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$3.5M in state budget secures future for SF’s last historic streetcar barn

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The interior of the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse will be converted into an art space for San Francisco youth. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco’s last-standing electric streetcar powerhouse will soon be reborn as an art space for youth.

The future of the historic barn was secured with $3.5 million in state funding secured by Assemblymember Phil Ting, announced Thursday, and a recently approved $3 million in funding from the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, also announced Thursday.

Located at 2301 San Jose Ave., the Geneva Office Building & Power House — also known simply as the Geneva Car Barn — was built in 1901 and played host to a historic change in how San Franciscans get around.

In present day, the bricks are crooked from San Francisco’s two great quakes, the wood is rotting and the walls are covered in graffiti.

But those walls saw bloody strikes from streetcar workers in 1906 — an upper-story door used by scabs to jump over picketers to streetcars below still survives even today, according to “Our Enduring Landmark,” a comic about Car Barn’s history in the Ingleside-Excelsior Light.

The air of history lingers: The barn features dumpster-sized pits that, a century ago, housed generators that powered San Francisco’s earliest electric streetcars.

“I’m determined,” said Dan Weaver, who started advocating for the car barn to be rebuilt when he was 45 years old. Now, he’s 73.

Through the years, various agencies kicked around the project, unwilling to fund it. Muni said no, and former Rec and Park leaders held up their nose at the project.

In the interim, some progress was made, Weaver said. Design work and pro-bono advertising was produced, and Weaver’s group, Friends of the Geneva Office Building & Power House, stopped it from being demolished.

But the Car Barn’s train finally arrived after a confluence of funding events: Former Supervisor John Avalos obtained $8 million in funding for the project, and Phil Ginsburg, the current Rec and Park general manager, took the reins of the agency in 2009.

Ginsburg, and later Ting, took the torch to the finish line, and both obtained the last legs of funding needed to start Phase 1 of the project.

“Look at this,” Ginsburg told the San Francisco Examiner as he stood in the Car Barn and fog-tinted sunshine poured through the skylight. “This is worth saving.”

“Two Phils are better than one,” joked Mayor Ed Lee at a Thursday news conference in the car barn where the funding was announced. The mayor supported the city budget “add backs” to revitalize the Car Barn.

Ting secured $6.5 million in state funding to fund various San Francisco parks, including $1 million for Lake Merced improvements and $2 million for another dog park in Golden Gate Park.

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