140 New Montgomery captures city’s tension to reinvent and preserve itself.
“The nice thing about the building is that people sense the history right when they walk in the front door,” says project manager Josh Callahan of investment firm Wilson Meany, which is overseeing renovations at 140 New Montgomery.
San Francisco is obsessed with new—a young city in a young state in a young country. A city associated with cutting edge technology and an economy heavily weighted towards an endless supply of start-ups.
Yet what little history the city has, it protects fiercely. The cable cars. The Painted Ladies of Alamo Square. The Dutch windmills in Golden Gate Park. And 140 New Montgomery.
One-Forty New Montgomery, or the PacBell Building, is a San Francisco landmark. It’s a Timothy Pfleuger-designed tower that still dominates the SoMa skyline nearly a century after construction, a soaring white monument to Art Deco that originally housed Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co.
For much of the last six years, however, 140 New Montgomery has stood…empty.
AT&T sold the building to Wilson Meany in 2007, and the original plan was to transform the building into condominiums. That plan was put on hold in 2008 when the economy crashed, and the question then became how do you update a nearly century-old building to fit modern San Francisco’s needs?
Step one, it turns out, is knock down a bunch of walls.
“The building we inherited was largely double-loaded corridors, very dark corridors, with private offices on either side of the corridors. It was sort of the opposite of the open, collaborative work style you see most companies engaging in now,” says Callahan. “We have big open floors where everyone is near a window and has really flexible space so that tenants can really design spaces that match their brand and their work style.”
Famed design firm Knoll, for instance, occupies 8200 square feet on the 25th floor and explicitly mentions the open floor plan as an asset, saying, “The absence of structural columns at 140 New Montgomery provides a flexible footprint to showcase the range of Knoll brands for the office and home,” while capitalizing on the abundant natural lighting.
Then there’s all the behind-the-scenes work tenants expect from a modern high-rise: Wilson Meany worked with Perkins + Will to accomplish a full seismic upgrade, new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, updated elevators, improved windows and fiber-optic cable. “We basically built an entirely new building on the inside,” says Callahan.
Except they didn’t really. What’s so special about 140 New Montgomery isn’t the things Wilson Meany and the tenants changed—it’s how much has remained.
“One of the things we think is so great is the tenants have really embraced the history of the building,” says Callahan. “We salvaged about 150—basically all of the remaining office doors in the building that were still original from the ’20s. Yelp actually took half of them, so their conference rooms all have doors that were original to the building.” Yelp has leased multiple floors of the building for its new headquarters.
“It has become the perfect mix of history and modern technology,” said John Lieu, Yelp’s Head of Facilities. “We absolutely loved the history of the building but did recognize that improvements needed to be made to both modernize the space for our workforce and ensure the building is earthquake safe. While making those updates, we made a point to preserve many of the historic elements that make our building so unique, like original doors, elevator numbers and a mail slot in the lobby.”
“The space is a testament to San Francisco’s ability to preserve local culture while also innovating and moving forward,” Lieu continued.
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Photography courtesy of Wilson Meany, copyright Henrik Kam