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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 526: Car Barns

Learn all about the former street and cable car barns of the west side with special guest Drew Moss.
by Nicole Meldahl & Drew Moss - Feb 3, 2024

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 526: Car Barns Outside Lands Podcast Episode 526: Car Barns

(above) Clement near 32nd Ave, circa 1940

View northeast across Clement to Sutro Car Barn with Market Street Railway 2-line streetcar #238 passing in front. [0238-02-02 EB on Clement from Car Barn circa 1940]

Podcast Transcription

526 - Car Barns

Nicole Meldahl: [00:00:00] [Music.] It's Outside Lands San Francisco, podcast of Western Neighborhoods Project, your weekly dose of friendly neighborhood history. Hello, Outsidelanders. I'm your host, Nicole Meldahl, and we are back for our first episode of the new year. And what a different year 2024 will be here on the pod. As many of you know, we lost my intrepid co-host Arnold Woods, who passed away in December. And, we all kind of thought we'd be back at recording in January, but to be honest, it's kind of taken us a little bit longer to find our footing without him. Thank you for your patience. We did not record a single thing in January. But we've used our time away from the microphone to rethink what we can be in his absence. And I assure you fun things are definitely on the horizon. But for now, we're trying to [00:01:00] sort of get back to business as usual in February, and I'm excited to share that the WNP airwaves will be filled with a rotating cast of friends and found family members in the months to come, starting with our recently graduated student volunteer, Drew Moss. So welcome to the outside lands, Drew.

Drew Moss: Thank you. It's nice to be here.

Nicole: So you, I know we're going to like launch into this incredible podcast that you have fully researched and created for us. But just as a little bit of background, can you explain Drew who the heck you are and how we know each other very briefly?

Drew: Sure. So I started working as a student intern volunteer, whatever we want to call it, with WNP back in May, which is crazy. Time [00:02:00] flies. And I've just kind of helped out with a few different projects here and there and yeah, I'm loving it.

Nicole: Drew, you also manage our Twitter account. Like, here's the beauty, if you want to call it that, of volunteering with Western Neighborhoods Project. You come in through our front doors and two months later, we're like, do you want to manage this essential communication channel on our social media?

Drew: Yeah.

Nicole: So Drew, you've been managing Twitter for about as long as you've been with us. Thank goodness, because Chelsea and I don't know Twitter at all. Excuse me. We're calling it X now?

Drew: Yes, we are. The future.

Nicole: The future is here. Managing X for us. That sounds weird. That sounds like you're a drug dealer.

Drew: A lot of people I've seen say X formerly known as Twitter, which I think is funny.

Nicole: I [00:03:00] mean, the URL is still Twitter, right? It's like still twitter.com. We don’t have to get into the nonsense that is Twitter, but we're already off the rails, which is a transit pun because you have pulled together an incredible transit episode for us.

Drew: Yeah. I'm going to be talking today about car barns. Very specific thing that I find interesting, specifically the car barns that exist or used to exist on the west side. Should I just dive into it?

Nicole: Yeah, I think so. I know we both want to be very clear. Transit is a very specific historical subject in San Francisco. It's very complex. It has many twists and turns. I'm so excited to unleash all of my transit puns that only Emiliano gets to hear in the office really and I think just bypasses. [00:04:00] So we're not experts on transit history, right, Drew?

Drew: No, no, no, no.

Nicole: We're doing our best here. Drew, you've done a lot of research.

Drew: Yes. Not an expert. A long and complicated history.

Nicole: Not an expert, but a fan and a nerd in learning. So yeah, let's just dive into it. Where are we going today, Drew?

Drew: Yeah. So to begin, I guess I'll start with why I was interested in car barns as a topic for this episode. So when I was a student at USF, I remember walking past and kind of wondering about the history behind the Lucky supermarket building that's on Masonic and Fulton. And it's mainly because it was noticeably so much newer than the other architecture surrounding it and [00:05:00] occupies so much land. So something told me there was an interesting story there. And thanks to OpenSFHistory's map feature, which, shout out, I was able to figure out that the parcel of land I mentioned used to be the home of the McAllister Car Barn and Powerhouse. And it was serving the cable car system as it approached the Richmond District from Market Street. And then it kind of sent me on this deep dive where I realized, there's all these car barns that exist or used to exist all over the city. And they were meant to house the cable and street cars and maintain fleets from general wear and tear. And some of them would even provide power to certain routes as well. And it just got me thinking, um, how many still stand today? How many were there on the west [00:06:00] side? What were their functions and how do they serve San Francisco in the present day now?

Nicole: Yeah, because a lot of them still exist, which is really fun. And not at every one of them can you get mac and cheese in a bread bowl, which is unique to the Lucky location. Just so our listeners are aware. Not that I've ever done that. Wink, wink for them. Not that I recommend eating carbs from a carb that you can eat yourself, but in case you're feeling like it on a rainy day like today, I recommend that.

Drew: It sounds perfect.

Nicole: Okay, Drew, don't spoil my terrible eating habits. Should we just dive right into the first car barn?

Drew: Sure. So we're going to start with what we were talking about, the McAllister Car Barn. So this was actually both a car barn and a powerhouse. And, [00:07:00] to go back to the beginning in 1883, the Market Street Railway Company, which was one of several competing private transportation companies here in the city, they decided to expand westward with their cable car service, specifically the No. 5 cable car. And this route would go from the Ferry Building down Market Street before turning onto McAllister and heading west. So the McAllister Car Barn and Powerhouse were constructed that same year to power the number 5 line’s westward expansion, which was a cable car at the time. So it was just physically winding the cable.

