This year is 1900. Ohio has a larger population than California, few families have indoor plumbing, and the most popular names are John and Mary. Commuting to San Francisco used to be difficult, but ever since the Ferry Building was built, entering the city has become a breeze.

In fact, traveling by water feels like an adventure. Passengers eagerly scan the horizon, searching for the clock tower on top the Ferry Building. Sighting it means that land is close. 

The crowd bundles up their belongings and steps off the ferry to enter the grand hall. It’s vast and elegant, a series of high arches adorned with brick and terra-cotta. Enormous lattice windows allow light to filter across a mosaic floor emblazoned with the Great Seal of the State of California. The kind of opulence that causes people to stand taller, straighter, prouder. As if just being inside the building makes them glamorous too.    

Noise reverberates off the marble walls as children dart through the multitude. People claim luggage at the counter, as businessmen and laborers alike rush off to work. An article in The Pacific recently said 50,000 people pass through the Ferry Building each day. 

It’s a thriving hub, filled with movement and color and excitement. A breathtaking marriage of splendor and function, innovation and purpose for the future: something that generations of San Franciscans will enjoy. 

***

The year is 1960. JFK is the President-elect, Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” is the hottest dance craze, and aluminum cans have begun to appear on supermarket shelves. With two brand new bridges extending over the Bay, ferry travel has become obsolete. 

Most families own an automobile and prefer to commute on their own time. In vehicles with upholstered seats, heaters, and public radio, there’s simply no need to brave the wind, rain, and cold sea spray.

The Ferry Building has been converted into offices. Drop ceilings have been installed to lessen the space. Linoleum plastered over the mosaic floors, marble torn off of the walls, the brick and terra-cotta ornaments gone. The new absorbent walls prevent noise from reverberating, but if you listen closely, you can just make out the metallic clicks of typewriters and solid thuds of thick soled shoes. 

Unless you work here, there’s no reason to pass through the once grand doors. 

***

The year is 2019. Silicon Valley is the world’s largest tech hub, the 49ers are undefeated (so far), and the Ferry Building has gone through yet another transformation, reimagined as something else entirely. 

It is a destination center featuring restaurants, local vendors, and shops. Outside, people purchase fresh flowers and vegetables from a flourishing farmer’s market. Inside, the ground floor is filled with stalls selling a variety of goods: local honey, organic olive oils, artisan cheeses, freshly baked breads, botanical lotions, handcrafted candle sticks and handblown glass bowls.  

Drop ceilings have been removed to reveal the original arches overhead. Preservationists have carefully peeled back the linoleum to expose the mosaic flooring beneath. Marble walls have been reinserted, the hall redecorated with elaborate finishes, a tribute to its original glory.  

Up above, the second and third floors still contain offices. The people who work in them usually come downstairs to enjoy lunch in the restaurants, mingling with visitors and locals, businessmen and families. 

Just as in 1900, ferries are docked along the pier waiting to take people out to sea. Seated on the ferry, people eagerly scan the shoreline for the clock tower. It marks how far they have drifted from land on their adventure. 

A thriving hub of movement and color once again, the Ferry Building earned landmark status in 1979 and all the protections that come with it. Transcending time and trends, this icon is resilient, elegant, and enduring.