A telecom landmark gets wired for the cloud

The historic Pacific Bell building in downtown San Francisco is getting a big network boost to support high-tech tenants

By , IDG News Service |  Unified Communications

The Pacific Bell tower in San Francisco, the high-rise headquarters of the phone company through eight decades and several name changes, was a monument to copper.

When the 26-story skyscraper was built, Pac Bell's business was connecting people through a technology that many were starting to use for the first time. Phones were catching on all over the West Coast, particularly in San Francisco, and Pac Bell was buying up small carriers as part of the budding nationwide Bell System. The communications arteries that fed this growing trend were thick trunks of copper wires, each with a capacity that seems positively petite by today's standards.

But when the tower reopens later this year after a nearly two-year restoration, it will be the newest office hub for a booming local tech scene that worships at the altars of fiber and wireless. And the technology advances that have revolutionized telecommunications over the past century have allowed the building's new owner to pave the way for almost limitless connectivity to each tenant. Watch an IDG News Service video of the building, here.

Stockbridge Capital Group and developer Wilson Meany acquired the building and an adjacent garage from AT&T in 2007 for US$117 million. A plan to convert it to condominiums fell through, but soon San Francisco's commercial real estate market boomed and the strategy shifted to office space. The graceful Art Deco tower, designed by famed architects James Rupert Miller and Timothy Pflueger, will house up-to-date office space with historic features such as exposed brick walls and opening windows.

San Francisco-based Yelp has leased about half of the building as its future headquarters and, as of last week, 70 percent of the total space is leased, according to Wilson Meany. Two restaurants are already lined up for the ground floor, and the building should be fully occupied and functioning by next April, said Wilson Meany project manager Josh Callahan.

To bring the building up to date, Wilson Meany gutted it, ripping out interior walls that were covered with generations of office decor layered on top of each other, Callahan said. The building had been office space for about 2,000 rank-and-file PacBell workers and a few high-ranking executives, but it wasn't a switching hub.

Yet in the basement, Wilson Meany found several times the network capacity of a typical office tower. There were 8,000 pairs of copper wire and six or seven fiber cables coming in from the street, compared with about 1,500 copper lines and one fiber cable in most buildings, said Keith Burrows, executive vice president of Decker Electric, the project's electrical subcontractor.

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