Thursday, December 1, 2011

The San Francisco Ferry Building

The San Francisco Ferry Terminal is located on the Embarcadero in downtown San Francisco, at the terminus of Market Street.

The current Ferry Building was designed by A. Page Brown and was built in 1898 to replace an earlier wooden building.  The clock tower on top of the Ferry Building is modeled after the 12th century Giralda tower in Seville Spain.  The original clock mechanism, a Special No. 4 built in 1898 by E. Howard of Boston, is still intact and functional, though the operation of the clock has been taken over by a more accurate electronic mechanism that doesn't require winding.  It is the largest wind-up, dialed, mechanical clock in the world.  The Ferry Building survived both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes with only minor damage and has remained largely unchanged, at least architecturally, for most of its life.

For the first half of the 20th century the San Francisco Ferry Building was the main transit hub for the Bay Area, seeing so much daily traffic that it was the second busiest mass transit center in the world, only falling behind Charing Cross Station in London.  The ferry Building was the embarkation point for ships bound for the East Bay and vice versa.  There was also a loop track for local street car service in front of the building so commuters could board local transit once their ferries had arrived in the city.

The building fell into disuse in the second half of the 20th century, following the opening of the Bay Bridge and the extension of Key Route rail car service between San Francisco and Oakland.  The construction of the Embarcadero Freeway in the 1950s effectively severed the Embarcadero waterfront form the rest of the city and the Ferry Building saw an accompanying drop in service and use.  However, following the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the Embarcadero Freeway was demolished and, with the creation of the current Embarcadero and its surrounding park spaces, the city gained back a significant cultural and historical resource.  The building currently houses a gourmet market and hosts San Francisco's best known farmer's market.  Also, Blue Bottle coffee has a stand there which makes the building worth a trip almost every time I go to the city.

I like the Ferry Buildding a lot.  I moved to the area after the Embarcadero Freeway was demolished so the thought of not being able to climb out of the Embarcadero BART station and orient myself by looking for the Ferry Building clock tower is very odd to me.  It remains one of my favorite sights in the city and I never feel bad taking the time to walk through it.  The inside of the building is great too, following a very extensive renovation in 2003.  The farmer's market and the shops inside are worth a trip, but don't go on the weeekendd because the crowds will be out of control.

Getting There By Bike...
The Ferry Building is easy to find...
  • Ride BART to the city and get off at the Embarcadero station.
  • Walk out to street level.
  • Turn around and see the Ferry Building at the end of Market St.
If you live in the city it's even easier...
  • Get on Market Street.
  • Ride your bike east (into downtown) until you fall in the water.
  • Take a couple steps backwards and look up.  You're at the Ferry Building!

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