Nicole: And like, we had to bring transit out west for a couple of reasons, right? Like people, this is the thing that opened up the west side to like broader development, and it was starting to happen along this western route. So this was the thing that allowed people to populate the western [00:08:00] neighborhoods.

Drew: That was one of my favorite things that I kind of learned from this, that neighborhoods grow where transportation goes. And you would see that within a number of years, there would just be a sudden population boom and development. All of that jazz.

Nicole: So let's keep going with what this parcel of land was like.

Drew: Yeah. So it basically took up a whole block. It was bounded by Fulton, McAllister, Central and Masonic. And lots of it was empty land where cars could be stored. The main structure itself was a large wooden barn with this very, very tall brick smokestack closer to the corner of Central and Fulton. And that was where the cable was spun and where cars needing maintenance could be dealt with. For listeners, there are some really great photos of the structure on the OpenSFHistory page as well. If you just type in McAllister Car Barn, [00:09:00] it's, it's a treasure trove. I recommend it to anyone.

Nicole: Plug.

Drew: Major plug. And so it was kind of interesting because as cable cars would approach on McAllister Street, they would cut diagonally through the car barn and powerhouse exiting on Fulton and Masonic and then it would continue and approach its terminus, which at the time was Stanyan and Fulton and it would go on a turntable and turn around and just do the whole thing again. It was really perfect for those who wanted to visit Golden Gate Park or loved one's graves in one of the nearby cemeteries. Because we have to remember at the time, the area was pretty much just cemeteries and the recently designated park.

Nicole: Yeah. The Outside Lands Act was only signed in 1866. So we're within the 20 year range, right, of when this part of San Francisco [00:10:00] became part of San Francisco on the west side.

Drew: Yeah just a little under 20.

Nicole: And the park was only created in 1879, so that's even closer to this. So this is a really new era for this part of San Francisco.

Drew: And I would imagine at that point in time, the park was really not developed much either. Must have just been a lot of sand dune.

Nicole: Trying to overcome the sands, the migrating sand dunes near the beach. Absolutely.

Drew: So yeah, 1883 that opened, eventually the line was extended to go to 7th Avenue and Fulton Street in 1892. And that was really useful for folks that were going to the 1894 Midwinter Exposition in Golden Gate Park. It was also the home of what I believe was called Beertown? Which was, if you know anything about it, you can speak a little bit more because, you know, my knowledge is that it was just a set of road [00:11:00] houses, essentially.

Nicole: Yeah, if I'm correct, Beertown was like around 7th and 8th Avenue on Fulton. Woody is far more adept at this history. I know he's done a ton of research on it, and there's some actually great photographs of all the, all the bars and pubs that were lined up along Fulton there in the SFMTA Photo Archive, which is phenomenal. We have a lot of similar images as them, but like they were the parent company that created the images originally. So yeah, and Beertown popped up because if I remember correctly, there was a racetrack in the area. And then, when the 1894 Midwinter Fair was getting built and then happened, there’s a lot of workers in the area who were building out whole parts of Golden Gate Park that are very familiar to us today. Like the music concourse, for instance, didn't exist until it was built [00:12:00] for the Midwinter Fair. So, you know, those guys get thirsty and they need some place to go. And low and behold businesses popped up that could support that kind of business. Drew, is that 7th and Fulton, is that where the little shelter that's still there, that you can see off of Fulton?

Drew: The little stone gateway? I believe it is, yeah.

Nicole: I think we might have a podcast about that, but I can't remember, there's too many podcasts, over 500 now.

Drew: We'll link it in the notes.

Nicole: Yeah, that sounds good. All right. Continuing on this car barn journey.

Drew: Yes. So like I mentioned, it went to 7th Avenue, and another 10 years passed. In 1904, they extended it once again to 12th Avenue. And more people began to move out of downtown. So just [00:13:00] kind of interesting, the slow expansion that it took as time went on. And none of it would have been possible without the McAllister Car Barn.

Nicole: It's true, yeah. So when you go and you have your macaroni and cheese in a bread bowl, you can think about that now.

Drew: So in terms of the McAllister, the car barn property, it's kind of interesting because it seems like anyone could just walk onto the property and explore. Yeah, I saw several accounts of children found playing in the McAllister Car Barn and yard. There was one really unfortunate accident that happened when two children were playing and a large metal car frame fell on them, which killed one and injured the other. And I'm sure at a certain point they started to be more secure about things with that. [00:14:00]

Nicole: Maybe.

Drew: Maybe. There's another interesting article I found from 1906, which discussed how SFPD arrested a 15-year-old boy named Wayne Baker for stealing brass bits, basically just little metal pieces he found on the property, and then going to the Mission and selling them for a profit.

Nicole: I do – one of my favorite accidental research subjects, usually I find them in articles that aren't related to what I'm trying to research, but it's always, like, hooligan boys out causing mischief. And this is a predominant trope through the early 20th century in San Francisco. It's so good.

Drew: Like I said earlier, there was nothing out there, for the most part. It was just cemeteries.

Nicole: Just get up to all kinds of no good.

Drew: So then came the 1906 earthquake that same year.

Nicole: Take a drink. It's not a WNP podcast without [00:15:00] learning about the 1906 earthquake and drowning our sorrows.

Drew: And the earthquake severely damaged the powerhouse. The large brick smokestack fell in on itself. As many chimneys did in the city. And most notably the cable technology underground was damaged as well. And so the McAllister Car Barn and Powerhouse ceased their cable operations that same year, opting for electric street cars, which were on the up and up instead. And they now stored and powered them on site as well. Streetcars would run on the number 5 line for more than four decades after the 1906 transition to electric. And on June 5th, 1948 streetcar service on the number 5 line ended. And they were soon [00:16:00] replaced by buses. This was one of the first lines in the city to make the transition, interestingly, from streetcar to bus. And if you ever take the 5 Fulton, that is the same route today. And the reason it makes that weird turn going from McAllister to Fulton is because it used to cut directly through the property diagonally. The more you know. When I found that out, I was like, mind blown.

