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Transbay Terminal Farewell
July 28. 2010
H. Lynn Harrison
ART DECO SOCIETY of CALIFORNIA
(This letter was a response to an article by Carl Nolte of the San Francisco Chronicle)
One of San Francisco’s architectural treasures is sliding into dust and there are those who seem to see this as progress. Carl Nolte’s Chronicle Article of July 25. 2010 exemplifies this attitude. Mr. Nolte goes on at length to describe an outmoded old train station ...”a civic disgrace... dark. gloomy ...empty”...which in his opinion should obviously be razed and replaced by “high-rise gleaming condo towers.”
Fortunately for Paris and the rest of the world, the outmoded, dark old train station at Gare O’Orsay didn’t suffer the same fate. It is ironic that at this very moment, San Francisco is host to Impressionist masterpieces currently on loan from the D’Orsay. which is being renovated yet again.
The impression that Tim Pflueger’s Transbay Terminal was an architectural failure and that “even the historians will be glad when the terminal is history” is the same kind of thinking that has lost for this city many other architectural treasures. For the record the Transbay Terminal was and still is a beautiful building, modern and classic at the same time, powerful, graceful and a fitting visual addition to any city. It’s sleekness, its strength, its elegance of proportions, all make this an architectural master work, exemplary of the best of its era on a world stage.
Good architecture is as rare as good architects. Sadly I see no current threat to unseating the lasting genius of Tim Pflueger in this town. Most of what passes for “highrise gleaming condo towers” could benefit enomously from the grace and urbane sophistication of a Pflueger.
It seems particularly short-sighted to reference the Ferry Building as still functioning beautifully; now restored, bristling with life. Many San Franciscans with longer memories know it was not always so. I remember the Ferry Building when it was one of the seediest spots in town, butchered, unkempt and not filled with well heeled patrons buying precious gourmet cheeses. But none of these unsavory attributes related in ‘anyway to its architectural merits. I’m grateful the Ferry Building persevered and is glorious again. I easily envision the same splendor in a restored version of Pflueger’s Transbay Terminal. How sad to know that this will never happen.
One could ask what do we. as San Franciscans owe to our city. What do we owe to history? We owe the best we can produce. The Transbay Terminal was a product of our best. It was beautiful. I fear we will not see its equal in replacement. It will be missed.
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