Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - banks (buildings); built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Belluschi, Pietro, FAIA, Architect (firm); Brunnier, H.J. , Associates, Structural Engineers (firm); Dinwiddie Construction, Incorporated (firm); Halprin, Lawrence and Associates, Landscape Architects (firm); Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, (SOM), San Francisco, CA (firm); Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons (WBE), Architects (firm); Edward Charles Bassett (architect); Pietro Belluschi (architect); Theodore C. Bernardi (architect); Henry John Brunnier Sr. (structural engineer); William Starrett Dinwiddie Sr. (building contractor); Donn Emmons (architect); Lawrence Halprin (landscape architect); John Ogden Merrill (architect); Nathaniel Alexander Owings (architect); Louis Skidmore Sr. (architect); William Wilson Wurster (architect)

Dates: constructed 1967-1969

52 stories, total floor area: 1,970,000 sq. ft.

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555 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94104-1501

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Three different architectural firms worked inharmoniously on this skyscraper with a complicated exterior shape and difficult structural requirements. Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons (WBE) was the original project architect, but did not have expertise with skyscraper design, necessitating an association with tower experts, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM). Later in the design process, Pietro Belluschi, a Northwest Regional Modernist architect with long-standing ties to SOM, was brought in to assist the two firms. The general contractor, Dinwiddie Construction, said of the building on its web site: "The striking and sculptural design features thousands of bay windows, speaking to the city’s residential heritage despite its bold proportions. Despite these bay windows, Belluschi did not want 'dark holes' in his building, and designed the structure with dark polished granite so that reflections would be visible from many angles." (See Hathaway Dinwiddie, "Bank of America World Headquarters," accessed 07/05/2015.) The original contractor was Dinwiddie Construction which merged with Hathaway Construction in 1996.

Building History

The Bank of America Office Building building had a very involved and drawn-out design history, having been designed by three different architectural firms, Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons (WBE), Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM), San Francisco, CA, and Pietro Belluschi, FAIA, Architect, between 1960-1969.

Rudolph Arvid Peterson (1904-2003) became Vice-Chairman of Bank of America in 1961 and President/Chairman of the Board two years later. During his six-year tenure, Peterson hoped to lead the bank's transition to computerization and modernization. He had ambitious goals, including the construction of this 52-story landmark. During his last year in office, this building was finally completed and Walter Landor's graphic design firm had just reshaped Bank of America's logo. For the most part, public reaction to the building was not favorable upon opening.

The bank owned the skyscraper until it sold it in 1985 for a then-staggering $660 million to San Francisco real estate magnate, Walter Shorenstein (1915-2010), the largest office building transaction of its time. At this time, the San Francisco Chronicle stated that the Bank of America "... needed the money to shore up its capital because of mounting loan losses." (See Changing hands / Hong Kong investors to buy BofA building," SF Gate, accessed 07/06/2015.) B of A repurchased half of the property in 1992 for $380 million. In 09/2004, the B of A sold its share again to a New York investment group, Pacific Gold Equities, headed by David Werner and Mark Karasick, and Shorenstein, because of tax liabilities, sold his a month later. Werner and Karasick paid $800 million; they, in turn, finalized an agreement in 03/2006 to sell the former B of A Headquarters (and two smaller adjacent properties, 315 Montgomery and 345 Montgomery) to Hudson Waterfront Properties, led by Hong Kong real estate owners, Henry Cheng and Vincent Lo, for $1.05 billion. Hudson quickly rebranded the property "555 California Street."

By 03/2007, new ownership consisting of majority partners, the Vornado Realty Trust (owning 70%), owners of real estate mostly in New York City and Washington, DC, and miniority owners, the New York-based Trump Organization (30%), paid $575 per square foot for 555 California Street. At this time, the building had a 94% occupancy rate, counting Bank of America, UBS and Goldman Sachs as its main leasees. Throughout all these transactions, the Shorenstein Realty Services, L.P., has remained the building's property manager.

Building Notes

At 237 m (779 feet) and 52 stories, the B of A Building, 555 California Street in San Francisco, remained the tallest building west of the Mississippi River between 1969-1972, when it was surpassed by William Pereira's Transamerica Pyramid in 1972. The building also had four below-grade levels.

Designed for biggest bank in the US in 1969, the B of A building had unusual structural requirements due to the sawtooth shape of its external wall envelope, and had to be very strong to support heavy loads of files and documents. The architects used this sawtooth form to create bay windows, enhancing interior views for building users and making a subtle reference to the city's preference for this window detail. This need for floor strength was complicated by the B of A's requirement that interior space be devoid of columns that could disrupt reconfigurable, open office plans, then coming into vogue. On top of all of this, San Francisco had strict seismic engineering standards that needed to be met. A publication of the American Iron and Steel Institute described the engineering issues in this way: "Design requirements for the Bank of America World Headquarters Building--San Francisco's tallest--were extremely stringent. The architects required strict dimensional tolerances to accommodate perimeter wall details and severe drift limitations to prevent damage to perimeter wall joints and attachements. They also specified column-free office areas as well as floors capable of supporting live weight of 100 pounds per square foot, thereby permitting unrestricted placement of files and office equipment." These multiple structural requirements were unusual and challenging.

H. J. Brunnier (1882-1971), one of San Francisco's most well-known structural engineering firms, created the following solution: "The structural engineers selected a welded-moment resisting rigid steel frame that met all of these requirements at a weight of just 28 punds per square foot of framed area. Welded box columns and three-foot deep girders were used, with the girders welded directly to the columns for maximum strength and simplicity of detail." (See American Iron and Steel Institute, Contemporary Structures, [Washington, DC: American Iron and Steel Institute, c. 1973], n.p.) The complexity of the solution added to cost over-runs and delayed completion dates.

The Bank of American tower's interior was organized on a 5-foot square module. Ceiling heights stood at 8-feet, 10-inches tall. Gross square floor area per floor was 26,000 square feet. The exterior had bays measuring 20 feet by 20 feet, was polished carnelian red granite with bronze glass windows. The tower had 32 passenger elevators, operating in four zones, two service elevators, 2 tower shuttles and 2 garage shuttles.

Its foundations were of the concrete caisson type. The framing was moment-resistant welded steel, and the flooring system was also a structural steel beam and girder with metal deck and concrete slab. A hot water system provided heating through steam to water heat exchangers. Central air-conditioning was provide by electric-drive open-type centrifugal chillers. Perimeter air circulation was achieved through high-pressure induction units. and interior cooling was done via a medium-pressure reheat system with air light troffers for most floors. The building had an emergency diesel engine generator originally.


In 05/2014, the Vornado Realty Trust announced that it would make targeted renovations in 555 California Street to lure occupants to the building, following the Bank of America's downsizing of office rental space from 600,000 to 260,000 square feet.

PCAD id: 964