Brown included a 245-foot-tall clock tower modeled after the 12th century bell tower in the Seville Cathedral in Spain to serve as a welcoming beacon on the Bay. Construction was started in 1896, and the Union Depot and Ferry House—quickly shortened by public use to the Ferry Building—received its first scheduled arrival in July 1898. Passengers off the boats passed through an elegant two-story public area with repeating interior arches and overhead skylights. At its peak, as many as 50,000 people a day commuted by ferry.
The opening of the Bay Bridge in 1936, and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, along with mass use of the automobile, rendered the daily commute by ferryboat obsolete. By the 1950's, the Ferry Building was used very little. The historic interior of the Ferry Building structure, with its mosaic floor and dramatic brick and ceramic arches, was lost in 1955, when much of the large open hall was filled in to accommodate standard office space with some retail use and general public use on the ground floor. To cast the once prominent structure into further obscurity, the double-deck Embarcadero Freeway was built across the face of the Ferry Building in 1957, and remained for 35 years.
By the 1970's, automobile traffic overwhelmed thoroughfares in and out of the city. Marin ferry service resumed to provide transportation alternatives. In 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake caused extensive damage to the Embarcadero Freeway, providing the impetus to tear it down in 1991. The Ferry Building and the central waterfront were once again visible and ready to embrace a bright future. > Next