Nicole: That's my favorite part of history is it explains things that don't make sense.

Drew: Exactly. I was like, “Oh, I get it. I get it. I get it.”

Nicole: In fact, a lot of streets where you're like, why is the street so wide? Oftentimes it's because there used to be a streetcar that ran down the middle of it. Fun fact.

Drew: Another fact that I loved when I learned. So yeah, in 1948 they made that [00:17:00] transition from trolleys to buses. And it kind of stuck around for a little bit longer, but by 1950, they kind of decided that it wasn't really worth it anymore since there weren't streetcars operating and buses could be stored elsewhere. And that brought an end to the era of the McAllister Street Car Barn.

Nicole: Sad.

Drew: Sad.

Nicole: But, there's another history to the site that keeps on going, right?

Drew: There is. So a few years later, by 1955, it was announced that the former property would be the new site of San Francisco's largest supermarket. This was then the era of the supermarket. And it was to be operated by Petrini's, which is a family-owned business that had markets all throughout the Bay Area at that point. The project was expensive. [00:18:00] It was called Petrini Plaza. Originally it was estimated to cost a million dollars, but ultimately cost around 3 million, according to an article I found in the SF Examiner.

Nicole: It's a lot for 1955.

Drew: But it was a whole shopping center. So it was a grocery store. And then they also created spaces for other little, like, drug stores. I would imagine there was a camera store. That's just me being imaginative. But yeah, it was a whole little shopping center, which was interesting. And it operated well. I mean, the Petrini Plaza operated until the family sold the property in 1997, and they sold it for an estimated 13 million, which was, I'm sure they made some nice profit there.

Nicole: Just a little. [00:19:00]

Drew: So they sold it and by 1999, the new owners decided that they were going to tear the whole complex down again and build the building that we see there today, which is mixed use both commercial and residential. It's got a whole bunch of condos on top, but then obviously on the bottom, you have the Lucky supermarket that I was talking about, other little stores, I think there's a boba place there now, interestingly.

Nicole: Oh, that makes sense.

Drew: And the current building that stands there does pay homage to Petrini Plaza. It's called the Village at Petrini Place. And construction there was finished in 2002.

Nicole: Ah, the year I moved to the city. Another historic date for San Francisco.

Drew: Big year for San Francisco.

Nicole: So [00:20:00] that's the story of the place where you can get a mac and cheese bread bowl and ride the 5 bus. Actually, don't do that. They really don't want you to eat food on the bus. Not recommended.

Drew: I don’t think a bread bowl on a bus would be a great thing.

Nicole: I mean, no, I don't think so either. I trust myself to eat a bread bowl on a bus, but I would not want to sit next to someone eating a macaroni and cheese bread bowl on a bus. So, you know, I respect that. Other people's needs as well. So, where are we going next, Drew? What's the next car barn?

Drew: So next we're actually just going a few blocks over from this, up Masonic Boulevard to Masonic and Geary. And this, unlike the last one we discussed, actually still stands today. [00:21:00] So it's called the Geary Car Barn, of course, and it's located right across from Target on Geary between Presidio. And if you see that massive bus yard behind it as well that goes from Geary to Euclid, it's that whole property.

Nicole: I'm near that property all the time because, someone whose name will be left off of the podcast so that we don't out where she lives, lives there and we hang out all the time. So I'm near that all the time.

Drew: So what I'm talking about particularly here in the beginning is just the big gray building. Not the whole bus yard that's attached to it yet.

Nicole: Got it.

Drew: Yes. Yeah I’ll just dive right in. [00:22:00] So it was originally constructed in 1912. And from the very beginning, there were issues in the neighborhood, specifically. There was initially some upset from disgruntled bricklayers and plasterers over the building being constructed of reinforced concrete. Even though I felt like we might have learned our lesson from 1906 with the whole brick thing. It was a whole thing though. Originally the plan supposedly was to be brick, but they changed it to the reinforced concrete and it just upset that group of people in the neighborhood.

Nicole: You know, the more San Francisco changes, the more it stays the same. It's always been hard to build something here because someone's always upset about something.

Drew: Yeah, so it was interesting. They [00:23:00] banded together and filed a complaint with the Board of Supervisors against the Board of Public Works, hoping to change the structure so that it's constructed by bricks.

Nicole: I mean, it must have been a tough time for bricklayers, right? They used to have all this construction work in the city and then because we moved away from it for seismic safety, it must have been a tough time for them. I can respect where they're coming from a little bit.

Drew: Oh, I'm sure. Yeah. Of course, ultimately this seemed to go nowhere and five days later, after this initial complaint to the Board of Supervisors, the Board of Public Works was allowed to start accepting bids from construction companies. And it was going to be a quick project. It was supposed to be done in six months time. They really wanted to get cars in service. So it took a little longer than six [00:24:00] months, but fast forward to June 22nd, 1913, and we see the first streetcar, which departed from the Geary Car Barn and headed out to Ocean Beach. In one of the articles I found was this amazing quote that I felt the need to include because it just cracked me up. So in the Call & Post, they said, “Without pomp or ceremony, the first Municipal Railway car to run to the Ocean Beach out from the Geary Street Car Barn at 9:30 yesterday morning and proceeded with dignity and safety to the Great Highway at Cabrillo Street. Superintendent Cashin was the only city official on board.” And Thomas Cashin was the first Muni superintendent ever. So that was kind of interesting.

