San Francisco Embarcadero

photo by: Tom Hilton

11 Most Endangered Historic Places

San Francisco Embarcadero

  • Location: San Francisco, California

The National Register-listed Embarcadero Historic District, the historic interface between San Francisco and its beloved bay, is a major economic engine for the Bay Area, hosting a variety of maritime uses while also serving as the region’s ferry hub. Its historic character, enhanced by the 1991 demolition of the elevated Embarcadero Freeway and the subsequent completion of significant rehabilitation projects including the iconic Ferry Building, has contributed to a remarkable urban waterfront renaissance in San Francisco.

Despite these successes, however, the district is facing two major physical threats: earthquakes and sea level rise. A recent earthquake vulnerability study of the Embarcadero’s historic 3-mile long seawall revealed greater than expected risk to the structure. The Embarcadero’s buildings must also cope with a harsh marine environment—an ongoing threat that is dramatically exacerbated by climate change-related sea level rise. The Port of San Francisco anticipates a rise in sea level of up to 66 inches by 2100.

These dual threats present enormous challenges to the future of the historic waterfront. At-risk assets generate $2.1 billion in rents, business income, and wages annually, and are a major contributor to a tourism industry valued at over $11 billion a year. The dual seismic and climate change threats require a coordinated local, regional, state, and federal response that embraces creative strategies that assure long-term resilience for the Embarcadero’s rich heritage.

Through its ReUrbanism work, the National Trust is highlighting the importance of reusing historic buildings to serve 21st-century urban residents. Part of this work focuses on the ability of our urban areas to adapt to challenges—including large-scale, long-term natural threats such as the ones threatening the Embarcadero.

“An all-hands-on-deck approach will be necessary to ensure that the historic Embarcadero continues to serve as the historic gateway and cultural, recreational, and economic hub for the City by the Bay into the next century.”

Stephanie Meeks, National Trust President and CEO

ReUrbanism: Shaping Communities Through Reuse

Historic preservation encourages cities to build on the assets they have—unleashing the enormous power and potential of older buildings to improve health, affordability, prosperity, and well-being.

This Preservation Month, set aside time to celebrate and explore historic places in innovative ways. We can’t wait to see what you accomplish!

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