International Building

International Building, 601 California Street, San Francisco, California

Designed by Anshen & Allen in 1960


Bob Anshen and Steve Allen met in 1935 while earning both their Bachelor and Master degrees in Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. They came to San Francisco in 1937 and while working for other firms secured their first joint commission: a house for Ralph K. Davies. They formed the architectural firm, Anshen & Allen in 1939. During WWII, Allen served as a Lt. Commander in the Navy and Anshen as a Technical Director for the Housing Authority in Vallejo, CA. By 1946, both were back to practicing architecture full time. The firm was known for a variety of project types including residential, commercial, educational, and religious;  later specializing in medical facilities.


The International Building, at 601 California Street, was designed by Anshen &  Allen for the Natomas Company (1960-62). Constructed over a city-owned parking garage, which itself was built under Saint Mary’s Square, a city park, the Natomas developer also purchased the air rights to the adjacent parcels, ensuring the free-standing 22 story tower would remain prominent - which to this day it does. Clad in precast concrete panels, the floors are cantilevered beyond the 10,000 square foot lot on all four sides, lending each floor extra office space. The heavy overhangs, lack of neighbors, and heavy dramatic horizontal emphasis of the concrete spandrels  sentence is unfinished


Photographing skyscrapers is a difficult task. The  height [and bulk ?] of these buildings, combined with the tight environment of city centers, does not allow for many options in photographing the buildings as they sit. Wide angle lenses (I used a 17mm lens here) allow one to “fit” the building, but they lead to visual distortion and exaggerated perspective in the resulting photos. A building like the International Building, which broadens as it rises, fools the eye even more. Nonetheless, I was able to capture the entrance mass of the building along Kearny Street from a remarkably similar viewpoint illustrated by  the flashy sketch.. Particularly pleasing is the presence, in both the drawing and the photograph, of the pagoda on the 1907 Sing Fat Company Building (Thomas Patterson Ross, architect) in the distance. The planes marking the floor levels and the plaza level that correspond to Saint Mary’s Square, beyond, accentuate the steep site of California Street. Occasional Cable Cars passing by cement the status of the International Building as a true San Francisco symbol.