Image - John King and detail from his book cover

San Francisco

John King: San Francisco’s Ferry Building and the Reinvention of American Cities

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Conceived in the Gilded Age, the Ferry Building opened in 1898 as San Francisco’s portal to the world―the terminus of the transcontinental railway and a showcase of civic ambition. In silent films and World’s Fair postcards, nothing said “San Francisco” more than its soaring clocktower. But as architectural critic John King reminds us, the rise of the automobile and double-deck freeways severed the city from its beloved structure.

King recounts the rise and fall and rebirth of the Ferry Building, introducing the colorful figures who fought to preserve its character, and the city’s soul, from architect Arthur Page Brown and legendary columnist Herb Caen to poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Senator Dianne Feinstein. A microcosm of the changing American waterfront, the saga of the Ferry Building explores the tensions of tourism and development―and the threat that the expected sea level rise poses to a landmark that in the 21st century remains as vital as ever.

MLF Organizer
George Hammond

This program is in-person only.

If you have symptoms of illness (coughing, fever, etc.), we ask that you either stay home or wear a mask. Our front desk has complimentary masks for members and guests who would like one.

The Commonwealth Club of California is a nonprofit public forum; we welcome donations made during registration to support the production of our programming.

A Humanities Member-led Forum program. Forums at the Club are organized and run by volunteer programmers who are members of The Commonwealth Club, and they cover a diverse range of topics. Learn more about our Forums.

This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Bernard Osher Foundation

Photo by Jessica Christian.

All ticket sales are final and nonrefundable.

Mon, Dec 4 / 5:30 PM PST

The Commonwealth Club of California
110 The Embarcadero
Toni Rembe Rock Auditorium
San Francisco, CA 94105
United States

Image - John King

John King

Urban Design Critic, San Francisco Chronicle; Two-time Pulitzer Prize Finalist; Author, Portal: San Francisco’s Ferry Building and the Reinvention of American Cities

Image - George Hammond

In Conversation with George Hammond

Author, Conversations With Socrates


5 p.m. doors open & check-in
5:30–6:30 p.m program
(all times PDT)


$10 members
$20 nonmembers
$40 members with a book
$50 nonmembers with a book