Friday morning I heard there were farewell tours of San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal for one day only from 11:30 am – 4:30pm. A little birdie that knew I would be interested forwarded me this article.
I’m surprised that there was very little publicity of this event in advance and that it was for one day only…why not run through the weekend? Since I can see the terminal from my window and I’m extremely curious and interested in its future I decided that I MUST make time to check out what was going on over there. I caught the very last tour and spent more time inside that terminal than I ever have before.
When you entered the terminal volunteers distributed a packet of information, newspaper clippings, architectural plans, and photographs that had been carefully assembled. It was called “A Look Back Before We Move Forward” . A look back in history to honor the building before demolition that begins this month to make way for the new “Grand Central of the West”.
The terminal was built in 1939 as part of the Bay Bridge project. Electric trains ran on the lower deck of the bridge and looped through to bring commuters to this central part of the city. The building was designed by Timothy Pflueger, Arthur Brown, Jr. and John J. Donovan in the Moderne style. The building was constructed with a series of ramps and stairs to minimize the amount of walking that passengers would need to do. Originally conceived to handle 50,000 passengers daily, its peak ridership was around 25,000 passengers daily during World War II.
I was interested in this early sketch of the terminal showing the two story windows that provided great daylight. Unfortunately, that is not how the terminal looks today. A second floor was added in the late 80’s to accommodate Greyhound bus lines that cut out all of this wonderful light.
There were 100’s of people from all walks of life that turned out for these tours. Here is a shot of my tour making its way up the ramp to learn about how the trains came in and departed. As cars became more popular modes of transportation, the building was changed to accommodate bus traffic, instead of trains.
Here is my tour guide explaining the history of the 3 train lines, BART, and plans for the future. You get an idea for how many people came out as you look beyond him another tour group.
In the middle of the pavement, you can still see where the train tracks used to be before the retrofit for bus lines took place. Structural beams were relocated during this time also to accommodate the width of the buses.
In preparation for demolition, construction workers had uncovered previously boarded off sections of the terminal that were open for viewing. This shoe shine station was one of the elements that has been hidden for decades.
I’m glad that I made time to see this soon to be lost part of our city’s history. It was a well designed and beautiful building for the times, many of its concepts and finishes on trend for today. It’s too bad that over the years the terminal fell into such bad shape. The trains were removed and it became a giant bus stop. As the homeless population moved in and the concessions moved out it fell out of popularity. Ironic that it is being torn down to build another terminal for basically the same purpose. I’m sure there are many well thought out reasons why the building must come down to make way for the new building, but seeing it on Friday made me a little sad that some of the old terminal couldn’t be salvaged and incorporated into the new design.
The new conceptual design of the new “Transit Center” IS quite impressive. If you are interested in learning more, there are some interactive videos and cool 3D renderings located here http://transbaycenter.org