed at expressing a more modern ethos, most notably Art Deco.

The building's stepped massing, in general, reflected the architects' digestion of Saarinen's Chicago Tribune Tower entry. Additionally, the San Francisco building employed the same use of parapet pinnacles at the tops of each stepped mass, ornamental devices that strongly highlighted the building's vertical thrust. The use of this stepped massing clearly signalled the designers' interest in following current trends toward modernism rather than traditionalism.

The central tower had a round spire that theoretically terminated the vertical compostion. Unlike Gothic skyscraper precedents, however, it did not predominate and seemed something of an afterthought. From many street perspectives, particularly close to the building, the de-emphasized central spire was blocked by the bold, stepped massing of the rectangular side wings on the northwest and southeast and the building's main facade lining New Montogmery Street.

Building Notes

According to the San Francisco News Letter, a contemporary regional magazine, the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph's new Coast Division Headquarters, "...graphically indicates the trend of business architecture from the ornate and rococo styles of former years to designs in which simplicity is tempered with a rugged beauty essentially western in character." The skyscraper's "rugged beauty essentially western in character" was a soaring symbol of San Francisco's cultural maturity and financial progress for this writer, who viewed it as a "...monument to western progress and foresight." (See Richard C. Smith, Museum of the City of San Francisco.org, "The News Letter and The Telephone," first printed in the San Francisco News Letter, Diamond Jubilee Edition, 09/1925, accessed04/09/2012.)

The Historic American Buildings Survey, operated by the National Park Service, examined the Pacific Telephone Building in the early 2010s. It was HABS No. CA-2870.


An advertisement in Progressive Architecture in 07/1957 showed how the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Building had been treated with Dehydratine #22 made by A.C. Horn Company, Incorporated. J.D. Tucker and Sons, served as the waterproofing contractors for the building. (See "Low-cost way to preserve masonry beauty--and life!," General Electric advertisement for silicone coatings, Progressive Architecture, vol. 38, no. 7, 07/1957, p. 243.)

The building underwent a renovation in 1990.

PCAD id: 3591