Dept of Lost Urban Features: Inside (and Above) the Mission Armory

Anyone who has lived in SF’s Mission District knows the big, round brick armory building on 14th St. A few years ago, I had the chance to go inside thanks to a friend of mine who got access through volunteering for a movie shoot that was going on inside. We also found our way to the roof, but apparently weren’t supposed to do that and got yelled at. Here’s what I found out:

1. There are dozens (or maybe hundreds) of manger-sized subdivisions inside that presumably used to house horses. You could probably allocate studio space to half the serious artists in San Francisco here if you wanted to. But, apparently, it’s not seismically sound.

2. The Mission Creek still runs through the basement of the armory. Not in a roaring, uncontrolled torrent, but in a sort of highly-custodialized trickle. The Mission Creek is a water source that used to supply a now-extinct lake  by Dolores and 14th, to my undying fascination.

3. At the time I gained access, the entire building was being maintained by one guy who lived with this young daughter in van parked inside the building and- one can only presume- maintained a kind of creepy Shining-like relationship withe the place. (See first photo).

I’m told that the building was later sold to some sort of porn mogul, who now has parties there. Why it’s seismically fit for porn but not for artists is a mystery to me.


The High Line

When I was living in New York City in the mid-90s, I’d occasionally go dancing in clubs on the West Side of Manhattan.  One morning as I exited one such club in the dawn light, I noticed something strange: an abandoned elevated railway line, with rusted and ornate ironwork and little patches of grass and shrubbery peeking out from beneath its tracks.

High Line 1

High Line 2

As I walked downtown on 12th Avenue, I realized that I was following its path.  It actually ran through buildings that were in its way, and some sleuthing helped me determine that although it appeared to end at 14th Street, there was evidence (mostly in the form of remnants of its entrance and exit from buildings) of it well into the Meat Packing District.

I learned that it connected to rail yards around Penn Station, and that ships carrying railcars used to dock and slide them right onto the rail line, where the cars would ride downtown (and into the buidlings in its path) to deliver cattle or other 19 Century style deliveries.

I also learned that, predictably, the city had been trying to demolish it for years, but that it was hung up in various legal battles.  Imagine my surprise to learn, a few years later, that there was a viable public movement to refurbish it and turn it into a park (the obvious thing to do with it, from my perspective at least).

And now, lo and behold, it’s opened to the public.