A Trip to the Tippy Top of the Transamerica

Mar 28, 2012 at 1pm
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I went to The Page Bar the other night to have a beer and write a little in my notebook, but before the fluffy head of my Guinness could settle under the tap, I'd struck up a neighborly conversation with the group of strangers next to me. One of these strangers (and big fan of The Bold Italic), Brett Wise, had me seriously riveted with the story of his trip to the top of the Transamerica Pyramid. Not the top floor, no, the top-top. 

Apparently, it pays off to have friends in high places. Or, at least, friends who have keys to them. Brett's friend was working as a security guard at the building and offered to take him up on a tour before he quit. I've since gotten the details and pictures of the vertical voyage.

Security is extremely tight at the SF landmark. The public is only allowed in the ground lobby, and for about a gazillion dollars you can book the conference room on the 48th floor. Brett and his two friends took the elevator to the top floor, and had the extremely rare opporunity to keep going. After checking out the view from what some of us lucky visitors might know as the "top," the security guard opened a "carnival maze" of doors and tight, winding hallways. The friends followed the guard until he paused to ask, "Are you ready?" and opened a door to the huge, hollow pyramid that gives the building its iconic presence on the SF skyline. A 100 foot steel stairway extends, suspended, up the middle of the space at a 60 degree angle, making the steps so steep it feels like climbing a 10 story ladder. Brett explained, "I had to pull myself up by the rails every step. It was the most insane stair situation I've ever been in." 

Stairs

When they finally reached the top of the stairs, the three then had to climb two steel ladders. They went up one at a time, Brett last, and following each gasp of "Oh my God" ahead of him, he pulled himself up to the final, tiny point. The glass cap at the top of the pyramid is about the size of a cubicle, with the massive airplane warning beacon in the center taking up almost the entire space. (It's the same light that they turn on for holidays.) The three of them could just barely squeeze and crouch in beside it. Brett describes, "The wind would blow and the room would sway, not like an earthquake, but like you were in a tiny glass fort on the top of a massively tall tree." A good analogy, if we understand that by "tree" he means the third tallest building on the West Coast. Even on the slightly overcast day the view stretched all the way to the San Bruno mountains, and well past Treasure Island. There's a logbook left up there documenting everyone who's ever been all the way to the top, (a very short list), and the three of them added their names proudly to the bottom.

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Trans-ladder

Bay-bridge

Bank

If the way up was fueled by curious anticipation, the way down was slowed by careful, terrifying steps. It's one thing to insist on not looking down when it's behind you, but away from the walls and 100 feet up, one becomes pretty intimate with gravity. The three survived to tell the tale to at least one red headed stranger with a beer in her hand, and it seems well worth the sore thighs and a month's worth of adrenaline.

All photos by Brett Wise

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