Memories of the Transbay Terminal

The following are memories collected from visitors during the Transbay Terminal Historical Tours on July 31, 2010. We love hearing your stories, so if you would like to share your historical memories of the Terminal in its heyday, please send them to memories@transbaycenter.org, and we may post them here.


“My mom didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up but the one trip we took every year, until I was 12, was to Disneyland in Anaheim. I remember waiting for the late afternoon bus in the terminal. It was such an adventure. I will miss that old building.”
—Becca

“As a child I used the trains with my family from San Francisco to East Bay points—mainly the C Piedmont Route. We loved it! Our Uncle Lynn began employment with Key in 1924. He operated the C line bus until his retirement in April 1965. I have the brass buttons, the key buttons with the key logo, as well as a controller from one of the bridge units and a destination curtain. Great memories!”
—Tom Kasinger – Alameda, CA

“During my college years at Cal, I took the bus from Berkeley to Transbay. It was the mid 2000’s. The terminal was my home in the city.”
—Gus Guibert

“I remember many a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich at the counter how incredibly busy it always was!”
—Anonymous

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“Back in the 1980’s I remember taking the Treasure Island AC transit bus to and from Treasure Island while I was attending Treasure Island School on field trips to the city.”
—Anonymous

“Great tour today! Hope we can reopen Cuddles at the new terminal and that it is well cared for. Shame these places had to be shut down!”
—JS – Oakland

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“I remember the constant chorus of newspaper vendors. Each had his own style calling out, ‘CHRONICLE! Geeet your paper!’ “
—Anonymous

“I just remember how busy It was, with tons of buses in each lane.”
—Anonymous

“This is where my family got the connection to Trans Continental Railway (in Oakland! – Gasp!)”
—Bill Koster Family

“I remember the Amtrak station located on upper and lower floor of the Transbay Terminal. We used to go to the Yosemite national park via bus to old Oakland train Station. Then on bus to train in Oakland to Merced California we went to Yosemite during the summers in August with our parents for many years. I’ll never forget a lot of fun trips to Yosemite. We went during high school and college years. July 30, 2010.”
—Anonymous

“I spent my prom night here. Ironically, I have no regrets!!!”
—Anonymous

“Back in the early 1980’s, I remember coming to the Transbay Terminal when they had the little store open, the bar and the restaurant that served food. It was like a mom & pop restaurant and the prices at the time were very reasonable.

There were tickets offices open as well for Reno and Tahoe Trips.

Going back even further when I was young. I remember my mother taking me and my two sisters the TB Terminal to meet my father who was a Muni driver for the street cars.”
—Sherry B.

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“Growing up in Oakland 50 years ago, I remember the thrill of crossing the Bay Bridge and disembarking inside the Terminal, an entry into a lot. To my young self, it seemed like an exotic and romantic city. How exciting these travels were to me, and how thrilling it was to look in this incredible shrine to transportation, time after time.”
—Pat May – Pleasanton, CA

“I remember when I’d stop in at a store in the lower level of the Transbay Terminal to buy candy, nuts, juice, magazines and even a house plant. It was fun to walk past a cocktail lounge and restaurant that were also on the lower level. If I needed a newspaper, I could buy one from a man known by all on the upper level.”
—A San Francisco Native

“Since 1979, I have commuted to and from the Terminal daily on AC’s B, F, N and V transbay lines.

Until the 1989 earthquake, the Terminal was a lively place. There were two restaurants and a bar, which was happily and noisily patronized at night. There were ticket vending windows for AC, trips to Reno, and Amtrak. There were two stalls actively selling newspapers, magazines, sandwiches, drinks, candy, cigarettes, etc. from dawn until late at night. Chronicles and Examiners were piled high for sale in the atrium before the ceiling was lowered and the windows blocked for the Greyhound terminal. People constantly circulated in and out of the Terminal. Many of them were patronizing the building’s services and businesses, not commuting.

In the 1980s, the Terminal and its neighborhood still probably looked a lot like the Key System years, although more run down to be sure. Terminal Drugstore and Terminal Fun Center, an arcade, were across First Street between Mission and the Terminal. The arcade was seedy, as was the surrounding area. But the Terminal and its neighborhood remained alive and infused with San Francisco’s distinct character. Mission Street still had a collection of post-fire industrial and mid-rise office buildings that were unmistakably San Franciscan.

