There’ll be free Humphry Slocombe ice cream, live music, (not free) Fort Point beer and more at Thursday’s Very Ferry Birthday Party to celebrate 125 years of the SF Ferry Building’s glorious but complicated history.
It’s an incredibly sad day for San Francisco institutions that opened in the 1890s, with today’s announcement of the closure and bankruptcy of Anchor Brewing Co. (est. 1896). But would it maybe lift your 19th Century spirits to learn that this week we are celebrating the 125th anniversary of the opening of the SF Ferry Building? (Est. 1898) Because we are, and there will be celebrations of both the Ferry Building’s current incarnation, and its highs and lows of the past 125 years on the Embarcadero.
The @Ferry_Building is turning 125! 🎉 🥳 Celebrate A Very Ferry Birthday Party this Thursday, July 13, from 11 am - 2 pm. Enjoy special offers from merchants and limited-edition Ferry Building swag giveaways for their quasquicentennial! #ferrybuilding125 pic.twitter.com/3M0hHFnm1q— Port of San Francisco (@SFPort) July 11, 2023
First, let’s talk about Thursday’s 125th anniversary party, being billed as A Very Ferry Birthday Party. (Thursday July 13, starting at 11 a.m.) Per an invite, there will be “free ice cream sundaes while supplies last at Humphry Slocombe, crafting and time capsule letter writing with SF Etsy, performers and lunchtime music by the Gemstones.” Speakers are scheduled from 12:30-1 p.m., though it has not been announced who’s speaking, and Fort Point Ferry Building will be slinging $5 pints at a 4-6 p.m. Happy Hour with “commemorative Fort Point Ferry Building glasses while supplies last.”
If any local icon deserves the hype, this is the one — because no single structure says so much about where today’s city came from, and what might be coming next, John King writes. https://t.co/PWZf5A6KiJ— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) July 9, 2023
The Chronicle’s John King did a terrific deep dive into the Ferry Building’s history for the Sunday paper, noting its checkered opening, which was marred by accusations the whole thing would collapse after its first earthquake. King notes that “there were public hearings to investigate claims of faulty concrete. Architect (Arthur Page) Brown was accused of padding his fees. Contractor lawsuits halted work more than once.”
But the Ferry Building did survive the big 1906 earthquake, and enjoyed its heyday in the 1920s, before SF had bridges to Oakland and Marin County. The Ferry Building had notable appearances in The Maltese Falcon and It Came from Beneath the Sea, though upon the opening of the Bay Bridge (1936) and Golden Gate Bridge (1937), the place lost its utility because people didn’t need ferries to get across the Bay. There were plans to raze the Ferry Building and put up something else in the 1940s, though thankfully, those plans stalled out permanently.
And boy, did the place look like shit when the Central Freeway was right in front of it! That section of the freeway was removed after 1989 earthquake damage, and a few years later, the Ferry Building was itself shuttered. But that was for a good reason, as developer Wilson Meany Sullivan performed a $100 million renovation that was completed in 2003, and created the Ferry Building Marketplace we know it as today.
Yes, these days the Ferry Building clock tower is still coated with netting, part of structural improvements and the repainting of the Ferry Building to its original color. And that may be a birthday bummer for Thursday. But the Ferry Building itself is in great shape economically, as the Chron reports that “only five of its 55 retail spaces are vacant.” The Ferry Building will face another dubious crossroads, as the building will have to be modified to accommodate rising sea levels, which is sure to be insanely expensive, and involve some knock-down, drag-out political fights.
But let that be the furthest thing from your mind Thursday, go enjoy a Humphry Slocombe, a beer, some outdoor tunes, and views of a magnificent structure that plenty of people said wouldn’t survive over these last 125 years.
Image: @Ferry_Building via Twitter