Nicole: Yeah, that's super awesome. What a lyrical way to talk about a Muni journey out to the beach.

Drew: It was the [00:25:00] “dignity” that got me.

Nicole: No, I don't think of riding Muni as dignified. Sorry Muni, but yeah, not always at least. Muni drivers, very dignified, let's clarify, but Muni riders? A whole spectrum of experience.

Drew: Spectrum is a good word for it.

Nicole: So what went on in December 1913, Drew?

Drew: So they were already looking to expand the building that same year. And they wanted to include a machine shop, which would just be like a general kind of repair shop. So it would go beyond just storing cars at this point. I'm not too sure whether this was an addition on the side of the [00:26:00] building or it was a creation of the second floor. But it was an expansion of some sort. And if anyone out there knows, I would love to know.

Nicole: Email us, podcast@outsidelands.org, listeners.

Drew: Please. And so the initial construction cost was an estimated $210,000. And then this small expansion of the machine shop was an additional $16,000. And that total construction cost was like ballpark $226,000. So it was a pricey project for 1913. Little sidebar here, but I found it very interesting. In the early 20th century, carmen's unions were a big deal for transit workers in San Francisco. And car barns operated as community spaces amongst the union members and their families. [00:27:00]

Nicole: Hm.

Drew: Yeah. I found that very interesting.

Nicole: I like that though.

Drew: Yeah. Transforming the space of it. There was one article that I found talking – it mentioned the fact that there would be monthly shows that were put on for not only union workers, but their families as well. So it was meant to be a whole family affair. And this was highlighting specifically an upcoming show by a “dramatic” dancer named Miss Doris de Fiddes. And she was to appear in a special program of dancing numbers. Yes, just a little gem, but I love that.

Nicole: Now I want to know everything about Doris that I can possibly find. Some of these, in some of these, like, civic, and like - or should I say, it was really popular at the turn of the 20th century for young girls to come out and do very [00:28:00] wholesome, incredibly boring dances, in 21st century hindsight. I'm thinking of the Leander sisters that used to perform at the Sutro Baths in like the 1890s, which was a little bit older. And there's footage of it in the Library of Congress. It's so boring. They're just like prancing around in these fluffy costumes. But people, you can tell people around them are like, yeah, look at them go. It's just a different kind of entertainment threshold, I think, that they had back then.

Drew: Yes.

Nicole: But I’m curious if Doris falls into that camp, or if she actually got her start and went on to be a noted performer somewhere else.

Drew: That'll be my next deep dive.

Nicole: Oh my gosh. There's always more history to research. It's so stressful.

Drew: Yeah.

Nicole: So moving back into the car barn.

Drew: Yes. So we're now going to push forward to the 1940s. [00:29:00] By 1947, the city once again was contemplating a revamp of the Geary Car Barn and they were trying to allocate $500,000 in funds for the project. But in 1948 the Municipal Railway was doing very poorly financially, they reported a nine month loss in profits that surpassed a million dollars. So it was a big deal.

Nicole: I mean, further proof that it's always been difficult to finance transit in San Francisco.

Drew: Exactly. So that the lack of profit made their move to purchase more land hard, and the large bus yard that I'm including now, that you see on the back of the building, them purchasing it was initially shot down by [00:30:00] the Board of Supervisors because of these financial hardships. It was an interesting time because this was right when the bus was starting to be implemented instead of streetcars. And so it must have been a weird economic calculation to try and figure that into future purchases and all that stuff.

Nicole: Yeah that’s a really good point.

Drew: They wanted to purchase that land that the bus yard is on for $98,000. And after a little, after about a month, the Board of Supervisors – after a month, initially they said no, and then a month passes and it was approved.

Nicole: Sure.

Drew: My theory here is that they recognize the need to have massive space to park the [00:31:00] new trolley or just the regular buses that were replacing streetcar lines at the time. And from what I understand, it was just noticeably cheaper to operate a bus instead of a streetcar. And that probably played into the decision as well. A bus you only need one person, a streetcar you needed two.

Nicole: Yeah, super smart. That's a really good point, Drew.

Drew: Thank you.

Nicole: Way to do those economics!

Drew: Not my specialty at all. But yes.

Nicole: Same.

Drew: So yeah, the approval for purchasing the land for the bus yard went through and that same month, they also approved the $500,000 revamp of the building, the car barn building that I mentioned earlier. And they shifted the building to become the operating headquarters for both a [00:32:00] series of repair shops for the buses. And those would kind of dot the city, but this was to be like a central one. It also became the administrative offices for all Municipal Railway staff as well by 1949. And at this point they started referring to it as the Presidio Division. I'm just going to stick with Geary Car Barn for continuity though.

Nicole: Sounds good.

Drew: Yeah. And moving forward, I mean, things would continue as normal there until the late 1950s, when the city wanted to find a new use for the space that the streetcar storage left vacant, because the Geary Car Barn could hold 90 street cars. And so imagine how much space that left when they're all gone. So [00:33:00] there were a few ideas. One idea was to move all of the city utility offices to the building and that would require like $150,000 to $200,000 in kind of fitting offices and, and remaking the building to serve that purpose. But that really never came to fruition. And – this is where I found it very interesting. By 1959, there were these proposals to use the Geary Car Barn as a space to store voting machines of all things.

Nicole: Sure, why not?

Drew: Yeah, I mean, the city, at this point in time, 1959, was spending around $30,000 annually to store them in two private warehouses that were on opposite ends of the city, so it made no sense. And there were reports that where they were storing the voting machines, they were like at a slant, there were all these workplace injuries, the voting machines were [00:34:00] breaking, it was a mess.

