Transbay Transit Center — many changes, but always a destination
Two years after the Bay Bridge opens, commuter trains start running from Oakland into what debuts as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Electric Railway Terminal Building. The facility at First and Mission streets costs $15 million.
Annual service peaks at 26.4 million riders, but that number is deceptive because World War II brought gas rationing, which steered travelers from cars to trains. Though San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi back in 1939 had dubbed the terminal and its ramps the Bay Area’s “ribbon of concrete ... binding us more closely than ever,” two of the three initial train operators already have abandoned transbay service.
Despite the growth of the East Bay suburbs, ridership bottoms out at 5.2 million passengers in 1957 and the last train departs on April 20, 1958. Tracks are removed and the ramps are repaved to accommodate bus service instead.
The same year BART begins full operations, a state report concludes that a rebuilt and expanded Transbay Terminal could still play “an extremely important role in Bay Area transportation.”
Amtrak ends its bus service to the increasingly decrepit terminal, with a spokesman saying, “We need to find a safer place for our patrons and employees.” An estimated 300 homeless people use the station’s benches as beds, and a man dies in a 6 a.m. shootout.
Mayor Frank Jordan pushes for a new, smaller facility one block east, at Beale and Howard streets. One planning concept includes a basketball arena for the Golden State Warriors. “The arena idea has a lot going for it,’’ one planner tells The Chronicle. “It would be located right near the hub of a regional transit system.”
Jordan’s successor, Willie Brown, also seeks to move the terminal and suggests replacing it at First and Mission with the de Young Museum. East Bay bus users fight back and find allies in commuter rail advocates, who want the Peninsula’s Caltrain extended to downtown from its terminus at Fourth and King streets in Mission Bay. San Francisco voters approve Proposition H — instructing City Hall “to extend the Caltrain line to a new or rebuilt regional transit station in San Francisco to be located on the site of the Transbay Terminal” — by a 69-30 percent margin. Brown supports the measure.
A design plan done for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission proposes a rebuilt terminal for buses and trains at First and Mission streets “that celebrates public transportation.” Private towers on surrounding blocks would help pay for it. First meeting of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. The composition — three San Francisco members as well as representatives from Caltrain, AC Transit and the state Department of Transportation — is a sign of the project’s regional dimension. Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan is named executive director.
The state agrees to transfer 12 acres around the Transbay Terminal to the city. It is to be sold off for high-density development, with all sales proceeds and extra tax revenue going to the project. It’s expected the land could hold around 3,400 housing units, of which 35 percent are to be affordable.
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors signs off on the environmental impact report for the project, including a route from the Caltrain station in Mission Bay up Townsend and then Second Street to the rebuilt transit center.
The Joint Powers Authority holds a design competition for the new transit center, as well as a tower at First and Mission streets that is expected to rise at least 1,000 feet. Three teams submit proposals that are unveiled with fanfare in August at the Ferry Building, then displayed at City Hall. The jury selects the entry from Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and developer Hines, calling the park “a risky, daring move in neighborhood development.”
After a temporary terminal is built at Howard and Beale streets, a ceremonial groundbreaking is held for the new transit center. Demolition of the 1939 terminal begins four months later. The budget for the project is $1.6 billion.
Workers spend the year excavating a hole 65 feet deep and 160 feet wide that will hold a concrete shell to be filled later by the train station. The shell was added after the Joint Powers Authority was awarded a $400 million federal stimulus grant.
As excavation is completed and steele begins to rise, the project’s financial strains are in the news: The budget is now $1.9 billion, with reserves so low that the Joint Powers Authority briefly warns it might not have the funds to open the rooftop park. At First and Mission streets, Salesforce signs a lease for half of what will be called Salesforce Tower.
The good news: Steelwork for the aboveground structure is nearly complete. The bad news: Estimated budget climbs past $2 billion.
Revised budget is $2.26 billion. Ayerdi-Kaplan announces she is leaving the authority. The first aluminum panel of the facade is installed, but there’s trouble next door — residents of Millennium Tower file claims for damages, saying the excavation for the transit center caused their high-rise to tilt and sink. The Joint Powers Authority denies the charges, pointing out that the tower already had sunk beyond engineers’ predictions before the transit center’s 2010 groundbreaking.
Salesforce buys naming rights to the transit center in a 25-year, $110 million deal.