clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

An abridged history of the Transbay Transit Center over the years

A look back at eight decades of San Francisco’s public transit leviathan

As San Francisco—and the rest of the globe—remains under shelter-in-place orders, choice outdoor spots with enough buffer space between people, as recommended by the Center for Disease Control, are more important than ever before.

Salesforce Park, located atop the Transbay Transit Center, is one such place.

The sprawling 5.4-acre transit center and rooftop park, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, takes up nearly three blocks between Beale and Second Streets in the East Cut neighborhood. Highlights include lush lawns perfect for picnicking and frolicking, single-person benches for reading or taping away on a laptop, over 200 species of plants and trees to discover, and a 1,000-foot-long fountain triggered by the moving buses below.

This abridged timeline of the Transbay Transit Center and Salesforce Park, from 1939 up until today, will give you everything you need to know about San Francisco’s transit structure.

January 14, 1939: The original Transbay Transit Center, designed by Timothy L. Pflueger (who also conceived the Castro Theatre and 140 New Montgomery), opens in downtown San Francisco. It was first used as a train station and handled as many as 35 million people annually, with a 10-car train arriving every 63.5 seconds.

1959: Following the automobile-only conversion of the lower deck of the Bay Bridge one year earlier, the center was converted into a bus-only depot.

October 17, 1989: The Loma Prieta earthquake damages the circa-1939 terminal.

November 2, 1999: Voters approve funds for a new Transbay Transit Center.

April 4, 2001: Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) is created. San Francisco, AC Transit, and the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board enter into an agreement to create the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which will oversee the project, with a five-person board of directors.

August 2005: Project receives $55 million in federal funding from the federal surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users).

September 20, 2007: Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects picked as winner of the design and development competition. The firm’s original plans called for a 1,200-foot tower as the main structure and a three-block-long Transbay Center. However, due to NIMBY concerns about how the tower would “cast a shadow over some of city parks,” the height was pruned to 1,070 feet.

August 7, 2010: Demolition of the old Transbay Terminal begins. AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Greyhound, Muni, SamTrans, and Westcat Lynx shift operations to the nearby Temporary Terminal two blocks away between Main, Beale, Howard, and Folsom streets. Demolition of the old Transbay Terminal begins. “I hate the old terminal—it’s so dark and dirty. But this is new and clean. It’s great.” Akrim Jahouach, an Oakland accountant, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

July 11, 2012: Despite threats of lawsuits and criticism, Gov. Jerry Brown signs historic high-speed rail legislation at Transbay site. “I know there are fearful men—I call them declinists—who want to hide in a hole and hope something changes,” said Brown. “This is the time to invest, to create thousands of jobs like this project.”

Photo by Patricia Chang

September 5, 2013: Construction begins. First, there is a “concrete pour” for the permanent foundation of the new Transbay Transit Center. “We’re going to be pouring 142,000 cubic yards of concrete, which is the equivalent of 30 Olympic-size swimming pools,” Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, head of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, told the local CBS affiliate.

February 10, 2014: Excavation complete. A whopping 640,000 cubic yards of material from digging and trenching are removed for the foundation, leading to the discovery of artifacts, including a well-preserved human skeleton, “artifacts from working-class Irish neighborhoods that filled the area in the 1800s,” and the tooth of an approximately 12,000-year-old Columbian mammoth.

August 5, 2015: Curtain wall takes shape. Measuring six by six feet each, several thousand aluminum panels will cover the entirety of the transit center’s exterior. The lacy awning uses geometric formulas by British mathematician Sir Roger Penrose.

July 7, 2017: Salesforce buys naming rights to the Transbay Transit Center and rooftop park, effectively renaming the it the Salesforce Transit Center and Salesforce Park, respectively. The 25-year deal cost the company $110 million. “The cloud-like Salesforce logo that adorns two towers near the transit center would not appear on the exterior of the new facility, however,” notes San Francisco Chronicle urban design critic John King. “Nor would Salesforce have veto authority on events held in the park, even those of rival corporations.” SFMTA director Ed Reiskin criticized the deal, calling it “distasteful.”

April 24, 2018: Gondola testing afoot!

May 22, 2018: Salesforce Tower, one of two high-rises connecting to Salesforce Park (the other being 181 Fremont), opens.

August 11, 2018: The Transbay Transit Center/Salesforce Park opens to the public. Long lines, concerts, and food usher in the city’s $2.2 billion, 5.4-acre behemoth.

September 12, 2018: “San Francisco’s new $2.2 billion Transbay Transit Center has only been open a month, and already the visitor walkway that encircles the rooftop park is crumbling,” reports Matier and Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle. Dozens of spots along the walkway that circles the park have become “the walking equivalent of potholes.”

