History and Renovation
History And Renovation



In 2003, renovation of the San Francisco Ferry Building was completed after an extensive four-year effort. In a public-private collaboration, the landmark building was redeveloped as a mixed-use property with a world-class public food market on the ground floor and premier quality view office space on the upper floors. The design is the result of the collaboration of three San Francisco architectural firms: Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris (Architects), Baldauf Catton Von Eckartsberg Architects (Retail Architects), and Page & Turnbull (Preservation Architects). The General Contractor for the project is Plant Construction Company.

Historical Context

The historic building was designed by A. Page Brown and originally completed in 1898. The monumental Beaux Arts Ferry Building was the primary point of arrival and departure for San Francisco until the construction of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges in the late 1930's. The main feature of the building's interior was the Great Nave, a 660-foot long, sky lit, two-story concourse located on the second floor that provided access to the ferries. The Nave featured steel arched trusses, brick and terra cotta ornament, monumental clathri (crossed lattice) windows, Tennessee marble walls, and a decorative marble mosaic floor. A large mosaic rendering of the Great Seal of the State of California took pride of place at the center of the floor. The building's Colusa sandstone façade with its monumental 245-foot tall clock tower, modeled after the clock tower of the Giralda Cathedral in Seville, Spain, has been a landmark at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco for more than one hundred years.

Redevelopment Highlights

The Nave: The 660-foot long sky lit Nave, which was filled in and partially demolished during insensitive remodeling in the 1950s, has been restored. Nave features include an expansive historic marble mosaic floor, buff brick and terra cotta arches, monumental clathri and clerestory windows, and steel arched trusses, all topped by a 660-foot long skylight flooding the space with natural light.

Ground Floor Marketplace: Once a working baggage area, the ground floor now houses a 65,000 square foot, locally-oriented, public food market. Buff tile walls with artisan crafted mosaic insets define a dramatic indoor street within the Nave. Thirty eight-foot-tall steel gates front the individual shops that line the Nave. The gates open to allow the shops to spill out into the Nave, establishing the vibrant marketplace.

Upper Level Office Spaces: The second and third floors of the building contain 175,000 square feet of Class A office space and a new Hearing Room for the San Francisco Port Commission. The office space offers panoramic views of the City and the San Francisco Bay, state-of-the-art systems, and dramatic historic features including clathri windows and steel trussed ceilings.

East Façade: The project replaced the building's much-altered east facade in its entirety with a contemporary Bayside facade that reinterpreted the building's significant original features. A 10-foot deep metal-clad cantilevered extension that runs the length of the building recalls the gangways that once extended from the building's second floor to the finger piers beyond. Eleven-foot-tall arched windows that run the length of the building provide a modern interpretation of the windows that once admitted light into the second floor waiting rooms.

Bayside Wharf and Plaza: On the Bay-side of the building, a 30-foot wide new wharf provides generous space for pedestrians to stroll beside the ferry landings and enjoy expansive views of the Bay, Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge. A large, sunny plaza at the south end provides gathering space for the outdoor vendors selling at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Historic Mosaic Floor: The project restored 22,000 square-feet of the Nave's marble mosaic floor. A large field of white and grey tesserae (mosaic tiles) bordered by an 18-inch band of red and purple tesserae with an exquisite rendering of the Great Seal of the State of California at its center.

Clock Tower: The 245-foot tall clock tower, with its four 22-foot diameter clock faces has been carefully refurbished. New steel bracing has strengthened its core, while the historic clock mechanism has been rehabilitated. A new lighting system insures that the clock tower, with its elegant architectural details, will be visible at the foot of Market Street both night and day. 



In 1998, following an intense public competition, the Port of San Francisco selected Ferry Building Investors, LLC, a joint venture of affiliates of Equity Office Properties Trust, Wilson Meany Sullivan, Banc of America Historic Capital Assets, LLC, and Primus Infrastructure, and its design team—the architectural firms SMWM, BCV and Page & Turnbull—to redevelop the Ferry Building. The team's proposal was founded on two key ideas, one architectural and the other programmatic. Architecturally, the team proposed to return the building's lost soul, the dramatic 660-foot long Great Nave. Programmatically, the recreated Nave would provide a new public use for the building by housing a public market showcasing the very best of the Bay Area’s food purveyors.

The Ferry Building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and is a registered landmark in the City of San Francisco. The team's proposal for the building was reviewed by the City's Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, the California State Office of Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, as well as the Port of San Francisco, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the State Lands Commission and many other agencies. The proposed removal of portions of the second floor to visually connect the ground floor public space to the historic Nave was considered controversial, but the bold idea of recreating the Nave was so compelling that all agencies unanimously approved it.

When constructed in 1898, the Nave was a classic turn-of-the-century transit hall with the dramatic industrial dimensions favored at the time. In 1954, the great volume of the Nave was lost when a floor and mezzanines were inserted into the space to allow its use as utilitarian office space. The project removed the hung ceilings, four mechanical mezzanines, and floors and walls within the original volume of the Nave, exposing original steel roof trusses and brick arches in the supporting walls. Where feasible, these elements were carefully repaired or restored. In other areas, historic elements were duplicated using modern materials and methods. A catalogue of the completed work includes the recreation of the 660-foot long skylight, the restoration of 12 steel arched trusses, the recreation of 11 monumental brick and terracotta arches and the restoration of the other 35 arches, the reproduction of 34 11-foot tall clathri windows, and the restoration of approximately 22,000 square feet of marble mosaic floor.

The design team found inventive ways to meet the requirements of contemporary building codes, as well as ambitious sustainability goals. Daylight streams through the newly re-constructed skylight, animating the vast Nave, highlighting the restored brickwork and reducing reliance on artificial lighting. A complete seismic and structural retrofit and the introduction of new building systems will extend the building's life well into the 21st century. A contemporary mechanical system includes a 100 percent outside air option, taking full advantage of San Francisco's temperate climate for the building's ventilation. The Nave clerestory walls ingeniously accommodate a new life safety atrium smoke exhaust system that meets the Fire Marshall's requirements without compromising the historic exterior elevations.

On the Bay-side, the team designed the completely new waterfront that is respectful of the building's transportation history while acknowledging its new use as a marketplace and office destination. A 10-foot deep metal clad cantilevered addition at the second floor runs the length of the building, recalling the gangways that originally led from the second floor to the finger piers beyond. Twenty-three graceful arched windows sit above the cantilever as a reminder of the 23 arched windows that originally illuminated the second floor waiting rooms. Throughout the process, the design team carefully adhered to the requirements of the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation to preserve the building's integrity.

The dramatic architectural rehabilitation of the Ferry Building was intended to give the building a new public life. Inspired by the street markets of Paris, Harrods in London, Peck in Milan and the Pike Place Market in Seattle, the ground floor of the renovated Ferry Building is a European-style marketplace showcasing the very best of Bay Area food. Restaurants and cafes anchor three of the corners of the ground floor, each with both indoor and outdoor seating. A small Historic Gallery features images and objects from the building's civic history.The balance of the ground floor of the Ferry Building Marketplace is comprised of several dozen individual but interrelated retail shops and day tables that offer locally grown or produced food products, sustainably-produced agricultural products, and related food, wine and cooking goods, all with a dedicated regional focus. The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market occupies the building's arcades and surrounding plazas.

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