27 July, 2010

The Last Bus Out or The Last Days of the Transbay Terminal

The once-grand Transbay Terminal at Mission and First Streets opened in 1939. Designed by Timothy Pflueger (other Pflueger projects include the Castro Theatre, the Oakland Paramount and Pacific Telephone Building), the building served the extensive system of interurban trains and buses that was developed after the construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The trains of the Key System (predecessor of today's AC Transit) once ran on the lower deck of the bridge while auto traffic was confined to the upper deck of the structure. At its peak, during the post WWII years, the terminal served 26 MILLION passengers a year with 10-car trains arriving every 63.5 seconds at peak hours (take that, BART!).
Today, after years of neglect, the old station awaits the wrecking ball. It's hard to imagine, while walking through the empty corridors, that this place was built to handle 17,000 passengers every 20 minutes. Not so long ago the building had coffee shops, a cocktail lounge, news agents, a shoe-shine man, information booths, you name it. For the last few years, the cavernous waiting halls have been home to scores of homeless individuals and the only passengers that the place saw would scurry as quickly as possible out onto the city streets. A temporary terminal at Howard and Beale (Network!) opens on August 7th. The shiny new terminal is scheduled for completion in 2017 and will be home to the new California High-Speed Railway to Los Angeles (I have a feeling that we will all be VERY old by the time this train makes its debut).
These photos are among the last of this old place. The Terminal is the sort of unloved and oft-ignored urban structure that no one will remember and who's passing few will mourn, but it's important to acknowledge that this place played an important part in the history of The City for the past 70 years.

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