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National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco

San Francisco Landmark 90: Ferry Building
Ferry Building
Streetcar From Milan, Italy
26 May 2008
Campanile in Piazza San Marco, Venice
Campanile in Venice
30 May 2002
Giralda Tower in Seville
Giralda Tower in Seville
March 2008
Photograph from Wikimedia Commons

The Ferry Building tower combines elements of the 16th Century Campanile in the Piazza San Marco, Venice, and the 12th Century Giralda Tower in Seville.

(Click Photos to Zoom)

National Register #78000760
Ferry Building
Embarcadero At Market Street
Built 1898

....Commissioned in 1894, the Ferry Building was officially opened in 1898, but not completely occupied until 1903. The present building replaced a large wooden Union Depot and Ferry House which had been finished in 1877. Constructed of native Colusa sandstone over a steel and brick core, the Ferry Building stands on one hundred and eleven concrete piers joined into a platform one hundred and sixty by six hundred and seventy feet.

....A young architect named A. Page Brown drew up plans for a large, steel-framed building....Brown's foundation - which has supported the entire steel-framed structure in such a remarkably dependable manner through two earthquakes (1906 and 1989) - became the largest such foundation for a building over water anywhere in the world.

Brown included a 245-foot-tall clock tower modeled after the 12th century bell tower in the Seville Cathedral in Spain to serve as a welcoming beacon on the Bay. Construction was started in 1896, and the...Ferry Building received its first scheduled arrival in July 1898.... At its peak, as many as 50,000 people a day commuted by ferry.

The opening of the Bay Bridge in 1936, and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, along with mass use of the automobile, rendered the daily commute by ferryboat obsolete. By the 1950's, the Ferry Building was used very little. The historic interior of the Ferry Building structure, with its mosaic floor and dramatic brick and ceramic arches, was lost in 1955, when much of the large open hall was filled in to accommodate standard office space with some retail use and general public use on the ground floor. To cast the once prominent structure into further obscurity, the double-deck Embarcadero Freeway was built across the face of the Ferry Building in 1957, and remained for 35 years.

By the 1970's, automobile traffic overwhelmed thoroughfares in and out of the city. Marin ferry service resumed to provide transportation alternatives. In 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake caused extensive damage to the Embarcadero Freeway, providing the impetus to tear it down in 1991. The Ferry Building and the central waterfront were once again visible and ready to embrace a bright future.

Today ferry terminals operate at Larkspur, Sausalito, Vallejo, and Alameda with plans for continuing network improvements and expansion. Extensive renovation of the Ferry Building is now complete. The Ferry Building redevelopment represents approximately 65,000 square feet of first floor Marketplace space, and an additional 175,000 square feet of premium second and third floor office space. The Marketplace, organized along the central Nave, provides a distinctive space for bringing together the greater Bay Area's agricultural wealth and renowned specialty food purveyors under one roof. The exterior and main public hall have been restored to their original grandeur for use by ferry passengers and the public at large.

Extracted from Historic American Buildings Survey Report dated November 1964

The Ferry Building is also San Francisco Landmark 90.
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