An epicenter / joint-heritage of innovation: 420 Taylor Street, San Francisco

2013: 420 Taylor Street, Practice Fusion headquarters (Photograph courtesy Emily Peters (@PFPressCenter) View on Flickr.com

2006: 420 Taylor Street, headquarters of ABM Industries, a building maintenance and janitorial services company NBC Radio City – San Francisco – 1999

1999: 420 Taylor Street, Unoccupied – View at NBC Radio City – San Francisco – 1999

1967: 420 Taylor Street, Kaiser Broadcasting KBHK View at Thriving with 1960s-launched KFOG radio – then and now « A History of Total Health | Kaiser Permanente History Blog

NBC Radio City, San Francisco CA

1942: 420 Taylor Street, NBC Radio City View on Flickr.com (Flickr user SwellMap)

1940: 420 Taylor Street, Under Construction – View at San Francisco NBC Radio City

A few days ago, I got this message from innovator extraordinnaire, Ryan Howard, the CEO of Practice Fusion (@practicefusion), manufacturer of the namesake electronic health record system, based in San Francisco, CA:

Ted – stumbled across this a few days ago – check out the second picture on the web page (Thriving with 1960s-launched KFOG radio – then and now « A History of Total Health | Kaiser Permanente History Blog)

Sure, enough, we have a common heritage. The current headquarters of Practice Fusion once housed Kaiser Broadcasting’s KBHK television studios, from 1967-1977.

I love studying where we came from, so I did a little bit of research. KBHK was itself a terrific innovation for its time, going beyond VHF television and into the world of UHF, proclaimed boldly (and slightly self-servingly, with many angles of Kaiser world headquarters, which is now the 300 Lakeside Building in Oakland, CA) in a promotional film entitled “Doing Things in a Big Way.”

NBC’s White Elephant – not supposed to be built

Going even further back, the building was originally dedicated on April 26, 1942, as “A million dollar, modern, streamlined and air-conditioned building, literally the most perfect broadcasting plant devised by the hands of Radio Industry’s miracle engineers, making possible more programs, better production and quicker news dissemination.” (You can see another black and white image of the building here)

It was also considered a white elephant:

Radio City was originally intended to be the West Coast origination center for NBC. The building was much too large for only the two NBC owned radio stations, KGO and KPO (which became KNBC, then later KNBR). Both NBC Red and Blue networks were supposed to use these studios. However, most West Coast radio network production had moved to Los Angeles by the time Radio City opened in 1942. Radio City San Francisco may have been a white elephant, but it was a beautiful white elephant.

There was even a rumor that the vice president officiating at its groundbreaking had a telegram in his pocket ordering that the building not be built.

Blazing trails at 420 Taylor Street, Then and Now

KBHK was the the second commercial UHF station in the San Francisco Bay Area, and ultimately ushered in the era of superstations and modern day cable, by breaking through the “3 channel limit” in most cities. (see: Channel 44, UHF, and Bay Area TV’s Great Leap Forward):

It was the proliferation of UHF stations that ultimately led to the transition to cable. In 1970, Ted Turner purchased the failing Channel 17 in Atlanta, using the station to show Atlanta Braves baseball games along with wrestling and countless reruns. Uplinked to satellite in 1975, Turner’s WTBS became the first “superstation,” and along with HBO, among the first to be carried nationally. Specialty networks, devoted strictly to news, sports, weather or movies, a concept first tried on UHF, were formed to build a string of networks we now know as basic cable. One company, News Corporation, was able to combine various UHF stations it had acquired over the years, as the foundation of a fourth major network, Fox.

The exterior facade of Practice Fusion’s headquarters doesnt’t depict what’s been done to the interior – I went on a walking meeting with Ryan and his dog in February and he showed me the 21st century, pet-friendly, natural light beaming, sustainability-influenced design of the workplace within.

Knowing Ryan and knowing a little of the DNA of Kaiser industries and Kaiser Permanente made me think that there must be something to this #epicenter of innovation. I was proven correct – it looks to me like 420 Taylor is a platform for visionary thinking and bold risk taking that has infused a lot of health care, then and now :).

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