The Embarcadero "Freeway to Nowhere" 1956 - 1991
The first proposal for an elevated Embarcadero roadway appeared in 1927 when the Regional Planning Association published their plan for an aviation platform on the waterfront with a two-tier highway carrying stacked traffic from China Basin to Fisherman's Wharf. It was rejected as unsightly. By 1950 state highway engineers called for a fast elevated superhighway connected between the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate, with the Central Freeway extended through the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. Embattled San Franciscans would have none of it, but it was determined that they must have some of it. The "Freeway to Nowhere" opened for automobiles in 1956 with a sawed off stub of Broadway: it had stopped short. "When this prime piece of ghastly goofrey opened - it caused traffic jams," editorialized the Chronicle, "There is nothing wrong that a thorough wreaking job can't cure."
It's A Sow's Ear For All That
Christened "The Dambarcadero" by Herb Caen. Anyone caught in the endless traffic delays with no escape possible remembers when no traffic could move to get on the Bay Bridge after 4:25 p.m. on the ferry clock. Trucks, busses, and automobiles maneuvered through three traffic lanes at ground level, while bumper-to-bumper cars inched along above to have dinner in Chinatown, sweating drivers pulled over-heated engines into illegal places. Find the only happy commuters in the view directly above: heading up the gangway onto the Larkspur Ferry. It wasn't much better on foot underneath, alongside the immense cement footings. The YMCA Hotel hung heavy curtains over bedroom windows less than 25 feet away from squealing brakes, as waterfront property values inched down. Who wanted property within sight, sound, or smell of a freeway? For more that a decade the city master plan said get rid of it.
It Took The 1989 Earthquake To Do It
If there was any fear worse than you car skidding off the broken concrete edge of the Bay Bridge on October 17, 1989, it was the sight of crumpled freeways flattening cars with passengers beneath tons of cement and steel. For more than two years the underside of the Embarcadero Freeway stood braced with sturdy wood scaffolding. Why not tear it down now? Once again anti-freeway warriors protested, loudly, and with effect. Architectural critic, Allan Temko, in the Chronicle, April 12, 1990: "If the Board of Supervisors decides that this damned thing is not worth saving and should be torn down, the central waterfront - and with it the whole heart of the city - will be open to a radiant future." Just a year later, "Big crash on the Embarcadero" refers to the April 17, 1991 picture above. Demolition got out of hand when one huge section crumpled with spectacular display. Tear-down resumed April 25, 1991.
Reunite San Francisco With The Bay
Satisfying from any angle, people gathered along the waterfront to watch the chunks of concrete and steel rods collapse in clouds of pulverized cement. The 1989 earthquake cracked freeways and mandated funds to fix or demolish the double-decker freeway. From February 1991 to January 1992 - as each section collapsed, light and space and the breadth of view of San Francisco Bay returned to the people. "Freeway warriors" of the 1960's spoke up again in 1990 when determined merchants pushed for rebuilding. The voice of Supervisor Susan Bierman, joined with 1960 Supervisor Jack Morrison, and Rudy Nothenberg, Chief Administrative Officer to reunite the city with the bay. Joined by Jean Kortum on behalf of San Francisco Tomorrow, these Freeway Warriors, along with many others, had kept the Central Freeway out of the park and stopped the Embarcadero Freeway at Broadway - at last San Francisco was reunited with the bay.