Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history—even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.
You may not give much thought to parking garages, but down at Mason and O'Farrell is a pretty special one. With a crazy unexpected architectural pedigree, this mid-century garage has lots of hidden surprises.
The Downtown Center Garage, as it was originally named, was built in 1953 in between Union Square and the then-booming Theater districts. It was designed by Oakland-born architect George Applegarth, who studied under Bernard Maybeck. While he may not be the most recognizable name, you definitely know his work—the Palace of the Legion of Honor and the Spreckels Mansion, to name a few. The classically trained Beaux Arts architect designed the garage as one of his final projects.
In addition to double ramps that extend from the basement to the roof, there's an extra level of modern flair with tubular steel railings wrapping around the ramps. When it was first built, it had the fanciest garage lobby in town. The double spiral ramp seems common in garages now, but it as a pretty big deal at the time, landing on the cover of Architect & Engineer magazine. It's been copied a lot in other cities.
Today the ground floor has been filled in with retail spaces, but the garage itself looks pretty much the same:
· Downtown Center Garage [Docomomo-Noca]
· Self Parking Downtown Center Garage [April 1955 Architect and Engineer via Internet Archive]
· George Applegarth [Encyclopedia of San Francisco]
· Previous Coverage of George Applegarth [Curbed SF]