The Ferry Building was converted into an office building, with most of its public spaces being cut up and filled in. The Bay-facing side of the building, which once looked out onto ferry slips, was closed in and the building began decades of an insular life that removed it from the everyday life of the city. This separation from nearby urban life was dramatically compounded by the construction of the two-story elevated Embarcadero Freeway, which ran in front of the building, effectively hiding the building from the city.
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake structurally weakened the freeway, giving the impetus for its removal. After the removal of the freeway a farmers market sprang up in the space left vacant in front of the building. Over the next decade there were many debates over what should occur at the Ferry Building, culminating in an RFP from the Port of San Francisco in 1997. The owners of the building, the Port of San Francisco, recognized the opportunity they had to revitalize the waterfront, and sponsored a competition for the building’s renaissance.