Nicole: Amazing.

Drew: Yeah. And of course, there were months of debate over the price and the worthiness of the project, but the Board of Supervisors did finally approve it, and it was kind of refitted to fit the voting machines at the very precise cost of $96,500. Because that's what someone quoted it would be on the dime. It wasn’t, fun fact.

Nicole: What a wild history this one humble car barn has had!

Drew: So they started storing voting machines there. Don't know whether they still store voting machines there. That was something I wasn't able to find.

Nicole: God, let's hope not. [00:35:00]

Drew: Yeah. That was just the temporary fix they found for all that space leftover from the streetcars.

Nicole: Sure. What else do you think we can, we can shove in this car barn, Drew?

Drew: Who knows? It was big. So by 1967, there was a very controversial change that was being pondered there. Basically, Muni wanted to hold on to the land that the bus yard was, that they purchased for the bus yard, but they wanted to kind of explore other options for both income and just use of the space. They began considering leasing the air rights to developers in order to make more money. [00:36:00] Yes. So that would mean things could be built on top of the bus yard, essentially. People weren't sure if it was going to be like residential, commercial, mixed use, but people were up in arms. They did not want that change. The debate went on for like five years, and by 1972, the Board of Supervisors ultimately denied plans for a high rise complex to be built there. And that just kind of brought an end to the idea altogether. They were just exploring for five years.

Nicole: Just, just having thoughts and sharing feelings. It's funny because the hill, like right behind the car barn, which Chelsea calls “Trader Joe's Heights,” because Trader Joe’s is right there and Lucky Penny, but then [00:37:00] there's some pretty big high rise, modern apartment buildings that are right there. So it's funny that the neighbors were really upset when just, like, right up the road, it ended up happening anyways.

Drew: I don't know. Maybe it was pushing it too far.

Nicole: San Francisco is a city of contradictions forevermore.

Drew: But it would be crazy if they built that. Because it's such a huge property where the buses are stored. Yeah, interesting few years.

Nicole: I think San Francisco is really unique in its - it treats its air rights as very precious, right? We see this throughout the city's history of generally neighborhood groups that band together and fight these big development proposals. And we're still seeing it happen today. There's a lot of rezoning that's being proposed by the planning department and developers in the city so that we can increase our density, right? And there's a lot of back and [00:38:00] forth on which neighborhoods should support the burden and increase their density and how that's going to affect the cultural landscape. It's an endless amount of lack of surprise for me now in that the same conversations continue to happen in San Francisco over the decades. It's just, we're talking about different projects and we're talking about different costs and, and the look of things, but we continue to have the same fights. It's pretty hilarious.

Drew: Yeah, I mean here we are, 50 years later.

Nicole: Still mad about air rights and rezoning. Good job, San Francisco. Never change.

Drew: Timeless.

Nicole: Yeah, exactly. Okay. Speaking of a lack of change.

Drew: Yeah. So that didn't go through and that was, honestly, the end of like the big upgrades that we saw [00:39:00] to the property. Since then, both the building and the bus yard, they've largely remained unchanged except for little small upgrades that have been done here and there over the decades. It's still in use today. I mean, if you ever pass by the bus yard, you'll see tons of buses packed in like sardines, resting up a bit before they go back out for their routes again.

Nicole: I always think about them as sleeping there. They totally have to go back to sleep. And I also think if you've seen the movie 40 Days and 40 Nights, with – no, because Drew is a young person, and also the movie was, like objectively pretty terrible. It's with Josh Hartnett and long story short, he goes on a date on a bus and I'm pretty sure they end up back in that bus yard doing naughty things on a bus. But anyways, I'll have to double check my facts on that one. [00:40:00]

Drew: Um, but yeah, in conclusion, it's still a functional space for Muni, I think it's kind of cool that it goes back more than a hundred years at this point and I don't see it changing.

Nicole: No. I also heard a rumor that the MTA Archive, all these amazing glass negatives and things that have been taken over a hundred years were at one time just like stashed up there.

Drew: Yes, I'm sure because I, at one point I remember in my research finding something that said there were just like tons and tons and tons of documents that were stored there at one point.

Nicole: An archivist's dream just covered in pigeon poop and neglected for years. Love it. Okay, we've been, we've been chatting for some time. We still have two car barns or car houses to get through. So the next one has a very familiar name [00:41:00] to our podcast listeners, right?

Drew: Yes, it does. That is the Sutro Car House. So for this one, we're going to go to the Outer Richmond, and sadly the building doesn't stand anymore, but it used to be on 32nd and Clement right where the CVS and Andronico’s supermarket now stands, kind of right next to the Lincoln Park Golf Course. So this, construction began on it in 1895 and this was scary. It was done in a month. Yes, I think Sutro just really liked to get things done quick.

Nicole: He sure did.

Drew: Yeah, but within a month it was announced that it was basically nearing completion and it was big enough to hold 60 cars. So it was a really big building [00:42:00] Once it was completed, the building housed offices for the railroad staff, and it also served as storage for the Sutro Railroad, which would take people from California and Presidio out to Ocean Beach to Sutro Baths. The powerhouse for the line was separate from the building and it was actually stored right behind the Sutro Baths, and I think it probably had something to do with being connected to the water heating, as well for the baths.

Nicole: Interesting.

Drew: Yes, but it was just this tiny little building right on the edge of it. Not really important. There was one photo I saw in a newspaper where there was nothing else around this. It was just this massive wooden building in the middle of nowhere. But as we discussed earlier, people follow transportation and [00:43:00] the area just slowly filled up.

