What is it about San Francisco firehouses? Along with transforming Houses of God into ‘simple’ homes, firehouses seem to occupy a special place in the imagination of those San Francisco pioneers who seem gifted with their ability to transform historic structures.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with Gavin, who, along with his partner Teresa, is in the process of trying to renovate and open an old firehouse on Pacific Ave. To call it an adventure is a pretty grand understatement. The firehouse in question is Firehouse 8 at 1648 Pacific Ave. in the Nob Hill neighborhood. Firehouse 8 originally went into service in 1917, and served the city until it was closed in 1980 due to budget cuts (sound familiar?). It was used for storage from 1980 until it was sold at auction in 2006.
Gavin and Teresa were the successful bidders at auction, and shortly thereafter embarked upon their quest to turn a beautiful relic into a historic community resource. The only problem? Transforming Firehouse 8 has hit more snags and cost much more than anticipated. In fact, Gavin and Teresa are actively looking for partners to help them finish out the project. Read on, and you’ll discover that rehabbing a firehouse isn’t nearly as simple as you might imagine.
Where to start?
How about with zoning! Since it was a public firehouse, the building was zoned – you guessed it – public. Obviously, one of the first things you’ll have to do is work with planning and zoning to have the building re-zoned for its intended use. While it might sound simple, the reality of the process is that it takes years, involves numerous specialists and attorneys, and doesn’t come cheap.
Next, add some steel
Like pretty much any other brick building built in the 1910’s, Firehouse 8 ended up on the city’s unreinforced masonry building (UMB) list. Which means that without seismic retrofitting, ain’t nothing or nobody going to set foot in the building (at least, officially). So, cue the sound for structural engineers, lots of steel, and a very large bill.
No poles for you!
While firemen and women might be well trained in the art of pole-sliding, it simply isn’t an acceptable way to traverse floors, particularly in the age of ADA requirements. While fixing up the stairs is always a must, if you guessed that an elevator is the solution to the problem, you’d be right. And while elevators are great for whisking you from one floor to the next, regardless of your physical fitness, they don’t come cheap and they require electricity.
Apparently, when installing an elevator you need more than just an extension cord and some power-strips. In fact, as you’ll see in the picture below, you’ll need one very large electrical panel. And unless you’ve got an Amex Black, don’t plan on putting it on your credit card. By the time it’s installed and connected, you’ll be well into the six figures. And that doesn’t even take into account the paperwork and time you’re going to spend to actually install and connect the panel.
Are you getting the picture?
By now, smart reader, you’re probably getting the picture that converting a historic firehouse into a modern structure that will be publicly accessible is a large project. And expensive. Well, very expensive. And you’d be right!
That said, Gavin and Teresa have continued ahead with their vision of transforming Firehouse 8 into a place where people can meet, socialize, and flourish together. Their vision turns the ground floor into a mixed retail space with a cafe, with a preference for local artisans, suppliers & vendors. On the second floor (up that brand new elevator) will be a community space available for rental: seminars, meetings, gallery openings, weddings & special occasions.
This is where YOU can help!
As I mentioned back at the beginning (before we re-zoned, re-engineered, and re-wired Firehouse 8), Firehouse 8 is actively looking for investors that can help them turn their dream into a reality. Have a little cash in the bank after your IPO? How about investing in a firehouse! If you are in a position to make a five-figure, short-term, low-interest (remember, this is for the public good!) loan, then get in touch with Gavin or Teresa.
And because I’ve learned that everybody loves firehouse pictures, here are a bunch more of Historic Firehouse 8:
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