Friday, June 12, 2009

The Ferry Building, Upstairs

I've been spending a lot of time at the Ferry Building (more on that in a couple of weeks) and, to get to know it better, I took one of City Guides' regularly-scheduled free walking tours. In 45 minutes, you get a good idea of the role this landmark played in the history of San Francisco from the day it opened in 1898 to today.
For one, the building and its 245-foot clock tower are two extremely resilient structures, especially when you consider that they rest on the same 5,000 pilings of Oregon pine trees that were placed into the ground as support in 1898. The building has survived two major earthquakes, years as one of the world's busiest transportation hubs and, after years of decline, it emerged from a massive renovation, revived as a major foodie mecca.
For the first time, I went upstairs to the Grand Nave, which is stunning. This 600-foot long hall is topped by a long continuous skylight that illuminates the marketplace below. At the height of ferryboat travel -- before the bridges went up -- thousands of passengers every day boarded and disembarked here from upper decks of boats, which docked right up against the Ferry Building. The first floor, where the marketplace stands today, was used to load and unload cargo.
During the 1990s renovation, the stone arches and beautiful mosaic floor (upper right photo) from 1898 were brought back to life. You can't miss the seal of California, with the state's black bear, the goddess Minerva and the depiction of the California coastline when the Spanish explorers arrived.

It's quiet up here and hard to imagine the hustle and bustle of this area when an estimated 50 million people a year crossed this floor. But if you stand at the railings and look at the often-packed marketplace below, you get a sense of it -- and a feeling that the Ferry Building has come full circle as one of the most vibrant places in San Francisco. The City Guides tour starts at the front of the building every Tuesday and Saturday at noon.

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