Crowd gathers outside the Transbay Terminal for the opening dedication on Jan. 14, 1939.

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SAN FRANCISCO — There were few tears shed when demolition started on the original Transbay Terminal on Dec. 3, 2010.

“The wrecking ball thudded into the facade of the former bus terminal at First and Mission streets this morning, marking ‘an exciting milestone in our demolition efforts,’” said Transbay Joint Powers Authority Chairman Nathaniel Ford, as reported at the time by Bay City News Service.

Replacement of the 71-year-old terminal, its glory years decades in the past, was seen as long overdue and necessary to create the Salesforce Transit Center, a modern hub that opened earlier this month connecting 11 regional bus systems and costing some $2 billion.

But the original terminal was also seen as a marvel of its time, the fulfillment of a longtime goal of connecting the East Bay’s extensive rail transit with San Francisco, and in the process eliminating the need for commuter ferries across the bay.

The grand opening was held on Jan. 14, 1939, when some 1,500 passengers arrived in the city at dawn aboard a Key System train from Oakland. It was followed by a Sacramento Northern Railway train from the state capital. Some 30,000 people made the crossing from the East Bay to the terminal that morning.

There were considerable logistics involved in bringing three competing rail lines — the Key System, the Southern Pacific Interurban, and the Sacramento Northern Railway — across the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, including differences in voltage for each of the electric train systems used.

Officials at the time put the total cost of railway facilities for the crossing at $18 million and the new terminal at $2 million. It was estimated that some 60,000 passengers a day would come through the new facility.

But the new era of public transit was short-lived, with both the IER (Interurban Electric Railway) and the Sacramento Northern ending passenger service in 1941, leaving Key as the lone carrier until it replaced trains with buses in 1958. The privately owned Key System was replaced by Alameda-Contra Costa Transit in 1960.