Impressions of San Francisco Transbay Terminal Last Hurrah…

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.

Here is a view of the bar “Cuddles” that was popular until the 80’s when it closed.

The sign that someone had cleverly altered capacity 89 “Drunk” persons still hangs in Cuddles.

Next to Cuddles was the old diner, also boarded up for all of these years.

This shot is up ramp 2.  You can see the slight grade of the ramp, and how it was designed to minimize walking and strain on passengers.

I thought this graphic on the ground was fantastic.  It says, ” Platform Type Shoes Can Be Dangerous on Ramps.  Please Use Stairways”   I wonder when this was painted?

Loved the yellow around the old telephone booths.  You don’t see many telephone booths these days…

Here is an intriguing part of history.  There was a small police office onsite with a jail cell for train thieves.

I don’t know this fellow visitor…he jumped into the cell for a photo, and I couldn’t resist also snapping him.  With a person in the cell, you can really see the size and scale of the holding pen.

I realized that I could see all the way down to Yerba Buena Gardens and basically to my front door from here.  I never really have spent much time at the terminal before.

A parting shot of the terminal as I left with the new Millennium Tower project looming next door.

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



Filed under San Francisco Treats

5 responses to “Impressions of San Francisco Transbay Terminal Last Hurrah…

  1. Interesting post…too bad it does not look like it did before the 80’s remodel. Some truly enlightened designers could probably do something pretty remarkable with it now. And oh my, your cooking club post has me obsessing over that chocolate cake. Love your new Atelier banner!


    • Thanks Jermaine. I couldn’t agree with you more about the Transbay Terminal. It will be interesting to see how it develops. Right now they are trying to clear out the homeless who have lived there for years before demolition next week.

      Make the cake, you will not regret it. It is FABULOUS!

      Happy Weekend,


  2. matt

    thank you so much for this post! i live in the south bay and heard it on the news; of course, my curiousity was piqued. and of course, tours were over. thanks for sharing this!

  3. Kari,
    This was SO interesting.. I have walked by that terminal a million times.. and had no idea of the history inside. So glad I could come along with you! Love the shoe shine station and bar… can only imagine what it was like:)

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