New skin for an old fire station

Beneath the Bay Bridge in a historic row of buildings on The Embarcadero sits a crumbling fire station and a pier that looks like it may jump into the chilly water at any moment.

Pier 22½ used to neighbor a row of waterfront cafes, restaurants and offices that served dock workers and Bay-side businesses. Now, the station is surrounded by two swanky restaurants, the distinctive “Cupid’s Span” sculpture and a neatly paved walkway frequented by joggers and tourists. A second phase of the project would return the fire station to its historic luster.

Fire Station 35 is part of the Embarcadero Historic District and will be preserved and rehabilitated, but the repairs won’t come cheap. About $2 million has gone into the dilapidated pier to shore up the rotting wood and rusted steel. Earlier this year, supervisors approved a $370,000 emergency contract to fix the pier.

Now, up to two fireboats can dock there. That’s important because the location of the station allows firefighters to respond to anywhere on the San Francisco waterfront, including San Francisco International Airport, according to Fire Commission President Victor Makras.

The fireboats also help pump water into the aging Auxiliary Water Supply System, for which a bond measure could go on next year’s ballot. Also, the Department of Homeland Security is working with the Port on an $8.3 million grant for a new fireboat.

“The beauty is you just drop your pump in the ocean and you roll,” Makras said. “The Bay provides an unlimited supply of water.”

The building was finished in 1915 for the giant Panama-Pacific International Exposition, said firefighter Paul Barry, president of the San Francisco Fire Department Historical Society.

Station 35 was actually built in the Marina, Barry said, along with dozens of elaborate buildings for the exposition. The Palace of Fine Arts and Station 35 are the only two remaining buildings from that time that he could recall.

“It was moved over on a barge from the Marina,” Barry said.

And while it took some work to get the station to the current location, it also will take some work to keep it there.

The substructure repairs on Pier 22½ have been completed, but the Fire Department is looking to federal grants to complete the second phase. Without the money, the department may have to move to another location or put a bond measure on a future ballot.

Until then, the station continues to be staffed by a skeleton crew ready to hop onto the fireboat at a moment’s notice.

How it became Fire Station 35

  • Originally constructed in the Marina district for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition on landfill from the 1906 earthquake, the building was shipped to Pier 22½ and made into a station following the fair.
  • Engine Co. No. 9 was decommissioned July 1, 1970, due to budget cuts, but Engine Co. No. 35
    moved into its current home in 1976 after being transferred from 676 Howard St.
  • The station, which now only houses fireboats, came to the rescue in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake when the vessel Phoenix was able to maneuver itself near Marina and Divisadero streets and supply water to fight fires on Chestnut Street.

    bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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