Community

Neighborhood Narrative: Geneva Office Building and Powerhouse Moving Forward At Last

Photograph by Ray Rudolph and Courtesy of the Friends of the Geneva Office Building and Powerhouse

In the third week of March, good news came to our neighborhood: District Eleven Supervisor John Avalos secured $2.5 million to start the Geneva Office Building and Powerhouse renovation project.

Those funds will go directly to restoring the 1904-built Powerhouse and, if all continues going well, we will be using that beautiful, well-lighted building late next year for gallery shows, community meetings and more. Its location at the intersection of San Jose and Geneva avenues, right across from the Balboa Park station, will easily make it an attraction drawing visitors from all over the Bay Area. Further, it will serve as the perfect space for hosting fundraisers for the 1901-built Office Building.

Rehabilitating the GOB&P, also known as the “Carbarn”, has been a 17-year long effort. Red-tagged after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it sat derelict for 10 years until Muni decided it wanted to tear down its own historic landmark for a dozen parking spots. Neighbors stood up for the majestic Victorian-era building complex and then-Mayor Willie Brown told Muni to cancel its plans.

In 2003, the Recreation and Park Department’s General Manager Elizabeth Goldstein partnered with the Friends of the Geneva Office Building and Powerhouse to rehab these fine old buildings and establish a community center focused on youth recreational needs.

RPD had conducted a survey that confirmed the community’s observations about a basic unfulfilled need of many District Eleven youth, a recreational place to offer after school and summer programs and classes. Goldstein struck a deal with Muni and bought the building for $1.

Dan Weaver, a resident of Ingleside, led the charge to establish the nonprofit FGOB&P. (Disclosure: I’m a member of the nonprofit’s board.) He worked tirelessly for years to get the designs in place. It’s no small feat. It seemed grueling at times. But, fortunately, he didn’t do it alone. It took the wider community. Goldstein joined the board. As did neighbors Christian Ad, Al Harris, Grace D’Anca, Bruce Bonacker, Sharon Eberhardt and BART Director Tom Radulovich. Supervisor Avalos and aide Beth Rubenstein really championed the project. Nicole Avril of RPD stood by the project all the way as did Phil Ginsburg.

Stay tuned for exciting updates about the renovation. Also, the Office Building will mark its 115th anniversary standing at the juncture of Ingleside and the Excelsior this April.

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That it took 17 years to do a no-brainer project like the Geneva Office Building and Powerhouse is telling about this gilded city’s economic and political divide. And there are at least two other potential—if not soon-to-be—historic landmarks the community is working on and worthy of City Hall’s focused attention.

Avalos’s original supplemental budget request included an additional $2.5 million for the Alemany Emergency Hospital and Health Center, the special pair of ornate buildings at Alemany Boulevard and Onondaga. Neighbors are working with Avalos to get them restored and activated as well as the interior frescos preserved. The Department of Real Estate, somehow, intended to sell off the buildings. Because the GOB&P was further along, it was decided to separate the funding requests. You will undoubtedly hear more about this pair.

In January, 1970 Ocean Ave., the old El Rey movie palace, changed hands. After decades of faithfully operating as a church, the building’s future suddenly has become uncertain. This is at the same time the Office of Economic and Workforce Development is studying how to better-use the building and help the owner maintain it. It was clear the iconic Art Deco masterpiece designed by the city’s most famous native architect, Timothy Pflueger, should be protected from the developer’s wrecking ball and preserved for generations to come.

In March, Dan Weaver and I organized an event to discuss what steps can be taken to make sure that’s the case. Some 35 people spent their Saturday afternoon brainstorming on what can be done to save the building.

The Ocean Avenue Association and Art Deco Society of California successfully won two grants totaling $10,000 to pay an expert to craft a historic landmark application, a complicated document that, if approved, will protect El Rey.

It’s unclear if the Planning Department will ever step up in our part of the city. To date, they have been rather neglectful. They began work on creating a historic survey for the Balboa Park Station Area Plan but never completed the job. City College of San Francisco’s Science Hall, Balboa Park Swimming Pool and the Ingleside Police Station are obvious candidates for preservation that need attention.

I trust there will be good news to report about Ingleside Presbyterian Church earning landmark status this April, another exciting addition to the historic register and an important protection for the neighborhood’s character.

To learn more about the Friends of the Geneva Office Building, visit www.genevacarbarn.org. For more information about the Alemany Emergency Hospital and Health Center, email Supervisor Avalos’s aide Beth Rubenstein at beth.rubenstein@sfgov.org. For more information about Save El Rey, visit www.saveelrey.nationbuilder.com.

This article appeared in the Ingleside-Excelsior Light‘s April 2016 edition. It has been updated.

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