Ferry Building

& Waterfront

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The Ferry Building, Market St. and the Embarcadero, 1900

Inspired by the 12th century Giralda Tower of Seville Cathedral, the Ferry Building tower rises 235 feet at the base of Market Street. When they were installed, the twenty-two foot clock faces were the largest in the United States.



Pier One, the Eureka Ferry boat, and the Ferry Building, 1910

Transbay ferry service began in 1850, with the establishment of a route between San Francisco and the Oakland Estuary. Vessels which brought people during gold rush days were utilized for San Francisco-Sacramento and cross-bay service. The great period of ferry transit reached its peak in the 1930's, when 60 million persons and 6 million automobiles crossed the bay annually.

The Ferry Building was the transportation hub of the Bay Area until bridges spanned the bay in the mid-1930’s. By 1913, as many as 60,000 people per day passed through during their commutes to and from San Francisco.


Source: SJPL


The Union Depot and Ferry House, 1877

The wood-frame, 350-foot-long structure was built by the Central Pacific Railroad as the western terminus of its transcontinental line in 1877. It was replaced by the new Ferry Building in 1898 to handle the increased capacity of the area's growing population.


View West up Market Street from Ferry Building c1900

Market Street, has had nearly continuous rail transit service since 1860. By 1937 Market Street was the busiest streetcar scene in the world. “The Roar of the Four” (tracks) became a slogan among those who encountered the din of so many streetcars rumbling along the City’s main street.


Steamboats on the Waterfront, c. 1900

The Gold Rush brought steamers from afar to the rivers of California. Even after the trains gave faster service between Sacramento and San Francisco, the steamers were popular as they touched at many landings not otherwise reached until the advent of the automobile.

Boat=Bay City

"On the wharves, San Francisco, 1900."

Moored schooners' masts form a wall around the dock.

Schooners were the work-horses of the coasting trade. Between 1850 and 1905 182 2-masted, 112 3-masted, and 130 4-masted schooners were built on the Pacific Coast. Important role for bringing cargoes of lumber from the northern forests required for the growing city.


image not currently available - for study only

Italian fishermen mending nets on a wharf in San Francisco Harbor, ca. 1891

Fishnets are drying over the railing, and in the foreground are crab nets (circular things). Feluccas (lateen-rigged Italian fishing boats) are moored around the wharf.

Italian fishermen were established in SF in the 1850's., when there was sufficient demand ashore for the fish - growth of the city in the early 1850's.In the open sea, the Italians and Dalmations specialized in the activity, and their feluccas were a chataristic feature of the SF waterfront.


image not currently available - for study only

Fisherman's Wharf, 1920

During the early 20th century, Italian immigrants were the primary fishermen on the San Francisco Bay. They sold their catches from small stands on Fisherman's Wharf, and set up cauldrons of boiling water to cook freshly caught crabs to dispense to vistors in paper cups.

Courtesy, Business Image Group

Hantinting by Bennett Hall



Rincon Point, from Rincon Hill, 1851

This area of the waterfront, south of the site of the Bay Bridge, underwent extensive land-filling at this time, as noted by the water lots staked out. Many sailing vessels of all types, have been deserted by their crews, and some of them were housed over to serve for storage or dwellings. A steamboat is seen moored on the right.



Meiggs' Wharf, Telegraph Landing area, c. 1885

Henry Meiggs, aka "Honest Harry", was an enterprising businessman who in 1853 built a 1600 foot wharf at North Beach, extending from Francisco Street, as a landing area for lumber for his mill. Initially engaged in banking, he saw the potential of this waterfront area, but the City unfortunately expanded in the opposite direction. Meiggs absconded to Peru in 1854 with city records. The wharf was enclosed by the seawall in 1881.

Photography: Taber

Handtinting by Bennett Hall

Martin Vice's Boat building operation on Telegraph Landing c1865 as seen from lower Telegraph Hill

Martin Vice, boat builder, established himself along the road around North Point. Stone, seen on the right, was also unloaded from river scows. Telegraph Hill was quarried for stone used to form sea walls.


4th and Channel, future site of Mission Bay and Pac Bell Park, China Basin Building in foreground c1935

The 6 mile seawall underlying the Embacadero
from the vicinity of Aquatic Park to the Third Street Channel at China Basin marks the SF waterfront of the mid-20th century. All the tidal land lying behind it running back to the high watermark of 1848 has been filled with debris obtained from the hills of the city. Mission Rock Terminal is the largest of the piers.

The southern waterfront -completion of seawall delayed until 1912.

Collection of SF Images

Ship unloading cargo at the North Point Dock at the foot of Telegraph Hill

The Gold Rush created a tremendous demand for fast transportation to California. Merchantmen were pressed for service and eastern yards turned out new ships by th dozen, designed to reach SF in record time. These were the celebrated clippers, and their spectacular sail-carrying, hard-driving skippers and resultant fast passages around the Horn drew world-wide attention.


Telegraph Landing boat launching

July 4, 1875

The tug 'Monarch' is about to be launched from the Merchants Dry Dock. Captain Millen Griffith stands on the pilothouse, the 'Rescue' (at left) was built for him at the same place. After the launching, good cheer was dispensed in the Dry Dock Exchange (left).

As shipping continued to expand thoughout the latter 1800s, then the role of the tugs in managing the ships in the harbour was also increased.


Tug Boat, 'Monarch', under construction, North Point, c. 1875

The tug 'Monarch' is located near the intersection of Kearny and Francisco Streets, soon to be launched.

Tugs were important in their role in towing barges, sailing ships and log rafts between Pacific ports. Prevailing north-west winds generally made travel up the coast by sail both difficult and circuitous, so tugs often towed large sailing vessels to points north of San Francisco.

Also available: Hand-tinted © Bennett Hall 2003


Handtinting by Bennett Hall


Pensecola in dock
Northern Waterfront, c1880

Collection of SF Images

Waterfront at Telegraph Landing, c. 1849

The Gold Rush brought hundreds of ships into the harbors, carrying passengers and cargo. Many ships were abandoned, and their hulks served as warehouses, hotels and prisons.

Collection of San Francisco Public Library


Handtinting by Bennett Hall


Union, Green & Vallejo Street Wharves from Telegraph Hill, c. 1860

Collection of San Francisco Public Library

Handtinting by Bennett Hall

San Francisco Waterfront - 1860's showing sailing vessels and Sacramento river boats. The riverboat is docked at Green Street wharf, with Union Street wharf at the left and Vallejo Street wharf at the right where the sailing ships are docked.".


The "Young America" at North Point Dock, Chestnut & Sansome, 1870

Collection of San Francisco Public Library

Handtinting by Bennett Hall


Broadway & Front, Foot of Telegraph Hill, c. 1865


Warehouses at the foot of Telegraph Hill, c. 1865

Collection of San Francisco Public Library

Handtinting by Bennett Hall


Vallejo & Broadway Street Wharves from Telegraph Hill, c. 1865


View of San Francisco waterfront from Telegraph Hill, c. 1865

Collection of San Francisco Public Library

Handtinting by Bennett Hall


Northern Waterfront view from Russian Hill, c. 1875
Marin Headlands in distance

Collection of SF Images

Pier 27 and Telegraph Hill circa 1910


Dry Dock Salon, foot of Telegraph Hill


View towards Piers at Telegraph Landing circa 1920,
the Great White Fleet passing by on the Bay



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