Historic Hubs: San Francisco’s Ferry Building and DC’s Eastern Market

Ferry Building, San Francisco, February 2012

February 24, 2012, Washington, DC: Location, Location, Location. Cities sprung up where they did in the first place due entirely to their geographical assets. New York City: A trading post in a sheltered harbor at the mouth of the Hudson River that would later take shape as a critical terminus linking the Atlantic to the Hudson and the Erie Canal. Chicago: A short portage that would eventually connect the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes via the 1848 opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. San Francisco: A fort called the Presidio at the mouth of the Golden Gate marking an entry to a Pacific trade route.

Geography has long played a pivotal role in the identities and growth of our cities, not only for the promise of protection, but for the promise of access. As natural terminals, first by water, later by rail, public transit and air, our cities have always served as hubs that facilitate the transport of both people and goods.

But how many of the historic hubs of your city remain relevant to your life today?

Eastern Market, Washington, DC, January 2012, Photo Credit: Kate Gallery

A weekend visit to San Francisco’s Ferry Building, followed by a return to my own neighborhood at Eastern Market, has me thinking about the ways in which some longstanding urban cores still have the ability to anchor our cities and our neighborhoods.

It’s easy to imagine why The Ferry Building at Port of San Francisco was a hub of transportation before the opening of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges in the late 1930s — and why the rise of the automobile and construction of a freeway right out front would later challenge its livelihood. Yet the Ferry Building of today is experiencing a welcome wave of resurgence. The Embarcadero Freeway came down in 1991 due to earthquake damage while the Ferry Building withstood the earthquake of 1989 just as it had the earthquake of 1906. Ferry service to places like the East Bay and Marin now carry approximately 11,000 people through the Ferry Building each day. A bustling public food market, as well as extensive restoration on The Ferry Building from 1998-2003, also breath new life into the old building.

Blue Bottle Coffee Co., Ferry Building, Feb 2012, San Francisco

Ferry Building, San Francisco, February 2012

Back east, a similar historic hub is likewise experiencing a new chapter in its lengthy, storied history. Originally closer to the Navy Yard as part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original plan for Washington, DC, the initial Eastern Market was destroyed by fire during the British invasion of 1814. The market relocated to its current location here on Capitol Hill way back in 1873, where it has operated as a neighborhood core and public market ever since. Eastern Market, too, is in the midst of a fresh phase in its history. After fire destroyed the building in April 2007, a temporary structure housed the market across 7th St. SE until the market’s reopening in June 2009. That temporary structure, empty since, was removed just this winter.

With historic hubs like the Ferry Building and Eastern Market still thriving in San Francisco and Washington, I wonder about other historic hubs that have yet to be written off as a thing of the past.

What are the historic hubs of your city? Are they alive and well? Are they still relevant to your daily life?

Eastern Market, Feb 2012, Washington, DC

Eastern Market, Feb 2012, Washington, DC

Eastern Market, Washington, DC, December 2011

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