Nicole: Yeah, well, in the 1890s this would have been, the cemetery was right there in Lincoln Park. So the only reason people would come out there, and not that many, cause this was City Cemetery where the city's indigent were buried. Also some minority populations, there was a Chinese cemetery and things like that. So this was very much the edge of western San Francisco at the time.

Drew: And nothing like it looks like today. No greenery.

Nicole: No. Very natural.

Drew: Yes.

Nicole: Not a golf course.

Drew: Exactly. So for this one, I actually wasn't able to find too much about it. But it was a structure, it stood there, it [00:44:00] served for around 60 years. And pretty much the only story I was able to find was that of robbers breaking in and robbing one of the guys that worked in the offices. Which happened everywhere, so…

Nicole: Yep, it was a big, beautiful building. It had kind of like a western, not a western theme, but like a Spanish theme if I remember correctly. Maybe I made that up in my brain.

Drew: To me it looked like a giant barn.

Nicole: Okay, I did make it up in my brain, never mind. Please disregard your podcast host.

Drew: And I remember there were, there were windows that were in sets of three and there were like 12 of them going all the way down. So it was just a very long building.

Nicole: Just kidding then. Let's move on to one that is still around that you probably pass by every day and have no idea that it used to be a car barn.

Drew: Yes, [00:45:00] that is going to be the Larkins Building which is on Arguello and Geary Boulevard. It's where the Office Max is now operating. So the building itself was constructed in 1898 and it was meant to be a space for the Geary Street Park and Ocean Railway to store cars, no powerhouse, just storage. And in 1892, the line was extended from the Western Addition out to 5th Avenue. Once again, right on time for visitors who were going to the 1894 Midwinter Exposition or Beertown.

Nicole: Convenient.

Drew: And what I found interesting about this was you would take the line to the Western Addition and get off on Central and transfer to a steam dummy. So it was a tiny little steam locomotive that would chug you out [00:46:00] to 5th Avenue.

Nicole: Bring back the steam dummy.

Drew: Truly.

Nicole: I'm here for that. I'm sure people who live on the line would love that too.

Drew: So eventually in 1912, the city took control of the route. It became the first Municipal Railway line, or Muni as we call it today. And if you've ever passed by or been in this building, it's massive. They decided not all the space was needed at a certain point, despite its construction. So this was kind of when the building began to partially be used for other purposes. And it was still storing cars, but they broke it up a bit. So by 1916, it was also a [00:47:00] bakery and warehouse for Sperry flour, which was a big flour company back in the day.

Nicole: Nice.

Drew: And then by 1919, part of it, what I assume used to be the flour, was taken over by the Larkins Carriage Company, which is where the name comes from. And they built luxury horse carriages. Very particular thing.

Nicole: Very particular thing for 1919 when we were kind of moving away from horse transportation and into the automobile.

Drew: You'll see, they kind of convert themselves to making custom automobile parts at a certain point. But at this point, they were still doing that from what I understand. And my favorite thing, because I never realized until very recently, is if you're standing right at the entrance on the corner of Arguello and Geary and you look up [00:48:00] there's a clock, and then on top of the clock it says Larkins Building. Yes, still there. So yeah, I mean with the growth of cars they pivoted, they began creating custom car frames. At one point, I saw that they had been constructing wood frames for airplanes in the space as well, which gives you a sense of how much space there was. There was in 1926, this massive fire, it burned the building heavily. Seven people were hurt. There was an estimated $300,000 in damages and it was such a big deal that it was the entire cover of the SF Bulletin the next day. But the building survived. The structure was intact. And by 1928, the upper floors were in use for parking. By the late 1930s, [00:49:00] some like early Muni buses were stored there, but that would only last a few years. Now, I'm not a hundred percent sure when Muni stopped using it for storage. However, I would estimate that it was around the 1940s, maybe late 1940s when they chose instead to opt for the giant bus yard they just purchased back on Masonic and Geary.

Nicole: Makes sense.

Drew: Eventually a car dealership opened in the former car barn as well. And I originally saw in 1931, it was announced that it was going to be the Richmond District's newest Chevrolet dealership.

Nicole: Ooooh.

Drew: Yeah, big deal. They were like, we've, we've got a great client base out here.

Nicole: People need cars because it's way out there.

Drew: Yeah. [00:50:00] And by the 1940s, that kind of strip of Geary Boulevard going from Arguello to, I would say Park Presidio, started to – it was purposefully done as so, but it started to be like an auto row, where you could, there were all these dealerships and you could mix and match, like compare.

Nicole: Toyota, the Toyota dealership there is kind of like the last one that's hanging on and I think there's a movement in the neighborhood to encourage them to find a different place to be.

Drew: Yeah, I know there's still a fair amount of, like, used car lots as well. What happens with the future of that? I don't know.

Nicole: Who can say other than there will be many arguments about it.

Drew: At least the air rights.

Nicole: Yeah, exactly. Which we are not advocating because the Western Neighborhoods Project has no official opinion on real property transfers or development.

Drew: That's true. I [00:51:00] made a joke.

Nicole: Yeah, any who's it, we got one more to go, one more car house, and I didn't even know about this one until Drew brought it up.

Drew: Yes, this one Emiliano, who is our resident transit expert, told me about. I had not found it anywhere else, so I was like ding, ding, ding, very interesting, and it was called the Metropolitan Car House. And it operated for Metropolitan Railways, which basically only existed for two years. It was a very brief run before Market Street Railway purchased them up and just absorbed them.

