For years now strollers along the Embarcadero have passed a stretch just north of the Ferry Building where nothing much ever seemed to be happening. This is piers 1Â½, 3, and 5, where nearly derelict building have long lain dormant. (Odd-numbered piers are north of the Ferry Building, formerly the main entrance to the city, and even-numbered piers are south of it.)
Once used for riverboats, freighters, and other vessels — including the Delta King and Delta Queen river steamers, with their stained-glass windows and mahogany staircases, which connected the city to Sacramento from Pier 3; the sternwheeler Petaluma, the last riverboat in the West, based at Pier 5; and Delta-bound ferries based at pier 1Â½ — the piers have long since ceased to function as a working port. By 2000 they had been red-tagged by the city as unsafe.
Now the piers are being restored by private investors (at a cost of more than $50 million). They will house offices, shops, and restaurants. A dock for yachts and water taxis is planned. A “promenade” will allow public access along nearly a mile of waterway, from the Ferry Building to Pier 14 (the piers were formerly closed to the public).
I took a walk through the piers today. Although the walkway has been opened to the public, there was still a lot of constuction going on. It’s hard to be sure, but it doesn’t appear that most of the space has been let (at about $70/square foot, it’s as expensive as just about any real estate in town). The architecture is rather undistinguished but generally respects the historic structures (probably the biggest faux pas is the line of enormous lights that hang down over the walkway).
In the end the pier restoration is more than redeemed by its public access and the open views of the bay, with Yerba Buena island and the Bay Bridge in the background.