AKA: Spreckels, Claus, Building, 703 Market Street, South of Market, San Francisco, CA; Central Tower, South of Market, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Reid Brothers, Architects (firm); Roller, Albert F., Architect (firm); James William Reid (architect); Merritt Jonathan Reid (architect); Albert F. Roller (architect); Charles Louis Strobel (civil engineer)

Dates: constructed 1898

20 stories

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703 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

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Claus Spreckels sought to outdo his enemy Michael de Young, owner of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, by buying a rival newspaper, the San Francisco Call,in 1895. Three years later, Spreckels made a sensation when he erected a building for it, nearly twice the size of that housing the Chronicle. The new building was the tallest west of the Mississippi River when built, adorned with a crown-like spire visible throughout the city. Spreckels's skyscraper withstood the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 04/18/1906, but required extensive repairs. In 1938, its appearance was radically changed and modernized by the San Francisco architect, Albert F. Roller.

Building History

The sugar king, Claus Spreckels (1828-1908), purchased the San Francisco Call Newspaper in 1895, in part because he wanted to compete against his arch-enemy, Michael de Young (1849-1925), owner of the San Francisco Chronicle. Spreckels directed the Reid Brothers to design an ornate, lofty tower nearly double in height--20 stories-- to the 10-story Chronicle Building.

Concerned with seismic safety, Spreckels requested the assistance of the noted Chicago structural engineer, Charles Louis Strobel (1852-1936) who greatly reinforced the building's steel framing.

In 1899, the building at the southwest corner of Market Street and 3rd Street was known both as the "Claus Spreckels Building" and the "Call Building." (See Crocker-Langley San Francisco City Directory, 1899, p. 1618.) After the 1906 earthquake,the tower was renamed the "Claus Spreckels Building." The San Francisco Call maintained its offices in the Claus Spreckels Building until 1914, when the newspaper moved its offices to a new Call Building at 74 New Montgomery Street.

In 2010, the real estate holding company, RKI 703 Investors LLC, owned the "Central Tower." The Central Tower had not been on the real estate market from the late 1940s until 2013.

The San Francisco Business Times said in its issue of 08/29/2013 of the Central Tower: "The property consists of two buildings, the 21-story, 93,000-square-foot tower at 703 Market St. and a five story, 45,000-square-foot connected annex building around the corner at 26 Third St. The buildings are 87 percent leased to 100 tenants, mostly small professional service companies. Historical details still can be found on nearly every floor: the double-hung windows, old water closets, radiators, brass engraved doorknobs. The building has 14-foot ceilings, and behind the plaster is red brick. There is a basement with high ceilings, mosaic tiles, and ornate columns that suggest it was probably a speakeasy or bar at one point." (See San Francisco Business Times, "Historic 703 Market St. tower could fetch $50 million," accessed 08/04/2016.)

According to city documents, the property changed hands between two companies, from 703 Investors LLC to 703 Market Street SF Owner LLC, on 12/10/2013 for $34,566,682.00. On 04/28/2014, the New York Office of Deutsche Bank obtained the deed to 703 Market Street from 703 Market Street SF Owner LLC.

Building Notes

The Reid Brothers designed this office tower for the San Francisco Call newspaper (which became the San Francisco Call-Bulletin); it was later occupied by the Crocker Bank. The ornate spire of the Call Building was viewed as a monstrosity by European modernists (Le Corbusier, for example) in the 1920s. The Reid Brothers maintained their office in this spire from 1898-1906.

The Swiss architect Le Corbusier published a photograph of the Call Building's spire in his 1924 book Vers Une Architecture with the caption: "Écoutons les conseils des ingenieurs américains. Mais craignons les architectes americains, Preuve:" (English translation: "Let us listen to the advice of American engineers. But let us beware of American architects. For proof: [he included an arrow pointing at the Call Building photo.]" See Le Corbusier, Vers une Architecture, [Paris: Les Editions G. Cres et Cie, 1924], p. 29.) Le Corbusier greatly admired engineers distilled, functional designs for cars, biplanes and ocean liners and "artless" factories and grain elevators but he greatly disliked the Call Building's ornate top, what he saw as extraneous, garish and distracting from the beauty of pure form. It is also interesting that Le Corbusier used a picture of the Call Building shot just after the 1906 Earthquake in which its windows were missing and its walls charred by fire. Use of a photo showing the Call Building fresh after a massive fire, depicted the building with forbidding deep shadows and dirty, imprecise fenetration patterns. For Le Corbusier, Its delapidated state underscored its lack of fitness to contemporary building needs.

In 1911, The San Francisco Call maintained branch offices in Oakland (at 952 Broadway), Alameda (1435 Park Street) and Berkeley (southwest corner of Center and Oxford Streets) and had nine subscription and advertising offices in various San Francisco busineesses. (See "Branch Offices of the Call," San Francisco Call, vol. 109, no. 158, 05/07/1911, p. 52.)


Significant alterations occurred after the 04/18/1906 Earthquake; the Call Building's interior was gutted, but because of its rigid steel frame, it was one of the few buildings on Market Street to remain standing.

The architect Albert Roller bought and radically modified the Spreckels Building in 1938. In 2016, the Central Tower contained 280 rooms, and 21 bathrooms on 21 floors.

Seventy-seven permits for alterations to the interior of the Central Tower were filed with the City and County of San Francisco between 5/7/2001 and 5/25/2016, one of which was cancelled in 2014. There were 2 alterations started in 2001, 5 in 2003, 1 in 2005, 2 in 2006, 3 in 2007, 3 in 2008, 2 in 2010, 4 in 2011, 4 in 2014, 29 in 2015 and 20 in 2016.

The main alteration projects from 2001-2007 included: installation of non-load-bearing partition walls on the 21st floor begun on 07/01/2003, costing $175,000; $108,000 worth of remodeling work begun on 12/05/2006 to floor 18; $85,000 of interior finish work and the installation of a new guard station and minor electrical work begun on 03/13/2007.

Alterations became intensive in 2015 and 2016. Ten projects were started in 2015 costing over $100,000, including projects that added new accessible restrooms, walls, glazing, doors and finishes to floors 7, 11, 12, 13, 17 and 21, most of which cost approximately $250,000. One large remodeling effort--costing $500,000 and begun on 11/23/2015--replaced non-structural decorative finishes and exterior stone trim in and near the lobby, and included the installation of a new guard desk. In 2016, new accessible restrooms and elevator enclosures were added to floors 2, 3 and 4; non-load-bearing partitions and ceilings were altered and walls, glazing, doors and finishes changed on floors 4, 5, 6 and 14. (See San Francisco Assessor, Property Information Map, Building Permits, accessed 07/19/2016.)

PCAD id: 995