Nicole: I think it'd be a good place to explain to folks, very briefly, and I don't know the complex history, but the reason why we have Muni, I think it was in 1912 that there was a move to consolidate. It might be later, actually in the 1940s, there was a move to consolidate all of these crazy amount of differing privately [00:52:00] held transit companies. So you'd have to transfer all the time. You'd be on like a bunch of different systems. You have to get off one and get on another, like you described earlier with the steam engine. And it was a big pain in the butt and it got expensive after a while. One company wouldn't recognize the other one. So that was why there was a move for a unified municipal transit agency.

Drew: And by 1912, we started to see some forming of that, although private companies would still exist up until the forties when, when I think the final nail in the coffin went. But it was located right near Kezar Stadium, on the corner of Carl and Willard streets. So it's about a block away from there, and built in 1892. And the Market Street Railway acquired the Metropolitan Line, like I said, in 1894, after two years, and they transferred the [00:53:00] line from being a cable car route to an electric powered streetcar route. They were just much faster and I think more cost efficient as well. Also could last an earthquake.

Nicole: Essential.

Drew: So when they made that transfer and we're no longer using it as a cable route, the Metropolitan Car House was just not as essential because electricity could be diverted from another one of the Market Street Railway's powerhouses. We didn't need to have a physical space where we're winding a cable. And from my understanding, the building was never in good shape. One article I found described it as a “cheap one story and a half structure.” So I don't think it was a big loss. It was just kind of like a temporary thing that was there. And also from my understanding, the Metropolitan Railway was [00:54:00] created kind of with the express idea that they just wanted to make a bit of a profit and sell to Market Street Railway.

Nicole: Sounds like all of the tech startups that we see today. Always a boom town. People looking to make a cheap product and get rich quick. I guess my presence on the podcast this episode is just to tell you how things have always been. I am now graduating, Drew, to the elder podcast host here, where you're like, isn't this neat? And I'm like, bah humbug, San Francisco will never change.

Drew: Air rights.

Nicole: Air rights! I don't know how I feel about this. This will take some time for me to come to terms with, but I appreciate you, Drew, bringing the youth and optimism to this podcast that I once brought to it.

Drew: Anytime. Um, [00:55:00] yeah, going back to Metropolitan though, I just, I don't know too much about it, if people know more, we would love to hear back, because I know it was demolished kind of roughly around 1898, but yeah. Not too much of a record there.

Nicole: It's funny at what things are remembered to history and what aren't, you know, like maybe, maybe the papers for the Metropolitan Company are just stashed in someone's basement. That’s what I always assume, or they've been thrown away a long, long time ago. Could go either way.

Drew: I like to think the basement route.

Nicole: Yeah, everybody check your basements tonight before you go to bed. Also probably for flooding because it's been raining cats and dogs since San Francisco is notorious. She says as she pauses recording and goes down to her garage to see how bad it is. So, that's the story of five car barns, Drew.

Drew: [00:56:00] Yes.

Nicole: I think that that's a good place to stop and head into, “Say What Now?” So, Drew, you prolifically researched the five car barns that we covered in this episode, and there were more. Which ones did we leave out?

Drew: So the other ones we left out were the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse at Elkton Yards, which are kind of connected, they're right across from each other and have kind of an overlapping history, but there's a very interesting history there.

Nicole: There's a big history there. I think it could either be its own podcast or maybe like an OpenSFHistory article or something. And there's a whole group dedicated to the preservation of the Geneva Car Barn. So maybe that, maybe we can talk about that for like a future podcast where we can have those folks on, they can talk about efforts to activate the building, which they've [00:57:00] accomplished. I see events starting to go up online there. So maybe that's a future podcast.

Drew: Yeah, there's a lot there, so it could be.

Nicole: That's also a squishy part of the western neighborhoods. Our borders are not well defined in that area. We like sort of pick and choose what we claim. Like Sunnyside, definitely, love that conservatory. Balboa Park is like, hmmm. But it does feel like it should be part of the western neighborhoods. And we love the car barn. So, we'll continue to, you know, awkwardly claim it in that mushy part of our territory for as long as we can. So I think that wraps up the history portion of the podcast, unless I missed something, Drew.

Drew: Nope. That's, that's all I had.

Nicole: Now I think it's time for listener mail. [Music.] So first of all, Drew, can you tell us how [00:58:00] people can send us listener mail?

Drew: Yes, they can send us an email at podcast@outsidelands.org. Or they can take advantage of our social media presence. We're on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and you can post a podcast comment there and eventually someone will read it.

Nicole: Yeah, eventually. And by the way, if anybody wants to help us out with our Facebook page, our dearly departed friend, Arnold Woods, was the one in charge of Facebook. And the rest of us are not jumping at the opportunity to take over those posting responsibilities. So if you're like, I'm on Facebook all the time, because it's my favorite social media platform, also email us podcast@outsidelands.org. Maybe, just like Drew, we'll put you in charge of it two weeks after walking into our office. Because that's the kind of friendly neighborhood history group we are. [00:59:00] And short-staffed history group that we are. So yes, you can catch us at any of those platforms. And we did have someone write in response to Episode #337 on Windsor Terrace. Tania wrote and said she grew up on Windsor Terrace, or as they called it, 8th Avenue. Her parents bought an Edwardian house that was built in 1914 for $48,000 in 1969. Mind blown is the symbol that Drew just made to me. And they lived on the west side of the street that had kind of been raised up. They had really good views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, and they could watch the ships come in and out. And she confirms, “the streets were indeed brick underneath the more modern concrete streets. We had these gorgeous old street lamps in the 1970s. The city decided to take them down and build these ugly concrete, a concrete lamp posts that still exist today.” Yay. [01:00:00] “We were a very fun street with loads of kids on it. I think at one point we had something like 48 kids on the block, which is a lot. Golden Gate Park was our backyard and we were in it often. I have the happiest memories growing up there. We had to sell it in 2017, which was sad, but I'm forever grateful that was my street. Met my best friend and we are still best friends to this day, as are our families. Thanks for this very fun ride through our street history.” That makes me so happy. I love hearing folks connect to our podcasts because they have a personal story to share with us. It's their history. So I love hearing that. Thank you so much, Tania.

