Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I would visit The Embarcadero, and more specifically the Ferry Building and it’s Saturday Farmer’s Market, often and especially whenever we had guests in town. My parents would talk about how the Embarcadero had changed so much after the Loma Prieta Earthquake and how this vibrant outdoor park was one of the least desirable parts of the city. For this project, I will explore the history of the Embarcadero and why a freeway was built in the first place along such a beautiful waterfront, and why wasn’t the freeway replaced after it was damaged. I also hope to understand how the Ferry Building became the center of many of my weekend mornings growing up and a hub of economic activity along with some basic understanding of the principles urban development. I will use photos and other visual images to convey the story.
History of The Embarcadero
The Embarcadero is a street in San Francisco that extends from the South Beach Harbor (more commonly known as AT&T Park northward under the Bay Bridge up to Fisherman’s Wharf. Approximately in the center of The Embarcadero is the Ferry Building. Because San Francisco is a port city and relied on its waterfront for trade, there are a number of piers extending off The Embarcadero into the Bay. The Ferry Building is known as Pier 0, with all piers north of it utilizing an odd number and all piers south of it utilizing an even number. The Ferry Building also rests at the foot of Market Street, the major thoroughfare that cuts through the city. The term Embarcadero finds it’s roots in Latin which means a pier, wharf, or landing place, especially on a river or inland waterway that one embarks from.
In late 1940’s, city planners wanted to criss-cross San Francisco with freeways, following in the urban development model pioneered by Robert Moses in New York City. One of the freeways planned was to travel along the Embarcadero and connect the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1953, construction on the first phase of the Embarcadero Freeway began that extended from the Bay Bridge to Broadway and opened in 1959. City residents immediately saw the effect of this massive structure that cut the waterfront off from the rest of the city. As a result, voters put a stop to all remaining freeway construction plans in the city.
In the mid-1980’s, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to tear down the Embarcadero Freeway, but they couldn’t garner voter support because of the large chinese population and their political clout organized by Rose Pak. Rose and her followers were afraid that taking down the freeway that dropped visitors off at the edge of Chinatown would lead to its economic decline.
Fortunately for the Board of Supervisors and the rest of the voters, the Embarcadero Freeway was heavily damaged during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and political support to rebuild the freeway was unable to overcome the desire to open up the waterfront.
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