A Once Great Presence: Union-Tribune Building


For a brief moment, I was able to work inside this San Diego landmark, the Union-Tribune newspaper complex. Perhaps it isn't such a great or historical landmark, but still somewhat of a landmark to the city and the community of readers it served since being built in 1973.

Observing from the outside, I always thought it was quite glamorous, a hallmark of its heyday, a giant mass of industry in brick and concrete. Yes, the landscaping needed work, and yes it had seen better days but it was still, to me, quite formidable there on its corner in the valley. 

Designed by Frank L. Hope Jr.’s architectural firm (had to look that up; I always wondered) and built by M.H. Golden Construction (that was in the front walkway concrete stamp) the office building was all brick on the outside and concrete on the inside. Walls of floor to ceiling glass finished off its three material surface. It was simple, modern, and beautiful. (The print building, also with an exterior of the same red brick yet more of a large square as it was meant to enclose the workshop and press, is as strong as a bomb shelter, I've read; it had to take the load of the presses and other equipment.)

When I worked there - in a leased corner of the ground floor, a labyrinth of pieced-together cubby offices and strange, leftover spaces - the entirety of the building was no longer in its prime. Concealing the poured-in-place beauty of the waffle pattern ceilings were those standard dropped office tiles with recessed fluorescent lighting. Outside our own offices, no others fared no better or no worse; it was just . . . typical: typical of remodels over the years. You could tell there had been a great loss of caring for the once great presence and culture the grand space probably once contained and demanded.

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In early 2015, the Union-Tribune began vacating the premises. We all knew people lost their jobs as we saw them carry boxes stuffed with personal items to their cars, and the available parking spaces opened up exponentially. The printed paper wasn't cool anymore (for a very long time before this), and in turn, most of the upper floors were vacated. The dual presses in the adjacent building were dismantled by force with giant cutting and smashing tools at the end of tractor cranes. Parts were recycled where they could be, but seeing these three-story giants ripped to shreds and spread out on the parking lot was quite sad. The smell of ink, old paper, dust, and machinery oils all bled into the air as if we were able to smell their last gasps.

I was happy to be up close and personal, finally getting a glimpse of the place. But seeing it as such, it wasn't so great. I'm pretty sure there was asbestos everywhere; the plumbing was bad; most of the spaces reeked of ancient tombs (I'm just more sensitive to smells, in all fairness); and a palpable pall lingered over every little constructed item.

But I hear now it's being turned into new work spaces. New owners are keeping the exteriors and those awesome waffle ceilings (replete with exposed air ducts and other cool equipment) exposed. And now that the floor to ceiling window glass has been stripped of the that dirty gray tinting, it looks like the place is breathing again - you can see clear trough entire floors as the cramped and confusing offices are now gone, and light has finally found a way back in to clean it all out.

It'd be great to see the interior of the place as its all opened up, and to be able to appreciate its true character. I believe this once great presence is finally getting its heyday, again.

 The former 190,000 square-foot print building, with balcony added for future development.

The former 190,000 square-foot print building, with balcony added for future development.