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Affordable housing development to raze historic Tenderloin auto shop

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A historic auto body shop at 500 Turk St. is set to be demolished to make way for an affordable housing development. (Sarahbeth Maney/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco’s focus on transforming the Civic Center area includes both public space improvements and nearby housing development.

Two Civic Center-area projects indicative of this changing area advanced on Wednesday during a hearing before the Historic Preservation Commission’s Architectural Review Committee.

One includes a cafe, or kiosk, as part of a major metamorphosis of the Civic Center area, called the Civic Center Commons or the Civic Center Public Realm Plan. The area is known to attract homeless residents and drug users.

The other includes a nearby 108-unit affordable housing development proposed by the nonprofit Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation at 500 Turk St. that would replace the long-standing auto repair shop there now.

The auto shop is perhaps most famous for its large marquee supported by posts near the corner of Turk and Larkin streets where one of the owners regularly posts quotes.

Bill Brinnon, one of four owners of the business since the 1970s, told the San Francisco Examiner that he supports the affordable housing project and may relocate the business elsewhere in The City, noting that they have about two more years to decide. They also operate a South San Francisco location that will remain open.

“We can relocate somewhere else,” Brinnon said. “We just haven’t made up our mind yet. It depends on what we can find.”

The Kahn & Keville tire and auto repair shop opened in 1912 at a nearby location and later moved into the 500 Turk St. facility, built in 1935 and designed by architect Henry A. Minton and structural engineer L. H. Nishkian in a minimalist Art Deco style.

“TNDC and The City has been talking about it for a while,” Brinnon said. “And it’s a good location for them. They approached our landlords and worked a deal with them and then they came to us and worked a really good deal with us.”

The 100 percent affordable housing project, of which 50 percent of the units would be for families, is supported by the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

“San Francisco is in the midst of a housing crisis,” said Joan McNamara, with Mayor’s Office of Housing. “The mayor has pledged to create 30,000 affordable units by 2020. This site helps toward that goal.”

Brinnon said that “The City needs this kind of thing for below-[market]-rate housing and housing for working-class people.”

The design for the housing development by David Baker Architects is an “L-shaped plan that occupies the south and east sides of the lot (reverse of the L-shaped plan of the existing building), leaving an open courtyard, amounting to a little more than a quarter of the lot area, at the northwest corner. Situated at grade-level, the courtyard will feature a garden and play space.”

Residential homes will comprise 81,869 square feet in the 8-story, 79-foot-tall building, while common areas will comprise 3,564 square feet and commercial/retail uses 2,597 square feet.

Aaron Hyland, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission’s Architectural Review Committee, said he was “a bit torn” given the ongoing tension between “providing amenities that we need — affordable housing — and protecting not only the building that’s important … but also a business that’s really important.”

While he said he may be “sad” to see the business go, “some things need to be let go of in order to deal with things that are more important. And affordable housing in this particular context is certainly more important.”

TNDC formed in 1981 and has since purchased or developed 39 buildings in the Tenderloin, providing affordable homes for more than 4,000 residents.

Since the project is impacting a historic resource, an environmental impact report is required under the California Environmental Quality Act to look at preservation alternatives, which would reduce the housing.

“I don’t think this building is significant enough to override the desperate need for housing,” said Architectural Review Committee member Jonathan Pearlman.

The draft EIR is expected to be released on Nov. 22.

“I think it’s a good change,” Brinnon said. “Everybody wants to live here. There’s going to be a lot of change. And there’s going to be more change, I would think. I think you just have to kind of accept that, don’t you? That’s the way things go.”


The cafe, which would be located at the corner of the plaza at Grove and Larkin streets, is being paid for through a $1 million gift from the Helen Diller Foundation, which previously donated $10 million for the ongoing playground upgrades in Civic Center Plaza.

The cafe structure would be 640 square feet, 12 feet tall, 44 feet long and 20 feet wide with a canopy that extends 9 feet from the base when open.

“Using a bi-fold system, perforated stainless steel panels would act as an awning structure providing shade during operating hours,” a planning document said. “After operating hours the bi-fold system would retract, acting as a security gate, fully enclosing the kiosk.”

The project is being designed by WRNS Studio’s architect Brian Milman. “One of the things that we wanted to really create was a sense of place, a sense of timelessness, and we often use the term ‘pavillion’ in lieu of ‘kiosk,’” Milman said.

The kiosk includes a commercial kitchen, employee restroom and outdoor seating stored inside the kiosk at night.

The Civic Center Community Benefit District is expected to operate the kiosk, according to CCCBD’s executive director Tracy Everwine. In a letter to the commission, Everwine said the kiosk would become “a hub of positive energy.”

“At night, it will be well lit to help Grove Street feel safer but will be secured and closed,” Everwine wrote.

UC Hastings Chancellor David Faigman is supportive of the cafe. “We are confident that this improvement will enhance the plaza by making for a more welcoming experience,” Faigman wrote to the committee.

The design passed muster with the committee. “You’re bringing in this kind of tactile and visual richness that a building that’s that simple could lose so easily. It could be a dumb box,” Pearlman said.

Both proposals will require additional approvals by other city agencies.

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