Historic Transit at the Ferry Building

San Francisco Waterfront (1849 – 1909) — [13 Images]

1849: The Gold Rush—San Francisco becomes the busiest and most important port on the West Coast

1898: A Page Brown designed Ferry Building is constructed on the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street. The Ferry Building, originally called the Union Depot and Ferry House, designed by A. Page Brown, was constructed at the foot of Market Street, replacing the original wood frame structure built many years earlier. With its tall Beaux Arts tower and rhythmic arcades, the Ferry Building, San Francisco’s gateway to the world, immediately became the City’s iconic “postcard” representation until the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1938.

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San Francisco's Completed 'City Beautiful' Waterfront

Construction Begins on Civic Finger Piers 1, 1½, 3 and 5 (1918 – 1928) — [6 Images]

Construction begins on civic finger Piers 1, 1½, 3 and 5, at the heart of the San Francisco waterfront north of the Ferry Building.

The construction of these finger piers spanned over a decade and was led by Chief Engineer of the State Harbor Commission, Frank G. White. Pier 1 opened in 1931. Unlike the piers to the south of the Ferry Building, the piers to the north were built in the Beaux-Arts architectural style, similar to New York City’s Cunard Line and White Star Line Piers (of Titanic fame), designed by Warren and Wetmore, architects of New York’s Grand Central Station.

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Bay Bridge under construction in 1934

The Effect of the Bay Bridge — [4 Images]

The Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge opened, resulting in an almost instantaneous decline in ferry service. Overnight the Ferry Building’s and the nearby pier’s raison d’être became obsolete. Simultaneously there became a greater reliance on trucking as an important mode of goods distribution and shipping. The pier sheds’ internal column grids impeded truck maneuvering and the narrow pier aprons, designed specifically to accommodate trains, did not work well for trucks. This corresponded to periods of labor unrest, much of it focused on the Waterfront, the Port and its operations. It was here in San Francisco that important Labor Movement figures such as Harry Bridges emerged.

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