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Last Tour at Transbay Terminal

The public is invited to take one last look around Transbay Terminal this Friday.  The formidable ediface, which started life as a modern (and Moderne) home for trains from three different companies and is finishing it as a forlorn bus shed, was built by the State of California as a terminal for trains crossing the Bay Bridge from the East Bay and beyond — as far as Chico on the old Sacramento Northern.

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They built it…but they did not come, at least in terms of adequate numbers of passengers on the long distance interurban trains. Within a couple of years, only the Key System was still running trains across the bridge, and by the late 1950s, that ended too, as the lower deck of the Bay Bridge was converted to accommodate the burgeoning suburban automobile count. Since then, AC Transit buses have been the predominant tenant.

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Streetcars ran to the front door of the Transbay Terminal, too — three tracks in front, serving both Muni and the old Market Street Railway. On opening day for streetcars to Transbay, the confusion caused by splitting the terminal between the Ferry Building and Transbay created what is arguably the greatest traffic jam in Market Street history.  The last streetcar, on the F-line, ran in 2000, just before the line was extended back to the Ferry Building and on to Fisherman’s Wharf.

To mark the closing of Transbay Terminal and its replacement with what backers envision as something like “Grand Central Station-West,” Caltrans has organized public tours this Friday, July 30, at 12 Noon and 1, 2, 3, and 4 p.m.  Meet at the ground floor entrance on Mission Street between First and Fremont Streets. They promise a behind-the-scenes look at areas that have been closed off, including Cuddles Bar, the shoe shine shop, and the Terminal jail. Click here for more information on the new Transbay Center.  

UPDATE: Carl Nolte’s great Sunday Chronicle column, “Native Son,” has now been posted online, with lots of detail, including an interview with Market Street Railway member Grant Ute.

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When San Franciscans do ugly, it is hard to find anyplace else in America that can out do them; from the TransBay Terminal to the Hall of Justice, Modernism came to San Francisco as a shroud, a miasma, a bad omen. But, it’s not like the few who will miss the TransBay will be left utterly bereft. Whatever rises from its miserable imprint will most certainly offer impressive views of Timothy Pfleuger’s exuberant Moderne skyscraper masterpiece, the Pacific Telephone building just a block away on Second Street. Who knows what he was thinking when he designed the TransBay, but it was certainly not ran through his mind when Ma Bell called. Over on Union Square, his magnificent Maya-Moderne tower on Sutter Street has just been restored, and of course one can still delight in the sound of the theater organ belting out “San Francisco” at Pflueger’s elegant Castro Theater. But, if your tastes insist on the reserved, there is always the original City College bldg, designed after a visit to pre-war Germany, where it’s believed he was influenced by Alfred Speer’s work for, well, never mind who for. It’s in a pretty sad state, but even old City College is a more remarkable structure than the TransBay.

Besides, isn’t it fitting that the sad TransBay Terminal is being torn down not only to make way for more trains, and possibly high speed rail, but that the Ferry Building it replaced is once again the star of the waterfront it was designed to be? I did my own walk through, I have my memories, I’ll shed no tears for the Trans Bay Terminal.

I’m already dreaming of that gleaming high speed rail line to Union Station, where I can then hop on the new Exposition Line and ride streetcars to Santa Monica! Imagine that, from Downtown San Francisco to Santa Monica all by rail! The Future once again seems like an exciting place to be.

I always thought that Transbay Terminal had a restrained, timeless quality; architecture that didn’t shout “1937!”. But we don’t come here to discuss taste in architecture, and the most relevant thing for me is that the Terminal no longer has any rail service, heavy or light. Here in Southern California, it’s been a long hard “slog” to get even some of our rail service back, and for many of us, high-speed rail from The City to The City of the Angels is in the “I should live so long” category, but we have to “keep the faith.”

Personally I will miss the Transbay Transit Terminal. From it’s historical prospective. To simply being something many took for granted passing though as part of their daily commute. The building was very utilitarian and maybe at best, a lot of wasted space that could had been used for something else. Honestly had some other landloard then the State Of California and it’s Department Of Transportation, the building probably would have had a better fate. As a public transportation fan I always got a kick out of hanging out here checking out all the bus & streetcar traffic that came through and in front of the building. I for one will miss it! Don’t know if the new highrise will have as much character as this one did!

Why was this done on only one day and only Friday! Mobs of people attended. They needed a couple of days, including a weekend.

I’ll miss the Transbay Terminal as much as I miss the old Cliff House, remodeled in 2002. I know it’s progress, but there’s just something about places like these that are special to me. As a teenager growing up in the 1960’s, the terminal was the only way to get to discover San Francisco living in Castro Valley. From here we’d walk to the old 38 line for the beach, the 5 to Golden Gate Park or just explore the downtown area. I walked around there today for one last time. The old fashioned ticket windows, long closed up, are still there, rememebered where tho old coffee counter was, and sat in those wonderful wooden benches downstairs. I missed a lot of busses home falling asleep in these after a long day in town.Incidentally, we’ll always have the opening scene from the 1974 film ‘The Laughing Policman’ starring Walter Matthau to remember it by. This film has a number of location shots inside the building when it was still, considerably, bustling. Tim Welsh

I only regret that I didnt photograph the terminal in fall 1973, when it was still bustling & crowded with commuters in the PM rush, and the sidewalks coming from Market St were packed. At the time, BART didnt cross the bay. I well remember buying at the AC Transit ticket window one-way tickets for Hayward for 70c each—before the great inflation of the 70s. Greyhound still ran to Walnut Creek, Concord & Pittsburg, while other commuters to that area rode AC’s C line (which sometimes used an articulated Trailways bus), to MacArthur BART, then rode BART east. The departing AC buses formed a continuous line onto the bridge. Each route variation (e.g., R, RD, RH, RF) had its own bus stop.

Sadly I never got to ride the Key System Trains in and out of the Transbay Terminal even though they were still running when I made my first visit to SF with my parents in the early fifties. For some reason my step-father preferred to take the ferry over to the SP dock in the bay. I remember people telling him that there was more activity in the Transbay Terminal but he was insistent on riding the ferry to the trains and as a result we only saw one train. That was a big disappointment to me and apparently to him as well.

I was stationed on Treasure Island in 1968 and rode the “T” Line from the Island to Downtown San Francisco and the Transbay Terminal which was called the East Bay Terminal back then. I remember the hustle of people coming and going and the wonder of it all. It was the gateway to my beloved City and all the excitement (and trouble) a young sailor could get into. Years later I would become a Tour Guide and would work some very whacky programs. One was for an insurance company that involved a Maltese Falcon theme. All the participants at first thought the aforementioned Falcon was a copy of the bird statue from the book and movie. But in reality the Falcon was me. The object of the week long program involved the guests earning clues as the whereabouts of the Falcon. The final event was the meting out of the final clues. And that pointed to the Transbay Terminal where I would be “hiding” - actually in plain view. So there I stood at 6 AM awaiting the 10 people who were the finalists rushing to the site like the crowd in the movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World. Just a moment before they came rushing up the ramps a poor, befuddled old man was asking me about the bus and I warned him he should not be standing near me and at that moment the crowd came up to me to tag me… the winner would receive a large amount of money. It was a crazy moment I will ever forget and I suspect neither will that old man. Memories of the Transbay Terminal of long ago.

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