City looks to jazz up historic building site

A new jazz center or affordable housing may one day fill a decaying historic building in the Fillmore district that played an energizing role in The City’s transit history.

The City’s redevelopment agency has invited developers to pitch proposals to rebuild the abandoned Muni substation at the corner of Fillmore and Turk streets, which must be used for “affordable housing, arts and community uses and other publicly beneficial uses,” according to a 2003 Board of Supervisors resolution that approved the sale of the city property.

The two-story brick building was built in 1902 to house massive electricity-generating turbines for Market Street Railroad Co. streetcars, according to city documents.

The rickety door of the landmark building is now tied shut with rusted chains and a hefty padlock, but daytime passers-by who peer through cracked windows can see light seeping into its cavernous bowels through graffiti-tinted skylights.

“It’s an incredible piece of history,” said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the Fillmore district. “Unfortunately, it’s a brick away from falling down.”

The substation is at the southern end of the Fillmore Jazz Preservation District. The redevelopment agency has poured $5 million into streets within the district in recent years, documents show. In November, a new $10 million Yoshi’s San Francisco restaurant and jazz club opened up at the corner of Fillmore and Eddy streets.

“The Fillmore is renowned internationally for being the jazz Harlem of the West, and through recent efforts there’s been a strong effort in trying to return some of that distinction back tothe Fillmore,” Mirkarimi said.

A city-funded study done last year by Bay Area Economics found there is an “unmet need in The City for a medium-sized venue” with space for 200 to 700 seats.

The district could be enhanced, the study concluded, “by making the Muni substation a gathering place for younger, newer musicians.”

Developers have until February to submit proposals, according to Michele Davis, who is helping coordinate the project for the redevelopment agency.

“There are so many youth that just don’t have anything to do,” Davis said. “Oftentimes, when kids are involved in creative areas, their grades tend to go up. So we would really like to see a successful program that taps into that aspect of youth development to excite young people about learning.”

The building at night could serve as a performance venue for established and emerging artists, according to Davis.

The City’s redevelopment agency purchased the substation from San Francisco in 2003, documents show. It has offered to pay $3.5 million toward the cost of retrofitting the building, and toward the cost of clearing out asbestos, paint and lead.

jupton@examiner.com

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