In The News

Two-fer features luxury apartment-selling and art fund-raising

Leah Garchik April 29, 2019 Updated: April 29, 2019 11:46 a.m.

1 of 3 A living room on the 55th floor of 181 Fremont St. Photo: 181 Fremont
2 of 3 The bathtub in the 181 Fremont apartment features a view of the Salesforce Tower. Photo: Leah Garchik / The Chronicle
3 of 3 The crowd at the 181 Fremont party for Illuminate. Photo: Leah Garchik / The Chronicle

There we were, Champagne glasses in hand, in a two-bedroom apartment on the 55th floor, pretty much on top of the 802-foot-tall luxury apartment house at 181 Fremont St., admiring the view of the hills, the bay and the behemoth Salesforce Tower just across the street, wondering whether if we had $15.5 million, we, too, could splash around in a two-toilet bathroom with “full-height slab Arabescato Corchia marble on all walls and slab Lincoln marble floors with radiant heat.” This luxury aerie, bathed in peach-colored late-afternoon light, could be ours, flyers informed us.

We were in a crowd of folks invited by Ben Davis, the visionary founder of Illuminate SF, basking in its architectural glories (“the deepest caissons of any residential tower in the city”) at the same time we were basking in the glories of Illuminate, which, in its own words, “rallies large groups of people together to create impossible works of public art that, through awe, free humanity’s better nature.” The event — at which the real estate folks got to show off their crown jewels in hopes of interesting buyers and the Illuminate folks got to show off their projects and their artists in hopes of interesting donors — was a neatly planned twofer.

The Jay Paul Co., which owns the building, had decided that as good neighbors, they ought to give back to the SoMa/East Cut community. So the occasion, it was said, was a celebration of its first philanthropic award, $5,000 to Illuminate SF (Matt Lituchy, the company’s chief investment officer, also kicked in a personal check for $5,000).

The money, it was said, supports projects that are freely visible to the public, and financed by individual donations rather than corporations seeking naming or labeling rights. Working on a score of projects, at various stages of fruition, Illuminate’s goal is to make this what it poetically calls a “City of Awe.” The company’s chief of opportunity, David Hatfield, said that 20 million people had “experienced Illuminate” projects in a year, more than the number of visitors to all the city’s museums combined.

Illuminate’s staff is small (three employees), its stated mission — “seek to unite all people around higher values of love and equality” — ambitious and profound. At this gathering, the Illuminate team cited inspiration from Eleanor Roosevelt (“The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams,” quoted by Chief Strategy Officer Vanessa Inn) and Margaret Mead (“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that has,” cited by Davis).

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and founder of its Greater Good Science Center, spoke about the phenomenon of awe, “a feeling of being in the presence of vast things that are beyond your frame of reference and that you don’t understand. … Awe makes you feel connected to people. … Awe diminishes self-interest. … Awe quiets inflammation response in your body.”

Floating there on top of the city, it was all pretty high-minded. I could just feel my inflammation response hushing up as I read of “Brazilian White Macaubas Quartzite kitchen countertops” and “Valcucine kitchen cabinets with hardened glass fronts.”


• Thanks to Brenda Kahn, we now have word of the “First Ever! Marijuana Mah Jongg,” a Friday, May 3, session presided over by Toby’s MJ: Mah Jongg for Everyone.” The promotional materials say there will be marijuana to smoke, snacks, tea and coffee will be served. … Note: No marijuana will be sold. Remember to use Lyft, Uber or a designated driver.”

• Kathy Padro noticed that the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which sell a tasteful T-shirt and other items emblazoned with a fluorescent-colored skyline of San Francisco, laid in a new stock of merchandise that includes the silhouetted image of the Salesforce Tower. In the run-up to the change, insiders say that there were a few calls, obviously from old-time San Franciscans, who’d heard the tower was going to be added and wanted to order old-style shirts without the new building. As of right now, the switch has been completed, with all the old products sold off but for a few tote bags.

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