Take a look back at old downtown San Francisco in the ’70s

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Vintage San Francisco postcards from the 1970s (4)

San Francisco has turned into a skyscraper city: City of yesterday lost in the crush

By Earl Caldwell, Beckley Post-Herald (Beckley, West Virginia) July 8, 1973

SAN FRANCISCO: It is not the same here. The city has changed. On warm afternoons now, a thin line of ugly smog almost always hangs over the bay. Downtown, jackhammers chop the last holes for a subway system soon to come. And up in North Beach where topless entertainment was first introduced to the nation, a serious move is underway to put an end to the shows where entertainers now work in the nude.

Vintage postcard of the San Francisco Bay Bridge

The smog has brought concern. Uncertainty surrounds the subway. And as for the nude shows, there are different opinions. But of all the change that has come, what worries San Franciscans most nowadays is the sudden realization that this has become a high-rise city.

Many huge new buildings have risen here, shaping a skyline that local columnist Herb Caen recently said was “almost indistinguishable from Pittsburgh’s, Houston’s or Atlanta’s.”

Caen, who has written his column from San Francisco since 1936, mentions that Atlanta refers to itself proudly as the San Francisco of tomorrow. But he adds that it may already be the San Francisco of today if tall buildings are the yardstick.

Vintage postcard of downtown San Francisco in the 1970s

“It’s the San Francisco of yesterday that has been last in the crush,” he wrote. “Something charming, perishable and, it turns out, unique is being trampled to death by those to whom less is more and ugly is beautiful.”

San Francisco in the ’70s: The Transamerica Pyramid

From the rim of the financial district downtown, the pyramid building built by Transamerica Corp. has emerged as the symbol of high-rise San Francisco. It is a giant building, the tallest in the city, and unlike any other.

Although it has but 48 floors of usable office space, a 212-foot spire perched atop the pyramid enables it to stretch above even the 42-story building that the Bank of America constructed as its world headquarters.

Vintage San Francisco postcard of the Transamerica Pyramid building

Just as the pyramid has become the city’s tallest building, rising 853 feet, it has also become the most controversial. Even while it was being constructed there were suggestions that it be torn down.

Now that it has been completed, the controversy has grown. Its location has been criticized. The spire that sits atop the building has been called an ego trip. Some have even called the pyramid a “Los Angeles-type building,” a stinging criticism here.

But oddly, even those who dislike the building the most concede that at night as it sits there alongside its formidable neighbors, together they make a breathtaking sight. Others argue that night lights mean little. As proof, they point to New York. “From a distance, Manhattan looks good at night, too,” they say.

Vintage San Francisco postcards from the 1970s (13)

The move towards high-rise building began there near the end of the ’50s. Then, through the ’60s San Francisco experienced its biggest development boom since the earthquake in 1906.

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In the last decade alone, some 40 new skyscrapers were built, finally leading to a rebellion in 1971 when voters went to the polls and attempted to force a seven-story height limit on builders. That initiative was defeated, but it did result in height limits being established in most neighborhoods.

Downtown, however, skyscrapers continue to rise. Just last month, plans were proposed to rebuild the city’s transit terminal, replacing the existing facility with a complex of three high-rise buildings. And while it is not entirely high-rise, there are also plans underway to develop a huge $385 million convention center complex south of Market Street, just off the downtown district.

San Francisco postcard from the 1970s 1980sBut the fear of high-rise living that is growing here threatens both of those projects and perhaps many others. Two years ago, the highs rise issue was taken to the ballot by a citizens groups put together largely by Alvin Duskin, the former dress manufacturer and urban conservationist.

Now, Duskin is heading an-other group that is preparing an initiative to put the convention center on the ballot this November. If it passes, it would forbid the city from spending any money on the project.

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Duskin said that a prime reason San Francisco has a chance to avoid total high-rise development is because “here people are still in the city, trying to slug it out. That makes a difference.”

Vintage Golden Gate Bridge postcard - San Francisco

In a recent edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, an article appeared that shocked many citizens. It was entitled “The End of the California Dream.” It told of the disenchantment with Los Angeles and how residents are now leaving that city at the rate of 300 a day.

But the piece ended with lengthy interviews of San Franciscans who dislike the changing city and plan to move elsewhere. In each, case, the moving couples cited the growth in high-rise building as a prime consideration in their decisions to leave.


More vintage postcards from San Francisco in the ’70s

Vintage San Francisco Chinatown postcards from the 1970s.jpg (1)

Scene of San Francisco and BART

Vintage San Francisco postcards from the 1970s (7)

Vintage San Francisco postcards from the 1970s (8)

Vintage San Francisco postcards from the 1970s (10)

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Video: The real streets of San Francisco in the ’70s (circa 1974)


A 1970s drive through the gritty San Francisco streets (Fillmore, SOMA)


Vintage San Francisco in the ’70s: As seen in 1976

Trane Air Conditioning – What TRACE will do for energy cost savings downtown… The Trane comfort corps brings home to you. TRACE (our acronym for Trane Air Conditioning Economics) is a unique computerized analysis program…

Shown: An aerial view of downtown San Francisco

Downtown San Francisco in the seventies (1976)

Downtown San Francisco in the seventies (1977)


San Francisco street scenes from the seventies (video)


We left our hearts in San Francisco! …and a case of Canadian Club. (1980)

San Francisco! What better place to hide a case of golden Canadian Club than the city where millions came to seek gold in the Gold Rush of 1849?

So, we boarded a cable car on our way to hide a case of the world’s finest-tasting whisky in America’s most beautiful city. Do you know San Francisco well enough to find the CC?

A BART ride, a street with a past. Start at BART’s last city stop, and take a 30-cent ride. Change to another mode of transit, and ride until you can transfer again. Do so. and head for the farthest terminus, but debark at the first right-angle. Stroll a nearby street till it suggests a profession. Then head back toward your latter mode of transportation one block closer to your former. Where idlers gather, note who stays longest.

Find a way out of town but stay in. Now head straight to some rails and follow them as far as necessary to meet a way named for an important Gold Rush figure. Let it lead you to a way out of the city, but don’t leave. (If you’ve made it this far, don’t think things are looking up.) Now return to the last route you were directed to. Somewhere along it we hid our Canadian Club. Things you’ve seen should tell you where.

Tell the boss, “CC, please.” When you reach it, tell the man in charge “CC please.” You’ll receive a case of Canadian Club, the world’s finest-tasting whisky…

Find a case of Canadian Club in San Francisco (1980)

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One Response

  1. The 1970’s were the last decade that San Francisco would be affordable to live in as it would ever get. The period between 1945 and 1980 was an era of the so-called “White Flight,” when White couples and families left the cities to start new lives in the suburbs – creating a population “vacuum.” This outflow reversed itself beginning in the 1980’s.

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