This article was originally published on Common Edge.
Can telling the story of one building tell a larger story about the city it’s a part of? That’s the central premise of John King’s engaging new book, Portal: San Francisco’s Ferry Building and the Reinvention of American Cities (W.W. Norton). The long-time urban design critic for the San Francisco Chronicle has written a brisk, lively history of this beloved edifice, which opened in 1898 and served as the principal gateway to the city until the emergence of the automobile (and the bridges that served them).
For decades it sat largely empty and neglected, cordoned off by the Embarcadero Freeway. After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the damaged highway was eventually removed, freeing up the Ferry Building, which was given new life as a transportation hub, food hall, and office building. Last week I talked to King about the genesis for the book, the terminal’s seminal importance to the city of San Francisco, and the threat it faces from rising sea levels.