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San Francisco's Ferry Building

The clock tower that sits in front of San Francisco's Ferry Building.
John McChesney, NPR News /
The clock tower that sits in front of San Francisco's Ferry Building.

The late San Francisco columnist Herb Caen once said that San Francisco without its Ferry Building Tower -- the landmark that symbolized the city before the Golden Gate Bridge was built -- would be like a birthday cake without a candle. So this week, when the city re-opened its restored Ferry Building, crowds gathered to watch Mayor Willie Brown "relight the candle" by restarting the old tower clock.

For All Things Considered, NPR's John McChesney reports on the Ferry Building's grandeur. Inside its vast nave, the eye soars up to a skylight that stretches the length of two football fields. A graceful lacework of arched steel trusses supports the roof, and under that, dozens of brick arches embrace huge, laticed windows.

About 10,000 ferry passengers still walk through the building each day. But the building has been transformed from a transportation temple into a culinary cathedral. Dozens of food shops stretch along the first floor, including butchers, fishmongers, artisan cheese makers, produce farmers and wine merchants.

The Ferry Building has renewed visitors' sense of community, McChesney says.

"I think it's fantastic," Jean Tarrentino says. "I think it's an amazing place for people in San Francisco to meet. There isn't a whole lot of street life here because of the weather and this brings people out in a way that nothing else does."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John McChesney
Since 1979 senior correspondent John McChesney has been with NPR, where he has served as national editor (responsible for domestic news) and senior foreign editor. Over the course of his career with NPR, McChesney covered a variety of beats and traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. His reports can be heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, and newscasts.