The Loma Prieta earthquake changed all that. CalTrans shut down all the businesses in the Terminal. Willie Brown targeted the Terminal for demolition and redevelopment. Real estate developers began to demolish the old buildings on Mission, Fremont, First, and Howard Streets. Ten years after the earthquake, Mission Street between First and Second and Fremont Street bore little resemblance to a decade earlier. Downtown spilled across Market Street, as modern office buildings displaced the predominantly blue-collar, downscale character of the neighborhood. Then, the housing bubble brought high-rise condominiums in, and the neighborhood continued its transition into an upscale neighborhood for the wealthy seeking a pied-a-terre with a commanding view of the Bay.

But no matter how dirty, neglected, and blighted the Terminal became with each passing year, it remained a welcoming and dignified place for me. Even cut off from its natural light by the addition of the Greyhound terminal and changes to the skylights, the train shed continued to enjoy its original gift of natural light. Its hugeness and massive structural canopy continued to remind of the building’s original monumental purpose, as the train station for the Bay Bridge. The well-designed railings, ramps, tile work, and benches still evoked the distinctive style and modernity of the 1930s and Pflueger’s handiwork.

Their destruction might remind us that our modern sensibility about the Terminal about to be built is itself just a passing style. Future generations may even look back on the demolition of Pflueger’s moderne Terminal with the regret it deserves, but is now absent in the rush to sweep it away and replace it… Demolition of any historic building is a time for reflection on the transitory nature of all human projects.”
—Arthur D. Levy – Oakland

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“I have very fond memories of AC Transit’s Z and F lines —The lines were continuously on-time with the most courteous supervisor at the station and bus drivers.

Now unfortunately, I am saddened to see latenesses, delays and cancellations. Hope it’s just a temporary transition phase.

The supervisor still continues with a smile and cheerful atttitude. He’s extremely responsive and quick. You are very lucky to have him—I don’t know his name, but he was always there at the old SF Terminal, when we had questions or concerns.

Emeryville is a difficult place to commute to (by mass transit). Thank you AC transit for being there. You’re the best!!

Thanks.”
—Margaret Tong

“I have fond memories of the Transbay Terminal from back in the mid 1950s. I remember getting on an F train with my mother many times from the end of the line located at Solano and The Alameda in Berkeley, heading to San Francisco. On the train I would enjoy sitting at the front, looking out the window at the scenery. While on the bridge, I looked at the bay, and the truck and bus traffic on the lower deck next to the trains, as well as the trainman in the cab. Watching the trainman was my inspiration for becoming one myself at a museum years later. As the train came off the bridge and into the terminal, seeing all of the tracks, I wondered which track it would go in on. We would then get on a Muni streetcar that came up to the front of the terminal and go to The Emporium to shop. Returning home it was exciting for me to watch the trains come into the terminal and we would get on and go back home. It was a sad day for me when the trains stopped running on the bridge and going to the Transbay Terminal.

I came to the terminal on an F bus to see it one final time a couple weeks ago when they had the tours of the terminal. It was not the same coming in on a bus. I enjoyed seeing some of the areas I did not know of in the terminal, such as the jail. It is sad to see the end of another piece of history in San Francisco.”
—Jim Gilmore – Hayward, CA

“When I first got to Berkeley in 1973, I took a transbay bus to the SF terminal. I thought it looked much like a large urban bus terminal in the movies—with a newspaper stand, a shoeshine station, a concession with magazines, cold drinks, candy, etc., a pretty nice bar in case you missed your bus, thanks, and a neat little lunch counter that served a pretty good sandwich. The place was bustling.

But what I remember most was the pharmacy across the street on the corner of First and Mission—a big lighted sign read, Terminal Drugs. I always appreciated the owner’s sense of humor.

Good luck with the new venture.”
—Joe

“I can remember going with my mother to San Francisco on the Key System E Train for medical appointments and shopping. I can remember the wonderful aroma of coffee roasting at the Folgers plant when the train slowed down when it entered the Transbay Terminal tracks. I never lingered too long at the terminal, just staying long enough to board a Muni streetcar line to continue my trip to appointments or shopping on Market Street or at Union Square.”
—Anonymous

“My most memorable experience of the Transbay Terminal is when I was picked up by ambulance after getting off the O bus because I had gone into labor with my first child. This was back in 1976.

The transit persons on duty cleared the bus lane and someone sat with me on a bench to make sure I was okay. I was scared, but the people working there were so kind and reassuring!

Later that day, I gave birth to my first son, Daniel, at Mt. Zion Hospital. It is a story that my children are sick of, but I will get nostalgic every time I think of the Transbay Terminal.”
—Peggy Hakanson

“I remember the Salvation Army band at Christmas Time. Somehow the acoustics served them well. It was cheering and seasonal to arrive on a winter morning and be greeted by Christmas Carols. Along with the aroma of coffee brewing coming from the restaurant.”
—Anonymous