Golden Gateway

Friedman, Fisher Architects
Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons
Financial District, San Francisco
Building Type:
480 Davis Court, San Francisco, California
Current Name:
Gateway Appartments
Current Use:
Current Condition:
Not Listed

The Golden Gateway Project was an ambitious Redevelopment Agency effort started in 1958 to clear the crowded produce district from 17 city blocks northwest of the Ferry Building in order to allow a mixed-use expansion of The City’s financial district. Today’s Embarcadero Center, the Alcoa Building and the 7-block residential portion comprise the original Golden Gateway complex. The design for the residential portion was selected by a nation-wide competition. The winning entry was designed by Wurster, Bernardi, and Emmons with DeMars Reay. Although the winning design proposed housing on all 16-acres in a combination of modernist concrete 20 and 22-story towers and two-story townhouses, only half the project was constructed at the first phase, which began in 1962. The residential portion of Golden Gateway maintained the original city block pattern but raised all the housing one story above the street. At the center of the complex, the delightfully modernist Sidney Walton park was created by Sasaki, Walker, Associates to be San Francisco’s answer to Gramercy Park, i.e. a green oasis ringed by dense residential neighborhoods. Commercial uses border the park under arching arcades. Square and rectangular high-rises are staggered in their placement to allow views through the site. A series of bridges at the second level span the streets below to connect the blocks and provide a secondary pedestrian network above the street. When this project was designed, the Embarcadero Freeway abutted the site, and entry and exit ramps filled Washington and Clay Streets. Providing safe pedestrian spaces away from the rumbling traffic was a primary objective of this project, although nowadays, with the freeway gone, the system of bridges seems curious. Two-story townhouses arranged around the edges of the blocks create courtyards and open space for the residents. The prominent graphic designer Alexander Girrard developed a paint palette to provide visual interest and color to the smooth concrete structures. (Unfortunately, his original color scheme no longer exists). The combination of colorful towers and pitched roofed townhouses was designed to reflect the character of San Francisco’s urban fabric. As the first apartments in the financial district, Golden Gateway’s residential portion offered the radical idea (radical in 1962!) that office workers could rent housing downtown, within walking distance to their offices, with basic retail businesses (grocery store, restaurants, dry cleaners, etc.) and parking all integrated into the complex. The second phase of Golden Gateway was delayed until the late 1970s. By this time, a reaction against high-rises had taken hold of city politics, and the mayor insisted the developer redesign the remaining project. The new apartments, limited to 8 stories tall, were designed by Fisher-Friedman Architects. Clad in brick tile, with a postmodern design sensibility, they reflected the scale and massing of nearby Jackson Square more than the early Golden Gateway towers. Due to the reduction in the project’s height (resulting in fewer apartments) a large amount of office space was added to the first two floors, and the apartments were sold as condominiums instead of rental units. The two phases of the project which surround Sidney Walton Park are almost completely unrelated, and tell the story of changing architectural tastes, as well different attitudes towards urban design.

Image Credits:
San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library



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