At Sutter Dental Collective, we’re proud to be based out of 450 Sutter Street. This building, located in the heart of San Francisco, has a long history and is truly one-of-a-kind. If you’d like to learn more about how 450 Sutter Street came to be, you’re in the right place. In this blog, we’ll go over a brief history of the building, talk about its founder, and discuss some other interesting facts about 450 Sutter. Let’s get into it!
450 Sutter Street has a deep association with dentists. Along with other medical professionals, there are dozens of dental offices in the building today, including Sutter Dental Collective. But the connection goes deeper than that. In fact, 450 Sutter was originally the concept of Francis Edward Morgan, Jr., a dentist who was wealthy and regarded as an eccentric among his peers.
His idea was to create a building in San Francisco that was just for doctors and dentists, and that’s where the inspiration for 450 Sutter Street came from. To bring this vision to life, renowned San Francisco architect Timothy Pflueger and his architecture firm were hired. Pflueger was already well-known at this point, as he was responsible for building the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company Building in 1925, which was the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco at the time.
With 450 Sutter Street, Pflueger wanted to try something different. He wanted to design a building that was truly “American” in heritage. At this point in architecture, the vast majority of buildings in the United States were primarily influenced by European architectural designs, which traced all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome.
So as his inspiration for his “American” building, Pflueger turned away from Europe, and looked toward the ancient Mayan civilization that flourished in Mexico and parts of Central America for thousands of years. He blended Mayan inspiration with Art Deco style, creating one of the first “Neo-Mayan” designs in the United States.
The building was completed and officially opened on October 15th, 1929. It was the second-tallest building in San Francisco, and though this cannot be confirmed, it was also regarded as the largest purpose-built medical building in the world at the time.
The timing of 450 Sutter opening was not exactly great, though. It opened just days before the late October stock market crash of 1929 that marked the beginning of the Great Depression. Because of this and the entrance of the U.S. into World War II, 450 Sutter Street was the last skyscraper built in San Francisco until the late 1950s post-war building boom.
450 Sutter was sold to Harold Schnitzer of Harsch Investment properties in August of 1963. This company still owns and manages the building, renting it out primarily to medical professionals and providers of professional services.
This is also when Dr. Harry Benjamin, a renowned sexologist and early pioneer in treatment for transgender people, began renting an office in 450 Sutter Street. Dr. Benjamin was based in New York, and treated most of his patients there.
But in the summers, he rented an office in the 450 Sutter building. Many of his patients came from the nearby Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, which was one of the major centers of the LGBT community in the city at the time.
Dr. Benjamin was one of the first doctors to take the study of transgender people seriously. His time in San Francisco started when Dr. Alfred Kinsey, another renowned sexologist, referred him to a patient in the area. Over the years, Dr. Benjamin treated many patients in San Francisco at his 450 Sutter Street office. He typically prescribed estrogen and other medications and referred them to doctors, often in Europe, who could perform gender-affirming surgeries that were not available in the United States.
Dr. Benjamin was known as a generous and kind man, and often treated patients with no expectation of payment. His publication of the 1966 book The Transsexual Phenomenon cemented his reputation as a true pioneer in the field of transgender studies and treatment, and he’s still well-regarded today.
Despite having been built in 1929, 450 Sutter Street held up well over the years. But by the middle of the 2000s, it was clear that some changes would be needed to modernize the building, keep it in good condition, and make it a desirable location for medical professionals.
The result was a full-scale renovation and remodeling of the property. From the years 2007-2010, the building underwent its Exterior Renovation Project. The primary goal of the renovation was to replace thousands of worn-out terra cotta tiles, which were part of the facade of the building.
Along with the tiles, this restoration project also replaced more than 2,000 windows located within the offices and spaces in 450 Sutter. Most of the tenants in the building had to be moved to temporary suites while this project was completed, and it’s still one of the largest building restorations ever done in the city of San Francisco.
Another landmark in the history of 450 Sutter came near the end of this renovation project. In December 2009, the National Register of Historic Places officially added 450 to their register, describing it as a “masterwork” of architecture by Timothy Pflueger.
450 Sutter Street has also been recognized by BOMA International (Building Owners and Managers Association). It’s the two-time winner of the Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY) award in the Medical Office category for the Pacific Southwest region.
At Sutter Dental Collective, our team is proud to be part of 450 Sutter Street, and to continue its legacy by providing exceptional dental care to San Franciscans from all walks of life. So don’t wait. If you’re looking for a new dentist in San Francisco, contact us online or give us a call at (415) 781-4725. And if you’d like to stop by in person, come in for a visit. Our address is 450 Sutter St., Suite 1919, San Francisco, CA 94108.