May 15, 2009

My love affair with the San Francisco Ferry Building

One of the best decisions ever made by a city government was to restore San Francisco's Ferry Building. Located at the end of Market Street, the thoroughfare that crosses much of the city and separates the financial district from the industrial.

During the 1970's this waterfront area had already become part of a deserted section of town, and the ferry terminal almost dangerous depending on the time of day that you were there. In those days, the train station and the Transbay Terminal which housed the Greyhound Bus line were also somewhat unsettling and certainly not a destination for tourists. One needed to enter and exit the area quickly due to pickpockets, panhandlers and other nefarious types loitering about.

Today the San Francisco Ferry Building is a jewel at the top of Market Street, at the Portal of this great city. Reconditioned historic trolley cars from all around the world ferry visitors and locals alike along Market Street and past the ferry building everyday now.

As part of this renaissance for the Embarcadero, today the entire waterfront area has been successfully refurbished. The name “embarcadero” derives from the Spanish word embarcar, identifying it as the place to embark. With this area famous for its maritime history, going back well before California became a state, the waterfront of San Francisco has been heavily used by the shipping industry.

During the 1849 California Gold Rush, many ships were scuttled and deliberately sunk off shore by men determined to find gold in the hills. Equally deliberate was the act of shanghaiing men from San Francisco, and forcing them to work on ships sailing without a full crew into the Pacific Ocean and points east.

Major work on the Ferry Building and the Embarcadero began with the tearing down of the elevated Embarcadero Freeway after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. This visibly opened the waterfront buildings and shined sunlight on the area, making it much more welcoming to visitors.

Besides the exterior restoration that took place, inside the Ferry Building you can now walk the entire length of the building and see one of the most beautiful interiors of any city building – the golden dome of City Hall is a close second.

Walk inside the Ferry Building and you will discover defused light shining on gorgeous stalls of organic foods, gourmet olive oil, bread, cheese, mushrooms and chocolates. There are fabulous restaurants, coffee shops, a tea room, ice cream counters and wine merchants. You can find beautiful gifts of local handicrafts, books and every kitchen gadget you didn’t know that you needed.

Besides all of these wonderful local businesses, one of my favorite aspects of the building and its evolution is CUESA. CUESA is the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture and simply astounding. With their entry to this space, visitors and locals alike can enrich their world with little effort. My love for this place continues to grow and if you get a chance please come visit the San Francisco Ferry Building. If you cannot visit in person, then start your own love affair by going to CUESA’s website – their weekly email will inspire you, I promise.

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