The First Great Portal to Marin
The Hyde Street Pier and Maritime National Historic Park offer a fascinating before-the-bridges look at an important time in Bay Area transportation history.
IN THE 1930s, the waters between the massive steel beams and cables supporting construction of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges teemed with activity, and at the center of the commotion was the Hyde Street Pier. Here, a Tiburon-built, side-wheel paddle steamboat named Eureka arrived and departed, bearing passengers and their automobiles from San Francisco to Sausalito and back, at all hours of the day and evening. From the elite taking summer jaunts in the redwoods to workers in pier-side industrial jobs, travelers from all walks of life enjoyed Eureka’s perks. While the ferry’s dual-loading bottom deck could handily transport some 150 cars on each trip, the upper passenger deck had a decidedly more luxurious tone. Visitors making their way to the vintage vessel today will notice fluted, frill-edged, frosted-glass lampshades dotting a glossy white wooden-planked ceiling. The walkways, accented with delicate decorative arches and finely etched flourishes with Tiffany- blue trim, take you right back to times gone by. Two rows of windows let in ample natural light; from the wainscoting of the restaurant and newspaper stand to the meticulously hammered brass tacks in the seating area, it’s clear no detail was spared. Eureka’s route was considered part of Highway 101 until the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, but not everyone was privy to this information. “Up until about 25 years or so, we’d still get some older people trying to drive their way onto the pier,” says park management assistant Lynn Cullivan. On March 1, 1941, the Eureka made her final trip across the bay. Guests wishing to get a glimpse into what life was like during this important era in Bay Area transportation history can look no further than San Francisco’s Maritime National Historic Park. At the quieter end of Fisherman’s Wharf, where tourists are less common and members of the Dolphin Club make their daily plunges, attendees can tour the Eureka and many other historic vessels at the Hyde Street Pier, examine artifacts at the visitor center, and explore the not-so-distant past at the Maritime Museum — just be sure to leave your car in the parking lot. nps.gov/safr
Center: The pier as it looks today with the Eureka in the background; note the old Highway 101 sign to the right of the pier entrance. Bottom left: Cars approaching the ferry terminal in June 1931 bound for Sausalito and Berkeley. Upper right: The Eureka making one of its many journeys across the bay.