555 California Street (“Triple Nickel”), formerly known as the Bank of America Center, was completed in 1969. At that time, it was the tallest building in the U.S. west of the Mississippi. The bank was originally the Bank of Italy, founded in a converted saloon by A. P. Giannini in 1904. Having made several investments in the smaller Bank of America, Los Angeles, he merged Bank of Italy with Bank of America in 1928 and changed the name of the merged banks to Bank of America.
Giannini had established the Bank of Italy to serve “hardworking immigrants,” especially Italian Americans living in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. The bank survived the 1906 earthquake and was one of the first to offer loans to businesses to help rebuild the city.
A. P. Giannini was quite the banker: loaning Walt Disney funds to produce Snow White, the first full-length, U.S.-made animated motion picture; buying bonds to finance the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge during the Great Depression; visiting Italy after the war to arrange loans to rebuild war-torn Fiat factories; providing funds to help Hewlett and Packard start Hewlett-Packard.
He also founded the Transamerica Corporation, a holding company for his various interests, which completed its own San Francisco landmark, the Transamerica Pyramid, in 1972. The USPS honored Giannini’s contributions to American banking (e.g. lending to the middle class, pioneering the holding company structure, initiating branch banking) by issuing a stamp bearing his portrait in 1973.
In 1998, Bank of America merged with NationsBank of Charlotte N.C. (the largest bank merger in U.S. history) and thereafter the Bank of America Center property became known as (the more mundane) 555 California Street. While NationsBank was the nominal survivor, the merged banks assumed the better-known Bank of America name.
Among the notable features of 555 California is “Transcendence” (aka “Banker’s Heart”, a name coined by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen), a 200-ton black Swedish granite sculpture by Masayuki Nagare.
By the way, when Bank of America moved its headquarters to Charlotte N.C., the Bank left its heart in San Francisco.
555 California was designed by architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, and built by Dinwiddie Construction (same folks who built Grace Cathedral). The Triple Nickel is currently the fourth-tallest building in San Francisco.
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