Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Open Shutter to the Past: San Francisco in Pictures – The National Guard Armory (1912)

Welcome back to Photo Friday – my little way of taking a break from San Francisco Real Estate and instead blogging about our great City’s past instead. All photos are published with permission from the San Francisco History Center and San Francisco Public Library.

I was catching up on the local San Francisco blogs and ran across a post on SFist about an event that was held at the San Francisco Armory titled the Mission Bazaar (a craft and performance expo).

You might remember the Armory in the news recently when it was purchased by for $14.5M in order to use the building as a porn studio. But apparently, there’s room there for more than just porn, and the owners want to share the building with the public by opening it up for more events than just the recent Mission Bazaar.

But the building had a story long before put it into the news.

According to Wikipedia:

The building was constructed as an armory and arsenal for the United States National Guard in 1912–1914 and designed with a castle like appearance in a Moorish Revival style. The structure was built as a replacement for the old San Francisco Armory in the Western Addition, which had been destroyed by the 1906 earthquake. In addition to its role as an armory and arsenal, during the 1920s, it served as a venue for sporting events, such as prizefights. The Armory served as a stronghold and rallying point for the National Guard in their suppression of the 1934 San Francisco General Strike (an event known as “Bloody Thursday”)The building closed as an armory in 1976, when the National Guard moved its facilities to Fort Funston.
After 1976, the building was largely unused for the next 30 years, though in 1978 the building was registered as a Class 2 historical landmark in the National Register of Historic Places. Several spaceship-interior scenes in the movie Star Wars were filmed there, and the San Francisco Opera used the large inner court of The Armory for set construction and rehearsals until the mid-1990s. By this time, The Armory was in a heavy state of disrepair. Various uses of the building were proposed from 1996–2006, including self storage units, a rehabilitation clinic, a gym with a rock wall, a dot-com office park, a telecommunications switching center luxury housing, and low-income housing. Many of these proposals were marked by acrimonious debates between various community interests. Concerns over gentrification, social and environmental impact or the unsuitability of the structure for various uses resulted in none of the various plans for the structure reaching fruition. The building eventually came to be described, variously, as “a herd of white elephants“,”cursed”, and “not a friendly building”.

Frankly, I think the purchase of the building was likely the best thing that’s happened to the historic landmark in years. The graffitti has been removed, broken windows have been fixed and the building from the outside looks clean and respectable these days – and the new owners are even kind enough to open the landmark to the public for events like the Mission Bazaar. Pretty cool.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s little look back on a slice of the City’s past.
Have a good weekend and don’t forget to pull out your umbrellas – rumor has it that there’s a chance of rain.