Sales Tower em­bod­ies best of a chang­ing city

San Francisco Chronicle - - NEWS - By Carl Nolte

Mon­day marked a wa­ter­shed in the life of San Fran­cisco. It was the day the first work­ers moved into Sales­force Tower, that thou­sand-foot-tall land­mark that dom­i­nates the city’s sky­line.

Sales­force Tower is in ev­ery way a sym­bol of today’s San Fran­cisco. It’s ei­ther a tow­er­ing ex­am­ple of a new San Fran­cisco or the worst thing that’s hap­pened since an earth­quake re­ar­ranged things in 1906.

I’ve been watch­ing that build­ing go up for a long time. I re­mem­ber wait­ing for the bus at the cor­ner of First and Mis­sion streets, when Sales­force Tower was just a hole in the ground, where the clunky old Trans­bay Ter­mi­nal used to be. The con­struc­tion site had a fence around it with a fa­mous quote from Paul Kant­ner of the Jef­fer­son Air­plane: “San Fran­cisco is 49 square miles sur­rounded by re­al­ity.”

Wow, I thought to my­self, that must be some build­ing they are putting up be­hind that fence.

Like ev­ery­body else, I watched it go up. It’s huge. We could see it from Sausal­ito, from a BART train in Oak­land, from the top of Mount Ta­mal­pais in a fog so thick that the only part of San Fran­cisco that was vis­i­ble was the top of the tower.

We’ve seen it from the Rich­mond Dis­trict, from Trea­sure Is­land, from Mount Diablo, from a ship at sea, from a jet plane. It re­minds me of the old Ge­orge Ster­ling poem about San Fran­cisco: “At the end of our streets is sun­rise ...” it be­gins. Now at the end of our streets is Sales­force Tower.

It’s the talk of the town. Ev­ery­body has an opin­ion. Here’s mine: I think Sales­force Tower is a great thing, an ex­am­ple of a new San Fran­cisco. This is not just a beau­ti­ful and very dif­fer­ent city. Now it’s a world city, one of the cap­i­tals of tech­nol­ogy.

San Fran­cis­cans used to worry about Los An­ge­les. They’d chant “Beat L.A.” when the Dodgers came to town. Now we have beaten L.A. to the in­dus­try of the fu­ture. Then we wor­ried about a resur­gent San Jose, the cen­ter of Sil­i­con Val­ley. But San Jose is still San Jose, and San Fran­cisco has rein­vented it­self.

But that’s the crux of the prob­lem. It isn’t just Sales­force Tower that both­ers peo­ple. It’s the idea be­hind it. It’s high tech, it’s traf­fic, it’s Google buses, it’s Uber, Airbnb, Twitter, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, an un­af­ford­able city. Techies, “a new high-salaried, tech­nol­ogy-driven class work­ing for firms run by youth­ful millionaires,” as one critic put it.

What’s the al­ter­na­tive? The city of the 1970s, which the crit­ics fondly re­mem­ber, was in de­cline. The ship­ping in­dus­try had moved to Oak­land and man­u­fac­tur­ing was fad­ing, done in by com­pe­ti­tion from over­seas. Jobs were leav­ing. Re­mem­ber the steel mills and the ma­chine shops South of Mar­ket? The plants where they sewed and fin­ished Levi’s jeans? Gone. The last one was on Va­len­cia Street.

And there was a huge de­mo­graphic shift. Thou­sands and thou­sands of San Fran­cis­cans moved away — from the fog, the bad schools, the park­ing prob­lems, the old houses. See ya, San Fran­cisco. I was at a lun­cheon dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. Maybe 30 peo­ple were there, all with deep roots in the city. I con­ducted a lit­tle poll. How many were born in San Fran­cisco? Twenty-nine of them put up their hands. How many live here now? Just one.

And who moved into the Sun­set and Eu­reka Val­ley and the Mis­sion when the old fam­i­lies moved out? Asians, who fi­nally were able to break out of the Chi­na­town ghetto and now make up a third of the city’s pop­u­la­tion. Gay peo­ple at­tracted by the city’s tol­er­ant at­mos­phere — and avail­able hous­ing. Lati­nos, who found homes in the Mis­sion.

The other pil­lar of the new San Fran­cisco is the techies, who liked the city’s rep­u­ta­tion for in­no­va­tion.

The peo­ple who don’t like the new city will tell you these peo­ple are all from some­where else. They for­get that Marc Be­nioff, the Sales­force guru, is a fourth­gen­er­a­tion San Fran­cis­can, and his com­pany was founded in a onebed­room apart­ment on Tele­graph Hill. And Steve Jobs, who needs no in­tro­duc­tion, is also a na­tive son.

St. Louis, Detroit, Cleve­land, the Rust Belt il­lus­trate what hap­pens to cities and re­gions that stuck with the old econ­omy and did not change.

San Fran­cisco con­tin­ues to have prob­lems, which are ob­vi­ous to ev­ery­one. The trick is to solve them by blend­ing the new San Fran­cisco with the best tra­di­tions of the older city. Is this pos­si­ble? Sure. The best day of the week is al­ways tomorrow. Carl Nolte is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle colum­nist. His col­umn ap­pears ev­ery Sun­day. Email: cnolte@sfchron­i­cle. com Twitter: @carl­noltesf

Noah Berger / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle 2017

Sales­force Tower, flanked in the fore­ground by Coit Tower and the Transamer­ica Pyra­mid, rises high.

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