Powerhouse goes to the dogs (and cats)!

Image from Instagram, San Francisco Animal Care & Control.
Bryant and Alameda Street Powerhouse, 1904. John Henry Mentz photo, SFMTA Archive.

Another artifact of San Francisco’s transit history has gained new life for a worthy cause. The Market Street Railway Company powerhouse at Bryant and Alameda Streets in the Mission District, build in 1893 and expanded in 1902, opened on March 8 as the city’s new Animal Care & Control Center.

The $76 million project retained the building’s historic brick facade and industrial wood windows, but completely gutted the interior to provide state-of-the-art facilities, including a roof run for animals and an open courtyard to provide them (and the humans involved) with fresh air. The city agency takes in around 10,000 domestic and wild animals every year and operates an extensive adoption program for rescued dogs, cats, and other small animals.

Tank Car 0201 transports fuel oil along a spur track on Alameda Street to fill the big oil tank that fueled the original steam generators in the Bryant Street powerhouse, about 1903. This unique streetcar survived into the Muni era, finishing its career by spraying weed-killer on the M-Ocean View line right-of-way. John Henry Mentz photo, SFMTA Archive.

The Bryant Street Powerhouse originally used fuel oil to generate steam that powered the generators. When completed, it was one of the largest electrical generating facilities in the United States. Back on line quickly after the 1906 earthquake, it supplied the city’s surviving downtown buildings, as well as streetcar lines, with power for a time.

Engine Room at the Bryant Street powerhouse, November 9, 1906. SFMTA Archive

The powerhouse was fitted with updated equipment in 1911, which lasted for decades, but it became less central to the transit company’s operations as newer power facilities went up around town. Iconic newer buildings surrounded it: Seals Stadium just one half-block south and the Rainier (later Hamm’s) Brewery across Bryant Street.

Looking northeast from Bryant and Alameda Streets at the Powerhouse, 1942. Market Street Railway’s 25 and 27 lines ran along Bryant. A spur track runs east on Alameda serving an equipment yard a block away. Horace Chaffee photo, SFMTA Archive.

In 1944, Muni took over the building as part of its acquisition of private competitor, Market Street Railway. The power substation soldiered on with its obsolete equipment until 1980, when Muni installed a solid state rectifier in a new building next door where the oil tank pictured above was. (Muni continues to use that power substation.) The old Bryant Street powerhouse hosted Muni’s Overhead Lines Department for the following decades, the building becoming increasingly decrepit.

Muni’s Overhead Lines Department replacing power feeder cables emanating from the Bryant Street powerhouse, November 5, 1951. The Marmon-Herrington trolley coach on the 47 Potrero line is identical to Coach 776, preserved by our nonprofit for Muni. Marshall Moxom photo, SFMTA Archive.

By the mid-2010s, the building had long been stripped of its magnificent electrical equipment. Modern solid-state substations, like Muni’s next-door replacement, were far more compact. (The Bryant facility covers an entire city block.) It provided a poor working environment for the Overhead Lines Department and was really a white elephant for Muni.

The antiquated power equipment was still in use in 1979. SFMTA Archive.

The agencies involved addressed the problem by exchanging one white elephant for another, swapping the Bryant Street building for the existing Animal Control & Care facility, nearby on 15th Street. That 1931 warehouse facility lacked adequate space for the animals, staff, and volunteers and did not meet current seismic and safety codes. The Overhead Lines Department has been relocated to another facility in the Bayview District; no plans for the old animal care facility have been announced.

Above, open courtyard inside the old Bryant Street powerhouse, with room for animals to exercise. Below, the entrance to the new facility. Courtesy photos.

The successful reuse of the Bryant Street Powerhouse, coupled with the recent opening of the Excelsior District community and arts center in the old Geneva Avenue Powerhouse, leaves only one major power facility from the old Market Street Railway days unrestored and unused: the Turk and Fillmore Powerhouse, an iconic landmark in its neighborhood, still sadly neglected. We’ll write about it in the future.

And since you’ve read down this far, here’s another cute photo from SF Animal Care’s Instagram account to see you off. That’s what a lot of you were scrolling down for, right?

You’re welcome!


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