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The Ferry Building: the first Golden Gate into San Francisco

The Ferry Building has stood on the shores of the bay for over a century, and still proudly serves as an entrance into San Francisco.
The Ferry Building has stood on the shores of the bay for over a century, and still proudly serves as an entrance into San Francisco.
Bruce Turner/D Guides

As San Francisco's renown and numbers grew in the late 19th century, the site for receiving these visitors into the city was (and still is) the building at the foot of Market Street - known simply as the Ferry Building.

Early days

After the discoveries of gold and silver prompted a huge population boom in San Francisco, a wooden Ferry Building was built in 1875. At the time there was no other way for ferryboats coming from the East Bay or Marin to reach the city except for this spot.

In with the new

In 1892, a plan for a new Ferry Building was put into motion, and this one was far more ambitious - in fact, the foundation of architect A. Page Brown's design was the largest foundation for a building built over water in the world at the time.

The new Ferry Building opened in 1898, and received thousands of passengers every day. Visitors to Spain's Seville Cathedral might have a little deja vu at the sight of the San Francisco landmark - its clock tower was modeled after the Spanish building's bell tower.

The ferry era ends

Unfortunately, the construction of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge in the first half of the 20th century meant that ferryboats were basically unnecessary for commuters. Much of the interior was filled in to be used for office and public space in 1955, and the Embarcadero Freeway was built in front of the building in 1957.

Revival arrives

Just when it seemed as if the Ferry Building would fade away into the decades of the city's past, the Marin ferry service was resumed in the 1970's to ease the pressure on the highway system. And the 1989 earthquake led to the Embarcadero in front of the building being torn down.

Today, ferries still run between San Francisco and Vallejo, Sausalito, Larkspur, and Alameda, and the Ferry Building has been recognized as an official San Francisco landmark.

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