Grim Roofers: Muriel Castanis’s Corporate Goddesses

July 11, 2014— I wasn’t in San Francisco very long, but it was enough time to learn that its rooftops are haunted. Or at least one of its rooftops is.

The 23-story building at 580 California Street in the city’s financial district looks like your average San Francisco high-rise. Unless you look up. And squint your zoom lens. Then your blood will run cold.

Looming on the edge of its roofline are a series of female forms in loose robes and sashes, their hooded faces empty blackness. And you know that empty blackness is staring straight down at you.

They look like Grim Reapers. Or Nazgul. Or Dementors. If any of those spooky bathrobe creatures were white and female, at least. The best name I saw online for the statues was “Rooftop Wraiths.”

If Ghostbusters had happened in San Francisco instead of New York, this roof would have been the one where Gozer tried to enter our world.


For the love of God, stop enhancing.

There are three individual wraiths, each one 12 feet tall, and the pattern of three is repeated on each side of the building for a total of twelve wraiths. One lifts an arm like she’s a Fate and her sash is a life-string to be cut. The second has her arms thrown back like she’s about to jump into oblivion. The third is holding her sash in front of her like one of those airport car drivers looking for his passenger. That’s the most terrifying one if you think about it.

The artist who created them was Muriel Castanis, who made a career out of empty robed figures before dying in 2006. She designed them by covering models in epoxy-soaked cloths. The models then wriggled out as the clothes hardened, and Castanis used those forms as a basis for the 12-foot-tall skyscraper specters San Francisco has today.

They were installed in 1982, a few years before the building at the intersection of California and Kearney was completed. Best of all, they were transported there by helicopter, meaning one freaky day in San Francisco its sky was filled with damned souls. That moment will be the last chapter of a day-in-the-life novel I’ll write someday. The main character will be obsessed with mortality, wear incorrectly folded pocket squares, and have cheeks stuffed with sour cherry balls.

The only thing that really diminishes the spookiness of these statues is the artist’s own name for them: Corporate Goddesses. I assume the name rises from the fact that they’re atop a building located in the financial district of the city. It makes it sound like the statues are there to protect the professional money-obsessed. But their appearance makes it seem like they’re judging them.

Still, to me, they’re gable ghosts, roof spooks, grim roofers. That fact that they’re 350 feet up makes them even more eerie.

I mean, I don’t know how you imagine the Grim Reaper coming for you, whether he slips out of the shadows in front of you or sneaks up behind to tap you on the shoulder, but for me, he always comes from above, swooping down with robes whipping behind him in the wild, sick ecstasy of an entity whose entire purpose is to make us not exist.

Of course, I never imagine him coming to get me with 11 of his buddies.

The best way to see these girls is from a comparable floor of a neighboring high-rise. Or, if you’re lucky enough to work in the building itself, you can see them up close through the glass wall of the top floor behind them. You could also intern as a window washer, I assume.

I saw them through the square window of a camera with a decent zoom while standing across California Street in a plaza with a large lump of polished granite commonly called, “The Banker’s Heart.” Between it and the goddesses, it’s like San Francisco wants the guys and gals in the finance district to know they’re all necessary evils.