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[graphic] World War II In the San Francisco Bay Area [graphic] images of San Francisco Bay Area
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Central Embarcadero Piers Historic District, comprised of Piers 1, 1 ½, 3 and 5, in 2004
Photo courtesy of National Trust for Historic Preservation
The Central Embarcadero Piers Historic District, comprised of Piers 1, 1 ½, 3 and 5, is one of the largest surviving pier complexes along San Francisco's Embarcadero. The San Francisco waterfront piers played a crucial role in the Pacific theater during World War II. With construction spanning over a decade in length, led by Chief Engineer of the State Harbor Commission, Frank G. White, Piers 1, 1 ½, 3 and 5 opened in 1918. Unlike the piers south of the Ferry Building that were designed in the Mission and Gothic Revival styles, the piers north of the Ferry Building were built in the Beaux-Arts style, similar to New York's Chelsea Piers. The timber-frame bulkhead buildings, covered in stucco, are each two stories high, punctuated by two-story arches. Behind these formal building are the areas more closely associated with the functioning of the port--the piers and transit sheds. Concrete or timber piers extend east behind the bulkhead buildings, connected to the system of wharves upon which the bulkhead buildings rest. Steel truss and timber frame buildings, accommodating the loading and unloading of ships are built upon the piers, with open aprons for circulation.

[photo] "NO LONGER VERBOTEN--Here's a view of San Francisco's crowded waterfront looking down from the top of the Ferry Building tower. Such pictures are legal again, since President Truman lifted wartime censorship Wednesday." (August 17, 1945)
Photo courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

These were the only group of piers in the Port of San Francisco dedicated chiefly to inland trade and transport. These connections facilitated the growth of communities in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys and fostered California's agricultural business that led the State to become the richest in the Nation, as well the fifth largest economy in the world. The famous Delta King and Delta Queen provided overnight connections between San Francisco and Sacramento from Pier 1 ½, making it an important gateway for public travel to the interior of the State. Pier 3 and Pier 5 served primarily freight shipping, with a colorful variety of companies sharing the bulkhead office and warehouse spaces and the huge transit sheds which originally extended the full length of the finger piers for more than 700 feet east from the wharf on the Embarcadero.

Blimp patrolling San Francisco Bay off Pier 34 during World War II
Photo courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
With the outbreak of World War II, San Francisco's waterfront became a military logistics center; troops, equipment and supplies left the Port in support of the Pacific theater. Almost every pier and wharf was involved in military activities, with troop ships and naval vessels tied up all along the Embarcadero. In addition, the military briefly set up antiaircraft guns and searchlights at piers along the waterfront from 1941 to 1942. The Coast Guard, Immigration Services and the Maritime Service Enrolling Office occupied Pier 5.

After the war, the piers fell into disuse, as ports in Oakland, Alameda and Richmond were better equipped to respond to the conversion to containerized shipping. Piers 1 ½ and 5 were early examples of finding new uses for buildings which form a valuable part of the city's environment. The former Passenger Waiting Room of Pier 1 ½ was converted into an architect's waterfront office, and the bulkheads of Piers 1 ½ and 5 were used as professional office space. While many of the piers were demolished, Piers 1 ½, 3 and 5 remain the most visible from the Ferry Building and Market Street, still the main thoroughfare of the city.

In January of 2001, San Francisco Waterfront Partner, LLC was selected by the Port of San Francisco to redevelop the historic Piers 1 ½, 3 and 5. The project focuses on preserving and rehabilitating the historic maritime design of the Northeast Waterfront and the Ferry Building Waterfront while enhancing the public use and access to the historic and scenic waterfront setting.

The Central Embarcadero Piers Historic District includes Piers 1, 1 ½, 3 and 5 off the Embarcadero, between Washington and Broadway sts., facing the San Francisco Bay. Some of the shops in the historic pier building are open during normal business hours. For further information on the redevelopment project, visit www.thepierssf.com

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