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Posted on: July 13, 2020

Historic Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse Reborn as Youth Arts Hub

Geneva Car Barn Exterior

SAN FRANCISCO, CA  Work is complete on a meticulous renovation of the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse, part of San Francisco’s railway history in the Excelsior District, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department announced today.

The historic landmark will open to the public as a hub for creativity, performance, youth arts education and community connection when health orders allow. In the meantime, Performing Arts Workshop, Rec and Park’s programming partner, is offering online arts education.

The $14 million project represents the first of two phases of improvements to the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse, which is made up of two adjoining structures that served San Francisco’s first electric streetcars: the single story, 3,000-square foot Powerhouse and the two-story, 13,000-square foot office building known as the Car Barn.

Rec and Park and Public Works broke ground on Phase 1, a complete renovation of the Powerhouse portion in 2018. The building’s antique doors and windows have been restored, and glass flooring showcases its historic basement and tunnels. The renovated building is now earthquake safe and outfitted with storefront doors, a new roof, improved entrances, and new mechanical and electrical systems. The ADA-accessible venue boasts an office and green room, a floor with radiant heat, and audiovisual equipment.

While the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse is under the jurisdiction of Rec and Park, the renovation and activation of the space is part of a multi-agency coalition which includes the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), the Office of District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai, Public Works, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Planning Commission and the San Francisco Arts Commission. The renovation was made possible by the 2012 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond Parks Bond, state funding advocated for by District 19 Assemblymember Phil Ting, the City’s general fund, and Historic Preservation and New Market Tax Credit Funds and grant funding through the partnership with the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST).

“I’m thrilled to see the completion of the Geneva Car Barn project, creating a place to nurture and inspire generations of local talent. It’s important to invest in the arts, and I’m proud to have championed $3.5 million in state funding that helped transform this historic landmark into a community treasure,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), chair of the Assembly Budget Committee.

“The Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse is a piece of living history that will serve our youth and the Excelsior community with art and dance classes, opportunities for creative expression, and a location to meet with friends and neighbors,” said San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed. “We’re looking forward to the time when the community can safely come together and connect in this beautifully restored space.”

Built at a time when streetcars were drawn by horses, the Geneva Car Barn opened in 1901 and its Powerhouse soon began providing electricity to the city’s first electrified streetcars. Critical to San Francisco’s transportation for 80 years, it survived the 1906 earthquake and fire, as well as bloody railroad strikes in the early 20th Century. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake knocked it out of commission. The building was red-tagged, sitting closed and vacant for a decade.

Neighborhood activists who later formed Friends of the Geneva Car Barn saved the building from a planned demolition to make way for a parking lot in 1999. The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department acquired the site from SFMTA in 2004. The restoration of the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse has since been considered a key element to revitalize the neighborhood around the Balboa Park Station.

"I am thrilled that we can finally utilize this historic site as an arts hub for youth and families in our District," said Supervisor Ahsha Safai, "This has been a dream in our community for decades that I have been personally involved with and I am grateful to Rec and Park and community leaders for helping to finally make this dream a reality. We are excited that Performing Arts Workshop will be the anchor tenant at this site and we look forward to welcoming community in the very near future." 

“We are so excited to finally share this lovingly restored historic landmark with the community,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “It took many years of creating partnerships and securing funding to create this neighborhood jewel and hub for youth and arts.”

Performing Arts Workshop will offer classes in dance, creative writing, visual and media arts, theater, and spoken word at the facility, as well as manage rentals for performances, exhibition, events and more. The Workshop began its multi-language Reimagine Distance Learning program this month.

"After years of anticipation, we can’t wait to finally open the Geneva Powerhouse doors and make it a thriving community space in District 11,” said Performing Arts Workshop President Michelle Dong. “We are so grateful to all of the partners who have made this possible. The Workshop has been committed to developing critical thinking, creative expression, and essential learning skills through the arts for 55 years, and we are excited to expand our programs for the youth in the Excelsior, OMI, and surrounding neighborhoods."

Through partnership with CAST, Rec and Park received new market and historic preservation tax credits partnering to provide capital funding for the Car Barn, as a result, CAST will serve as a partner to manage the space.

"CAST is very excited to be part of this singular public and social enterprise sector partnership to breathe new life into the Geneva Car Barn as a 21st century cultural center in the Excelsior,” said CAST CEO Moy Eng. “Performing Arts Workshop is a premier provider of arts education and their management of the building will also provide needed cultural and community programs in this vibrant community."

The second phase of the renovation, which is currently seeking funding, would create art and recording studios, a student lounge, a café, and other improvements.

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Note: For video of the renovated Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse, click here.

Historical photo credit: SFMTA Photo Archive

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