Put a Spire on the Salesforce Tower
In 1930, two New York City architects, H. Craig Severance and Walter Chrysler, took part in a race to the sky. They were building competing skyscrapers at the same time, and announced in the early stages that the buildings would be remarkably similar in height. The initial plans for Severance’s tower, at 40 Wall Street, called for a building 20 feet taller than Chrysler’s eponymous work. This would make 40 Wall Street the tallest tower in New York City.
This is no feat to shirk from, but Severance wanted a different claim. Adding 3 stories to his tower midway through the construction process, Severance claimed the title of architect of the world’s tallest skyscraper.
This was short-lived, though. Chrysler, working in secret, assembled a 125-foot spire inside the crown of his tower, hoisting it on top at the last possible minute, and claiming the title for himself.
This ruse is famous among architects and skyscraper wonks alike. Architectural oddities such as Spite Houses are far from uncommon. But few works of flimflam engineering have reached the height, scale, and grandiosity of Chrysler’s spire. This kind of behavior is childlike, immature, egomanical, and absolutely brilliant. We need more of it.
New York City has always been a petri dish for petty rivals. In the roaring ’20s, rivalry permeated everything from the subways of the IRT and BRT, to the vitrol exchange of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants.
Skyscraper races, visionary railway expansion, and Giants-Dodgers rivalry continues today in California. I won’t bother taking the time to explain the rivalry between North and South — there are tomes of writing on this subject, especially online. I want to highlight a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repeat Chrysler’s whimsical maneuver. César Pelli’s Salesforce tower is set to rise concurrently with A.C. Martin Partners’ Wilshire Grand tower.
Pelli’s…er…provacative structure is getting erected to a height of 1,070 ft.
The Router on Wilshire is going online at 1,100 ft.
While Wilshire Grand will claim tallest structure west of the Mississippi, it’s predicated on a technicality. Wilshire is claiming the title because of its architectural spire, while Salesforce will lay claim to highest occupiable floor. The technicality matters, though, because on any list of tallest high-rise, you’ll find Wilshire sitting pretty above Salesforce, and this means Los Angeles will be looking down its nose at its northerly, crotchety sibling.
You might think San Francisco would be content in being second to Los Angeles at such an arbitrary category. Is it like San Francisco, after all, to get uppity about something as petty as this? Hell yes, it is.
In 2014, the concrete foundation for Wilshire Grand was poured, setting a Guinness World Record for largest concrete pour in history. Salesforce, with a smaller base (is this an appropriate time to discuss length vs. girth?), just finished its pour last week.
This is the perfect time to get started on a spite spire in SoMa. Years from now, as Angelenos disembark from the nation’s fastest train (fingers crossed), at the state’s largest transit center, they’ll crane their necks up at the Salesforce Tower.
What will they say? “I’ve seen bigger?” Or will they marvel at a structural feat they can’t claim having bested back home?
What’s more, the spire could act as a defining architectural feature. Few would argue the Chrysler Building’s elegant crown looks out of place or garish. Could Pelli rise to the challenge? The opportunities are endless.
So, Pelli, I implore you. The title of tallest structure West of the Mississippi is yours for the taking. It would be a prideful, whimsical, petty move, couched in superlatives and thirst for attention, and no city is more fitting for it. If you want it, you should put a spire on it.