September 25, 2018: While installing ceiling panels, maintenance crews discover a crack in a load-bearing steel beam on the eastern side of the transit center, above Fremont Street. By evening, the entire center was closed and evacuated.

September 26, 2018: Inspectors find a second crack.

September 30, 2018: TJPA stabilizes the transit center with hydraulic jacks, installed between the Center and Fremont. The center remains closed until further notice. Bus service, including AC Transit, Greyhound, and Muni, move back to the Temporary Transit Center a couple of blocks away.

October 2, 2018: Officials expect center to reopen on October 12.

October 12, 2018: Center remains closed.

October 17, 2018: According to ABC 7, ”The Transbay Joint Powers Authority is being sued by the general contractor in charge of building the Transit Center. Webcor Builders and Obayashi Corp. claim design and planning mistakes amount to a breach of contract and that they are owed $150 million.”

October 23, 2018: Citing a lack of faith in leadership, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority votes unanimously to stop “$9.6 million in funds to the Transbay Joint Power Authority until the city can evaluate what led to the discovery last month of cracks in two steel beams,” reports the San Francisco Examiner. The vote also puts a temporary end to the next stage of the Transit Center, extending Caltrain from South Beach to the center.

December 13, 2018: Steel testing results announced. According to ABC 7: “Weld access holes that were made during fabrication may be to blame for the cracks in the steel beams. These holes give crews access to perform welding. They are typically made with a drill. In the Transit Center, a thermal torch was used, creating high heat which eventually resulted in micro cracks. Either stress from construction or the use of the building then contributed to the larger cracks which led to the closure of the Center.” Repair to the steel beams will fixed using “a sandwich of steel panels which will be bolted in place, not welded.”

January 3, 2019: Transit Center remains closed for 100 days.

February 1, 2019: Transbay Joint Powers Authority announces that repair work on the Transit Center will begin shortly.

February 12, 2019: During his first State of the State Address, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a change of plans for California’s high-speed rail project—specifically, no immediate plans to extend the train into the Bay Area. The new plan refocuses and reprioritizes completion of the section from Bakersfield to Merced. The Transit Center was built with underground levels to accommodate both Caltrain and the high-speed rail.

March 29, 2019: Transbay Joint Powers Authority says that repairs will be finished in the first week of June. “To date, no additional fissures have been found,” says TJPA statement. “Bolts in the surrounding areas around the fractured girders over Fremont street were tested and none were found to be damaged or cracked.”

March 29, 2019: Skanska, a project development and construction group that subcontracted the center’s structural steelwork from general contractor Webcor Obayashi, accused Salesforce Transit Center officials of ignoring the role design played in the shutdown. “TJPA officials have made incorrect statements around the agency’s responsibility for the girder inspection process,” said a Skanska spokesperson, according to Construction Dive, “as well as the role and actions of their designer, Thornton Tomasetti, who was responsible for the structural design of the facility.”

April 24, 2019: Less than a year after it opened, the pathway that runs the perimeter of Salesforce Park will be ripped out and replaced. The price tag, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, is upward of $1 million.

April 25, 2019: Repairs and reinforcement will be complete by June 1, according to TJPA. Next steps include conducting additional inspections proposed by independent peer reviewers, inspections and permits from independent city and state agencies, and reopening the Transit Center and Salesforce Park to the public.

May 2, 2019: “Crews removed the support bracing that had been placed under the portion of the transit center spanning First Street,” reports KCBS. Still no firm reopening date.

May 10, 2019: Crews finish repairs on the two cracked beams. “The repairs and remediation are complete, it’s a huge milestone,” said construction manager Dennis Turchon. The center and park could reopen as early as June if a peer-review, the final hurdle insofar as inspection goes, gives the all clear.

May 31, 2019: June reopening date is off the table. The Transbay Transit Center and Salesforce Park won’t open until at least July.

June 11, 2019: Reopening date of Transbay Transit Center and Salesforce Park announced: July 1.

July 1, 2019: It reopens.

July 19, 2019: César Pelli, whose firm designed Salesforce Park and Transbay Transit Center, dies at 92.

March 16, 2020: San Francisco shelter-in-place orders go into effect, closing down the majority of San Francisco stores, cafes, bars, eateries, and recreation centers. Salesforce Park, an ideal spot to stroll and take a break from the confines of your home, remains open. (Please note that the gondola will remain closed until shelter-in-place orders are lifted.)

Architecture | From Curbed

The Simple Life

10 Questions With | From Curbed

Olalekan Jeyifous Is Imagining an Afrofuturist Brooklyn


Here’s Why the Golden Gate Bridge Was Singing

View all stories in Architecture