The Transbay Terminal closed last week. A fence was built around it to prepare for its demolition. It was the end of both a modernist-style train station that was kneecapped by a burgeoning highway system, and a homeless colony of impressive size and duration. In the promotional video for the new terminal, a seductive voice announces that it will officially mark San Francisco’s return to its roots as a transit-first city.
When this terminal was built, in 1939, San Francisco was a transit-first city. The terminal’s system of looping ramps accommodated more trains in a single day than any other train station in the world. It was built to handle 35 million passengers a year, but only 26 million came through at its peak, at the very end of World War II. After that: freeways.
Walking through the old Transbay Terminal there’s a simultaneous sense of the sleek vision that late-’30s San Francisco had of itself, and of that bombed-out, abandoned San Francisco of the ’70s and ’80s that has elsewhere been tidied up, repainted and redecorated.
Goodbye, old terminal. I only visited you once, to take a bus out of town. It was very confusing, but an elderly woman materialized out of nowhere and told me which bus to take. So it worked out well, the way that things always seem to in this city.