PRESERVING THE HISTORY AND CELEBRATING THE FUTURE
The Ferry Building was established in 1898 as a major transit hub. As one of San Francisco’s most important historic landmarks, the building now serves as a vibrant gathering place for visitors, as well as a destination for the local culinary community.
This beloved building was constructed from gray-colored Colusa sandstone, a common turn-of-the-century building material that was mined in Northern California’s Colusa County and can be seen throughout downtown San Francisco buildings.
A restoration project was launched in 2019 to return the building to its original gray color, using a custom blended paint intended to match the building’s original Colusa sandstone hue. In addition, we will be conducting significant repairs to the building’s façade, which has deteriorated in places due to natural weathering.
This effort will ensure the Ferry Building remains one of the city’s most enjoyed and cherished landmarks well into the future.
We hope this work inspires visitors to learn more about the Ferry Building’s history and to be part of its future. Learn about the building’s history, attend an event happening at the Ferry Building, and check back for the latest updates on this page.
THE FERRY BUILDING FAÇADE: A BRIEF HISTORY
Original Construction in 1898
The Ferry Building was completed in 1898. The exterior façade facing the Embarcadero was clad in Colusa sandstone, which was quarried at the Knowles Quarry near Sites, California. The building’s base, which is constructed of granite, was quarried at the Leahy & Turner Quarry in Victorville, California. The building’s clocktower was also originally wrapped in Colusa sandstone, while the decorative setbacks at the tower’s top were clad in painted sheetmetal. The Colusa sandstone has a greenish-grey color, and is a porous stone.
The Ferry Building was one of the few structures in downtown San Francisco to survive the 1906 earthquake. The clocktower suffered the most extensive damage and was rebuilt with a concrete exterior, and damaged stone was repaired or replaced in the lower part of the building. At that time, the clocktower was painted a lighter color than the Colusa sandstone in the lower part of the building.
Changes After 1906
At some point after 1906, the stone exterior was covered with a plaster parge coating and painted. In the 2003 building renovation, new colors were chosen for the building, which were selected to be compatible with the surrounding Port pier buildings, and to relate to the warm tones of the building’s interior. Over time, the exterior paint color faded to a blue-gray color that no longer related to the building’s historic origins.
2019 New Paint Color Selections
Ferry Building co-owners Hudson Pacific Properties and Allianz, in close consultation with design consultants, historic restoration experts and the Port’s Planning and Preservation staff, selected new colors for the building that both relate to its historic roots and reflect its civic importance at the terminus of Market Street. Investigation was undertaken to uncover sections of original Colusa sandstone to use as a starting point for the new color selection. The building’s new paint color, for which Sherwin-Williams custom blended “Ferry Building Gray,” responds to the varied warm gray tones of Colusa sandstone, and will be accented by a slightly darker color for windows, trim and decorative spandrels. The new clocktower color will match the warm color of adjacent pier bulkheads to tie the building to its maritime neighbors as the crowning jewel of the San Francisco waterfront.
2022 Project Update
In May 2022, the seventh and final phase of the restoration, which is focused entirely on the building’s iconic clocktower, began. First, scaffolding is being erected on all sides of the clocktower, followed by pressure washing, masonry work, painting, and finally, disassembling the scaffolding. The entire project is expected to be complete before the end of 2022.
Questions & Answers
What does this restoration effort entail?
Hudson Pacific Properties and Allianz Real Estate are committed to ensuring the Ferry Building continues to be a vibrant, historic and critical part of the city’s fabric. To ensure that, we need to restore and repair parts of the building, including the façade, which have suffered the effects of natural weathering.
As part of this plan, we are restoring the Ferry Building to its original Colusa sandstone color—gray. We are working with leading historic restoration firm, Architectural Resources Group, to oversee the project for historical accuracy and compliance.
We hope the building’s restoration serves as a conversation starter that inspires residents and visitors to learn more about city’s history and one of its most iconic landmarks.
Why not just restore the Colusa sandstone façade rather than repaint it?
Sometime in the 1970s or earlier, the Ferry Building’s Colusa sandstone was coated with a material concocted by a masonry contractor hired to execute repairs to the building’s exterior. It apparently consisted of water, cement and an acrylic bonding agent used for concrete and mortars. This material adhered tightly to the sandstone, but after application it began to discolor. Large areas of the façade had light colored streaks that adversely impacted the aesthetic of the unit masonry facade. In the early 1990s, the building was painted as part of a partial seismic upgrade, as the cementitious coating could not be removed.
Are you working directly with city officials on this effort?
Yes, the Port of San Francisco has been included every step of the way to ensure that restoration efforts are aligned with the original intent of the building’s design and character.
How long will this project take to complete?
The painting and façade restoration began in August 2019 and is expected to be completed before the end of 2022.
What color is the building being painted?
The color of the Ferry Building is being restored to its original gray color when it was designed by architect A.P. Brown in 1898. The building was constructed from gray-colored Colusa sandstone, a common turn-of-the-century building material that was mined in Northern California’s Colusa County and can be seen throughout downtown San Francisco buildings. Sherwin-Williams custom blended a “Ferry Building Gray” color for the restoration.
Will the renovations and the repainting affect access to the Ferry Building’s shops?
The building has remained fully open and operational throughout all phases of the restoration and we are taking steps to minimize disruption to everyday activities at the Ferry Building.