San Francisco’s Embarcadero Historic District Named To National Trust’s 2016 11 Most Endangered List
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the San Francisco’s Embarcadero Historic District in San Francisco, Calif., to its 2016 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. This annual list spotlights important examples of the nation’s architectural and cultural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. More than 270 sites have been on the list over its 29-year history, and in that time, fewer than five percent of listed sites have been lost.
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, commercial and recreational uses while also serving as the Bay Area’s ferry hub. The Embarcadero offers popular recreational opportunities for local residents and millions of annual visitors, including a continuous three-mile promenade with a network of public open spaces. The Embarcadero’s historic character, enhanced by the 1991 removal 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 the Embarcadero’s historical significance and numerous successful rehabilitation projects, 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 seawall. The district also faces formidable threats from the sea. The Embarcadero’s buildings must cope with 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 of earthquakes and sea level rise present enormous challenges to the future of the historic waterfront. $1.6 billion in Port assets are at risk from earthquake damage alone. Engineering options are being identified to minimize the impact of both earthquakes and sea level rise, but they will be costly. The estimated cost of needed seismic repairs is at least $2 billion, but when sea level rise is factored in, the cost is likely to double. Doing nothing, however, is not an option. Not only is the Embarcadero Historic District a cornerstone of San Francisco’s cultural heritage, 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.
“San Francisco’s Embarcadero captures the city’s rise from Gold Rush port city to cultural and recreational mecca and technological hub, beloved by tourists and residents alike,” said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “An all-hands-on-deck approach will be necessary to assure that the historic Embarcadero not only survives the dual threats of earthquakes and sea level rise, but continues to serve as the historic gateway and cultural, recreational and economic hub for the City by the Bay into the next century.”
Through its ReUrbanism work, the National Trust is highlighting the importance of reusing historic buildings to serve 21st century urban residents, and this focus is reflected in several sites on this year’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. Part of this work focuses on the ability of our urban areas to adapt to challenges—including large-scale, long-term natural threats.
Members of the public are invited to learn more about what they can do to support these 11 historic places and hundreds of other endangered sites at SavingPlaces.org/11Most.
The 2016 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places (in alphabetical order):
- Austin’s Lions Municipal Golf Course – Austin, Texas. Widely regarded as the first municipal golf course in the South to desegregate, “Muny” is an unheralded civil rights landmark facing development pressure.
- Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall at Lincoln University – Lincoln, Pa. The oldest building on the campus of the first degree-granting institution in the nation for African Americans, this hallowed building currently stands empty and faces an uncertain future.
- Bears Ears – Southeastern Utah. The 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears cultural landscape features a world-class collection of archaeological sites, cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and ancient roads that illuminate 12,000 years of human history yet is now threatened by looting, mismanaged recreational use, and energy development.
- Charleston Naval Hospital District – North Charleston, S.C. The historic district played a prominent role during WWII as a primary re-entry point for American servicemen injured in Europe and Africa. Now threatened by a proposed rail line, this important historic resource is at risk of being largely destroyed.
- Delta Queen – Houma, La. This steamboat was built in 1926 and today is among the last of her kind. Federal legislation that would enable this prestigious ship to return to overnight passenger cruising remains a key piece to securing the Delta Queen’s sustainability and future.
- El Paso’s Chihuahuita and El Segundo Barrio Neighborhoods – El Paso, Texas. These historic neighborhoods form the core of El Paso’s cultural identity, but their homes and small businesses are threatened by demolition.
- Historic Downtown Flemington – Flemington, N.J. Historic buildings at the core of the town that hosted the ‘Trial of the Century,’ the Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial, are threatened by a development proposal that would demolish the iconic Union Hotel along with three other adjacent historic buildings.
- James River - James City County, Va.Jamestown, America’s first permanent English settlement, was founded along the banks of the James River in 1607. The river and landscape, also named to this list by the Trust in 2013, remain threatened by a proposed transmission line project that would compromise the scenic integrity of this historic area.
- Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Domes - Milwaukee, Wis. A beloved Milwaukee institution for generations, a unique engineering marvel and a highly significant example of midcentury modern architecture, the Milwaukee Domes are facing calls for their demolition.
- San Francisco Embarcadero – San Francisco, Calif. The City by the Bay's iconic waterfront is beloved by residents and visitors alike, but needs long-term planning to address the dual natural threats of sea level rise and seismic vulnerability.
- Sunshine Mile – Tucson, Ariz. This two-mile corridor on Tucson’s Broadway Boulevard features one of the most significant concentrations of historic mid-century modern architecture in the Southwest. This unique collection of properties face threats from a transportation project that would require demolition.
America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places has identified more than 270 threatened one-of-a-kind historic treasures since 1988. Whether these sites are urban districts or rural landscapes, Native American landmarks or 20th-century sports arenas, entire communities or single buildings, the list spotlights historic places across America that are threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy. The designation has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save endangered sites from every region of the country. At times, that attention has garnered public support to quickly rescue a treasured landmark; while in other instances, it has been the impetus of a long battle to save an important piece of our history.