Which SF High-Rises Could Collapse in an Earthquake

Transamerica Pyramid and Embarcadero Center towers are among nearly 40 high-rises at risk of collapse in an earthquake, according to a new study.

Image: ‘San Andreas’, Warner Bros.

This ridiculous image from the 2015 San Andreas movie poster may have an ounce of truth to it, according to a recent study from the U.S. Geological Survey. The Transamerica Pyramid is among 39 San Francisco high-rise buildings that could collapse in an earthquake the magnitude of the 1906 quake, according to a new report the New York Times.

If you live or work in a downtown high-rise, you might want to immediately scroll down to the bottom of this article to see if your building is one of the 39 San Francisco high-rises built with an engineering technique that is now considered flawed.

The Times report dives deep into a 454-page study from the U.S. Geological Survey that games out a 7.0 or higher magnitude earthquake in San Francisco or along the Hayward Fault. The 1906 quake was a 7.9-magnitude earthquake.

“If we have a repeat of 1906 it is probable that some, not all, of the high-rise buildings in downtown San Francisco will experience collapse,” structural engineer and seismic expert Ron Hamburger tells the Times.

The flawed engineering technique in question here is called steel moment frame construction, and was considered a sound method of earthquake-proofing until the 1994 Northridge earthquake in southern California and Japan’s Kobe earthquake a year later saw many steel-frame buildings collapse.

“When these fractures occurred it was a very humbling experience — first shocking and then humbling — for the structural and earthquake engineering professions,” Stanford earthquake engineering expert Gregory Deierlein tells the Times. “It starkly brought into question one of the fundamental assumptions and building techniques that they had been using.”

Sure, we’ve had a little fun ribbing the New York Times over their sensationalist San Francisco earthquake predictions. And we should point out that most of these buildings did survive the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. But this reporting is based on studies from the well-respected U.S. Geological Survey, and notably, the article’s author happens to work in one of these buildings.

We’ve listed below the 39 steel-frame high-rises in San Francisco built between 1960 and 1994 that are deemed at risk of earthquake collapse. As a reminder, here’s what the state Department of Health recommends for items you should have in an emergency supply kit.

Hartford Building, 650 California Street

Beal Bank Building, 180 Sansome Street

Bechtel Building, 50 Beale Street

44 Montgomery Street

425 California Street

555 California Street

McKesson Plaza, One Post Street

Pacific Gas & Electric Building, 77 Beale Street

One Embarcadero Center, 355 Clay Street

Transamerica Pyramid, 600 Montgomery Street

100 Pine Center, 100 Pine Street

211 Main Street

First Market Tower, 525 Market Street

425 Market Street

Two Embarcadero Center, 255 Clay Street

221 Main Street

California Automobile Association Building, 100 Van Ness Boulevard
Update: The owners of the building say it should not be on this list, as a 2013-2014 renovation brought it up to structural code.

Chevron Tower (Market Center), 575 Market Street

Spear Tower (One Market Plaza), One Market Street

Steuart Tower (One Market Plaza), One Market Street

Three Embarcadero Center, 155 Clay Street

Shaklee Terraces, 444 Market Street

333 Market Street

595 Market Street

201 California Street

Two Transamerica Center, 505 Sansome Street

101 California Street

Telesis Tower, One Montgomery Street

1 Ecker Square, One Ecker Street

100 Spear Street

101 Montgomery Street

Citicorp Center, One Sansome Street

50 Fremont Center

333 Bush Street

345 California Street

301 Howard Street

Hilton San Francisco Hotel, 333 O’Farrell Street

San Francisco Marriott, 55 4th Street

Embarcadero West, 275 Battery Street

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