Community Voices

The Time is Now for the Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse

Every day, thousands of passengers flow in and out of the Balboa Park Station, one of the busiest transit hubs in the Bay Area, and contend with a dangerous, unwelcoming and poorly planned streetscape.

This must change!

Activating the long-vacant Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse, the national historic building across the street, is the first step. Fixing the Car Barn will breathe life into the Balboa Park Transit Station Area and attract other investments that will revitalize the neighborhood and create an attractive mix of transit, residential and community uses.

Car Barn Sketch

Every day, thousands of passengers flow in and out of the Balboa Park Station, one of the busiest transit hubs in the Bay Area, and contend with a dangerous, unwelcoming and poorly planned streetscape.

This must change!

Activating the long-vacant Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse, the national historic building across the street, is the first step. Fixing the Car Barn will breathe life into the Balboa Park Transit Station Area and attract other investments that will revitalize the neighborhood and create an attractive mix of transit, residential and community uses.

Friends of the Geneva Office Building and Powerhouse, the nonprofit organization leading the effort to renovate the Car Barn, recently mounted a banner on the northwest corner of the building that states: The Future of the Neighborhood Starts Here. This bold promise announces to all San Franciscans and the people of the Bay Area that this landmark building and the surrounding neighborhood are ready for dramatic improvement.

The Friends are partnering with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department to rehabilitate the building and establish a new arts and culture center with a flagship youth arts education facility. The youth of the Excelsior, Ingleside and other working class neighborhoods are the future of San Francisco and the Car Barn is the place where they will find their inspiration.


The Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse is one of the most historically significant buildings in San Francisco. It is both a city landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. For almost 100 years, it served as the operational hub for the city’s private and public streetcar systems.

In 1989, Muni abandoned the building after it was badly damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake. The Car Barn has sat vacant and unused ever since.

Seventeen years ago, neighbors rallied to save the building when Muni announced its plans to demolish it to make space for additional parking. In 2004, the building was transferred from the Muni to the Recreation and Park Department.

After an extensive community planning process, the Friends and the Recreation and Parks Department decided the Car Barn should be converted into a new arts and culture center with a flagship youth arts education facility, and the two organizations agreed to jointly lead the effort. Last year, the Board of Supervisors approved a written agreement, which formalizes the partnership between the Friends and the City.

World Class Design

Aidlin-Darling Design, an award winning San Francisco-based architecture firm, has developed an adaptive reuse plan for the Car Barn. The plans for the building include a 99-seat black box theater, ample exhibition and gallery space, a dedicated community room, a large special event space, a ground floor café, and classrooms and studios for the youth arts program.

Once renovated, the Car Barn will be a major addition to the city’s cultural landscape. At present, there are no dedicated theaters or gallery spaces in District 11. The Car Barn will host regular performances and exhibits, making it a new cultural hub for neighborhood and a draw for people from other parts of the city and the surrounding region. It will also serve the area’s nonprofits.

Youth Programming

The Powerhouse Arts Project will be housed at the Car Barn. It provides youth ages 14-19 with job training in the culinary, media, digital, literary, photographic, design and technical arts. The Powerhouse Arts Project seeks to provide underserved teenagers with a path to a career or college. Apprentice artists earn a paycheck to recognize the value of the work that they produce and to encourage low-income teens to participate.

To date, the Powerhouse Arts Project has delivered programming to over 200 students through collaborations with best-of-class local non-profit organizations such as Youth Speaks, 826 Valencia, Bay Area Video Coalition and SF Camerawork, and educational institutions including Lick-Wilmerding High School and City College of San Francisco.

Next Steps

The partnership agreement with the City includes a 55-year ground lease for the Friends to operate, program, and manage the building. It requires that all of the capital needed to renovate the building—currently estimated at $24 million—be secured by the end of 2017. The Friends and the Recreation and Parks Department are collaborating to raise the needed funding from a combination of public and private sources and Federal tax credits.

Right now, the Friends are working to raise $500,000 to match $837,000 the City approved last spring. The funding will be used to develop final construction documents. The Friends just received a $50,000 challenge grant, which we are actively seeking to match.

Repurposing the Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse for a new public use is long overdue. After serving the neighborhood for almost a century as a blue-collar job center, it is time to imagine and seize a new future for the building for the next hundred years.

To realize this dream, we need a groundswell of support from neighbors, elected officials, and private funders. Join us! Visit our website, sign up for our newsletter, volunteer, and/or make a contribution to match the $50,000 donation. Please also send Mayor Ed Lee a letter to express your support for the project.

Dan Weaver is the board chair and founder of the Friends of Geneva Office Building and Powerhouse. Tim Wirth is the organization’s executive director.

Popular Articles

To Top