Drew: Heartwarming.

Nicole: It is heartwarming. And you know what else is heartwarming, Drew? The benefits of membership and donating.

Drew: True.

Nicole: And Drew, you are a student [01:01:00] member of WNP, which costs you how much per year?

Drew: Zero.

Nicole: That's right, friends. If you're listening and you're an actively enrolled student at a university or, you know, I don't know how many young podcast listeners we have, but a high school, that means you can become a member for free. You only get digital copies of our membership magazine, but you get all the other benefits of being a member, which include that quarterly membership magazine mailed to you four times a year, discounts on events and other exclusive perks. And Drew, what kind of stuff does a membership support here at WMP? You're in the office all the time. You see the work that we're doing.

Drew: Well, for one, it supports the opensfhistory.org archive, which is just an amazing treasure trove of historical photos of San Francisco. You can look at them on a map. You can look at them in so many different ways. [01:02:00] And it helps keep our scanning and ongoing interpretation going. We've also got the Cliff House Collection and, you know, it helps to maintain care and, and keep exhibiting them. And most of all, this podcast we just recorded. Yeah. I mean, go ahead.

Nicole: Yeah, I mean, you know, technically it's free to record the podcast, but nothing's free in San Francisco because we're recording it in a place where we have to pay rent. So, you know, we don't put anything behind a paywall in regards to this podcast. We try to keep everything as low cost or free as possible because we really do want folks to be able to come out and experience people in their neighborhood. And learn a little bit about where they live. So help us do that by becoming a member. And that leads us into announcements. [Music.] So WNP is mostly on a program hiatus for the next few months, which is, you know, what we've been trying to do year after year, where our public programs start in March and they go through like October. We're not great at sticking to that because I have a hard time saying no to fun things that pop up at random. But we're trying to stick to that this year. We are back with new episodes of the Outside Lands San Francisco podcast every week in February. And the last episode of the month will be a memorial to our dear friend, Arnold. As we did with Episodes 451 in tribute to Bill Hickey and 511 which celebrated the memory of Pat Cunneen, the recording of Arnold's tribute will be a community affair. So please join us via Zoom on Wednesday, February 21st to share your memories of Arnold with those of us who loved working with him, and hopefully some members of his family as well. [01:04:00] You can register like you do for any WNP event on Eventbrite. This will be free of course, and if you can't make it or you know, sort of microphone shy, you can also share your memories in advance. You can either email them to podcast@outsidelands.org. You can leave a voicemail by calling the clubhouse at 415-661-1000, or you can send us your memories the old fashioned way by writing us a lovely letter and mailing it to the clubhouse at 1617 Balboa Street, that's of course, in San Francisco, California, 94121. But also another fun announcement. We just inked a deal with San Francisco Planning to help them with community outreach around the San Francisco City-wide Survey this spring and summer. And we're so honored to partner with Planning. We can't wait to help folks connect with the deeper historic context of the Richmond neighborhood of the Richmond District. So stay tuned for details. And I literally just [01:05:00] got off a phone call yesterday with the SFMTA, which is very relevant to what we covered here, about community engagement and inclusion in upgrades around the safety quarter and transit quarter that they're doing with the Geary enhancement project. So not to consistently solicit money and donations, but you know, we're an asset, not only to you, but to our city agencies. So please help us continue to do this work and make sure that the voices of western neighborhood San Franciscans are included in all of these amazing projects that will be around. I would assume for decades, but I guess we don't really know that for sure. So I think with that, we will sign off for our very first podcast back in a very long time. And thank you for your patience, listeners, as both of us got our sea legs here recording [01:06:00] again, Drew, this has been quite a ride. You did fantastic. Thank you for making it such a pleasant journey.

Drew: Thank you for having me.

Nicole: I hope you'll come on as more of a regular co-host. Are you, are you feeling good? Are you ready for that responsibility?

Drew: I'm feeling good. I was nervous, but this was a lot of fun.

Nicole: We were both nervous. I got to tell you, I'm excited to be, you know, hosting this podcast with folks like you, Drew, but I’m also – it's really sad for me to record these podcasts still. Like putting together our notes, I always copy and paste over our old notes, and there's all – Arnold was all up in it and he was such a stalwart partner to me that it's going to be hard for me not to be a little sad and we record these, but that's why we've got some changes on the way so I can, we can enter a new era. All good stuff, but anyways, thank you again, Drew, for being with us on this podcast ride.

Drew: Of course. [01:07:00]

Nicole: Next week, I'll be joined by one of my favorite San Francisco people who will also be familiar to regular podcast listeners. Rebekah Kim, head librarian for the California Academy of Sciences, will be my co-host and she'll share secrets from the aquarium deep. So until then…yeah, right? I can't wait. What nonsense comes out of that aquarium history. So until then, I'm Nicole Meldahl, and this gratefully has been another episode of Outside Lands San Francisco. Thanks for being with us, history friends. [Music.]

Ian Hadley: Outside Lands San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media production at iHadley.com.

Nicole: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more on San Francisco history, go to outsidelands.org. You can also find us on social media at Facebook, which is outsidelands with an S, at Twitter, which is outsidelandz with a Z, and on [01:08:00] Instagram, which is outsidelandz, also with a Z. And check out our historic San Francisco images website at opensfhistory.org.

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