John King, the Chronicle’s excellent urban design writer, is taking a look at the “re-imagining” going on about the public space surrounding San Francisco’s most famous transit shrine: the old Ferry Building streetcar loop.
The goal is to create a lively crossroads of enticing fun, rather than the 20 acres of scenic but little-used space that now spills inland from the Ferry Building. Chicago’s lakefront is a model: Millennium Park, where 24.5 acres of train tracks were transformed into a wildly popular phantasmagoria that draws locals and tourists alike. Or Grant Park, where President-elect Barack Obama spoke on election night to more than 200,000 people.
Ferry Loop, around 1927. San Francisco Municipal Railway archives.
Most of the space in question, now called Justin Herman Plaza, was created at the same time as the Embarcadero Freeway went up in the 1950s, by “redeveloping” (in this case bulldozing) a block of older buildings, mostly sailors’ haunts, between Market and Mission Streets, Steuart Street and The Embarcadero, along with other buildings, on the blocks north of Market. As part of the massive redevelopment, the old Produce District gave way to the Golden Gateway residential complex and Embarcadero Center’s office highrises and hotels.
The foot of Market itself was cut back a block, with a aggregate pedestrian way replacing the last block of vehicular use between Steuart and The Embarcadero. And the traditional transit loop (streetcars until 1949, then buses) in front of the Ferry Building, disappeared, with the bus turnaround relocated to an asphalt lot at Mission and Steuart Streets.
This aerial view, shows the open space around the foot of Market Street is considerable, but very chopped up.
When the Embarcadero Freeway was finally vanquished after the 1989 earthquake, the roadway area itself was remade into a grand boulevard, including the F-line streetcar right-of-way.
The asphalt bus turnaround became the trendy Hotel Vitale, bringing Muni millions in lease revenue and a home for Market Street Railway’s San Francisco Railway Museum.
But the old brick and concrete plaza was little changed (though because it’s technically parkland, the F-line wasn’t allowed to follow streetcars’ traditional path straight down Market to the Ferry Building, but had to loop along Steuart to the south end of the plaza).
Now city planners are rethinking the whole plaza configuration. Streetcars will frame the project visually as well as providing the most visible and attractive transit to and from this new gathering place.
So what do our readers think this new space should look like, and what should it be used for? Let us know in the comments below.