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Transbay Terminal: Not Always Useless, Ugly, Old & Smelly

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The Chronicle, betwixt print and digital media, makes us wait for some content. Thus commentary by Carl Nolte on the about-to-be-demolished Transbay Terminal was published Sunday but appears online today.

It's good to have an overview, and perhaps unintentionally, Mr. Nolte gives us a reminder of the law of unintended consequences. The Transbay Terminal was meant to be the hub of a rail system linking San Francisco to the rest of California, replacing the ferries that once crisscrossed the Bay. Unfortunately this was also the days of both privately-owned rail systems and the looming post-war horror of Communism and Socialism. All three rail systems coming over the Bay Bridge were allowed to fail. Cars and trucks were ascendant- the tracks on the bridge were eliminated in 1958, the terminal turned over to privately-owned bus companies, who in turn further chopped up the interior space, lowering the ceiling of the once-grand main waiting room.

[Update: Carl Nolte has kindly pointed out that AC Transit, which took over the East Bay bus routes and most of the Terminal in 1960 is a not a "privately owned bus company". We appreciate the correction. -PF]


There was minimal maintenance, and over the decades the building reverted to a nightmarish de facto homeless shelter. BART, created in the early 1960's under the new rubric of "Transit Authorities" had dealt the final blow, routed up Market Street instead of Mission Street where it could have connected to the Transbay. Indeed, Mission Street had become the "Skid Row" where Jimmy Stewart did so much drinking in "Vertigo". Fortunately, Los Angeles' Union Station, completed the same year as the Transbay, won't suffer the same fate and remains one of the West Coast's iconic public buildings.

The Transbay Terminal will be open for tours on Friday, July 30 on the hour from noon to 4PM. See you at the wake!
· Transbay Terminal Finally Going Terminal [Native Son/SFGate]
· Transbay Terminal [Wikipedia]
· BART [Wikipedia]
· Union Station {Wikipedia]
· Ah Transbay, We Hardly Knew You [Curbed SF Archives]