When Monstrous Towers Tilt and Sink

Millennium Tower Sinking and Tilting? What Would Grandpa Say?

The marble exterior wall of the Millennium Tower on Mission Street in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood.

By now most of us have heard that the Millennium Tower  is sinking.(This is according to the Hoodline story of Monday,  August 8th. It may be that the high rise has sunk 6 inches at the base, and some predict the  total lean at the top at 16 inches, with a possible future lean of 31 total inches).

This is apparently not a safety issue. But walls could crack and elevators could possibly not work correctly.  The building, which is inhabited by sports stars and millionaires, is claiming the Transbay Transit Center construction is to blame for the shift and tilt. The building is roughly 8 years old. The Transbay Joint Powers Authority has denied any responsibility.

According to Hoodline and other news sources, the transit center construction has dug a deep hole next to the Millennium Tower. The Transit Center Authority states that the Millennium Tower’s builders didn’t drill down to the bedrock during construction.

The lacy, open work, outer walls that construction crews have been slowly covering the new Transbay Terminal with as that structure is being built.

All of this has got me wondering: Why would anyone want to live in a high rise built on landfill so near to the original city shoreline? Just as I would never invest in,  or rent a property in the Marina District after personally witnessing the destruction there after the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, I would not invest my millions (if they existed) in a building built below Montgomery Street.

The Marina is built on marshland and tidal flats that were filled in to build the grounds for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. Afterwards it became an exclusive neighborhood filled with beautiful homes and apartments, some with views of the Marina Green and the Golden Gate Bridge.

It has taken the South of Market (SOMA) area another 100 years to also think of itself as exclusive property.  But it’s still landfill. There are even a few old ships buried under the streets below Montgomery to the Embarcadero.

Here is a map of the old waterline, and the locations it is believed that abandoned ships from the Gold Rush are buried.


I would never buy or rent in the proposed high rise buildings that may one day be built on Treasure Island. The island did not exist until the 1930’s. It was built up behind a man made sea wall, using mud dredged up from the bay, mixed in with rocks and debris to fill in the “island.” Thus the name Treasure Island. The treasure is residue of gold dust from the Gold Rush mining technique that used high pressure water to extract gold from hillsides. The water rushed down river and the silt eventually accumulated in San Francisco Bay.


The Salesforce Tower flies the American flag, and is flanked on the left by the Millennium Tower. On the right the Transbay Terminal is being constructed.

What I find interesting in all of this is that city taxpayers may be left having to pay for any damage or negligence caused by the current construction in the area, as it’s linked to the Transbay Terminal project.

While they may be able to do a quick fix by possibly drilling new piles and adding cement under the building’s base, where will the money for that come from? Certainly not from the residents of the Millennium Tower, if they have anything to say about it.

It’s just one building, but in the overall scheme of modern day  construction-hungry San Francisco, will this just be the beginning? Are more stories like this yet to come? San Franciscans, why are we not more vocal about the fact that this area of SOMA is not stable? Those looking at the history of this man-made area must wonder at all of the large scale construction going on the area.

I watch the Salesforce Tower climbing up onto the sky on a daily basis as I walk past the construction site going to and from the Temporary Transbay Terminal. The tower is being built across the street from the Millennium Tower. I watched as they dug down deep, but I have often wondered how far they were digging.

The first signs of a finished exterior recently appeared as windows were added to the ever-growing Salesforce Tower.

It has been fascinating to watch this, and the many other residential and commercial towers going up into the sky. There have been more pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #cranecity than I can count, my own posts included.

All of this has changed the skyline forever. Even I can no longer remember with full accuracy what used to be where new structures stand. The city has become what Grandpa Ralph feared most, and the Manhattanization of his beloved hometown skyline is nearly completed. I guess dad would say that’s just progress, but I say look at the signs. Sometimes, as perhaps in this case, bigger and better and taller may not be the way San Francisco should have gone.


Perhaps less attempts to cover all the available land in sight with mammoth, Lego-like, Transformer towers will not be a wise thing when we look back. Will San Francisco become another city like Los Angeles became, way before the year that Blade Runner was set in?  From some angles I can sometimes see resemblances between that futuristic speculation of a film, as I walk down certain streets in the city.

One more thing about Grandpa Ralph, the first in a line of three Demoro Photogs. He spent time in the 1960s and 1970s walking the streets of the city photographing every building that was threatened by the construction expansions of those years. He recorded it all, he said, out of a fear that San Francisco would become another Manhattan. A fate he could not bear to see the city of his great grandparents undergo. A native San Franciscan, who was a boy here in 1906, he was dismayed by the modernization of his 19th Century built city by the bay.

And here am in the 21st Century, watching my 20th Century San Francisco disappear brick by brick and block by block.

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