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Renovation project at historic Geneva Car Barn breaks ground

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City officials broke ground Monday, March 19, 2018 on a $14 million renovation project at the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

After decades of advocacy from Excelsior District residents, city officials broke ground Monday morning on the first phase of a multi-million dollar effort to revamp the former Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse into a community arts hub.

The $14 million project launched Monday will renovate the powerhouse, a 3,000- square foot building that is part of a 16,000 square foot, 116-year-old brick-and-mortar complex near the Balboa Park BART and Muni station.

“It’s what I would call a fixer-upper,” Phil Ginsburg, San Francisco Recreation and Parks general manager, said. “This is officially the most complicated project in San Francisco Parks and Rec history.”

Renovations will bring the building up to American Disability Act standards and include historic restoration, new floors, a new roof and modern utility systems.

The 1901 powerhouse was the first built for electric transit in The City. The Car Barn was a transit center for streetcars, including those that would stop at mortuaries around San Francisco and make their way to cemeteries in Colma.

The buildings survived two massive earthquakes, one in 1906 and another in 1989 that resulted in The City red-tagging them.

The City’s transportation agency threatened to tear down the Car Barn to create parking spaces, but community members worked with former San Francisco mayor, Willie Brown, to halt those plans.

Nearly 20 years of community advocacy and multi-agency collaboration, city officials gathered Monday around a pile of dirt wearing bright orange hard hats, golden shovels in hand, to mark the beginning of a renovation project that is ambitiously projected for completion in less than a year.

“I didn’t know if I was going to outlive this project or not,” said Linda D’Avirro, a 30-year District 11 resident and long-time advocate for the Geneva Car Barn. “This is a community of families, children, seniors, a lot of seniors, and there’s a lot of history that we’re hoping on the second half to get involved in.”

“We’ve had to fight for everything,” D’Avirro said. “We were the forgotten community and now they realize that this is a community that gets it done.”

While the powerhouse’s renovation is covered by $14 million in state and local funding, the renovation of the two-story Car Barn itself, which is four times as big as the powerhouse, is still not fully funded. That building requires structural and cosmetic repairs, and D’Avirro pointed out it has cracks running up the red bricks from the earthquakes.

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