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Geneva Avenue train depot to undergo $11 million renovation

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Antique structure hasn’t seen regular use since 1989

Car barn with historic street car coming out of it. Photo by Don Barrett

San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department announced on Thursday that it has secured $11 million in funding to finally rehabilitate the historic but long vacant and derelict Car Barn and Powerhouse building across the street from Balboa Park BART station.

“This building has been a blight on our neighborhood for over 20 years,” said District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai via a press release, praising the plan to restore the old building and repurpose it as an arts and cultural center.

The 115-plus year old train depot hasn’t seen regular use since the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

In 1998, neighborhood activists convinced then Mayor Willie Brown to cancel the building’s planned demolition. A neighborhood non-profit, the Friends of the Geneva Car Barn, vowed to rehab the crumbling building, but those plans went off the rails.

“It just didn’t work out,” Friends of the Car Barn director told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015. “We were sitting around for many years not getting anything done.”

A rendeirng of the rehabbed car barn, a long, low, brick-clad industrial building, now bustling with people and lights in every window. Renderings by Aidlin Darling Design

Since then, Recreation and Park, which bought the building off of Muni under the terms of the 1998 bargain, has been stuck with the persistent problem of how to treat this neighborhood eyesore.

The current plans call for a theater, cafe, and art galleries, promising to repair the building while preserving what historic elements remain and “highlighting the best components of the compound’s original construction.”

The site is actually two buildings, the oldest of the two and the designated landmark being the car barn itself, which despite the oddball name is actually just an office.

The nearby powerhouse, which “contained the electrical transformers that powered San Francisco’s electric rail cars,” suffered serious damage in the 1906 earthquake and doesn’t rate landmark status on account of alterations afterward, according to the Planning Department. Only the powerhouse will actually get fixed up under the current plans.

The final push on getting the project done came when the Recreation and Parks Department commission voted Thursday to put $3 million in grant money toward the car barn project, adding to an $8 million cache previously secured.

Actual construction should take nine months altogether according to the city’s offer to contractors back in April, with a 2018 target date.