The demolition of the old warehouse on the corner of Harrison and 22nd streets has temporarily opened up a new vista from Harrison Street to the south. There’s nothing but rubble where the white walls of the warehouse once stood, and the illuminated windows and stairwells of the Telco building at 25th and South Van Ness, which were blocked from view by the warehouse, can be seen glowing in the distance.

What was once there. Photo by Elizabeth Creely

This view will vanish slowly but surely as a 40-foot residential development rises from the ruins of the almost 100-year-old flatiron building.

On Monday, as excavators lumbered over the freshly unearthed foundation, some passersby stopped and stared. Jenny Reardon, cycling by in the Harrison Street bike lane, did a double-take and rode back, pulling out her phone to take a photo. When asked if she knew what had been there, she looked puzzled. “I can’t really remember,” she said. She also didn’t know what was taking its place.

When she was told it would be a residential building, she nodded. “This whole part of the Mission used to be industrial, but now it’s all becoming housing. I assume none of it’s affordable?” she asked rhetorically, adding, “I know the politics are complicated.”

Patricia Delgado, who was walking home, was happy to see the beginnings of construction. Delgado, who lives at 23rd and Treat, was a customer of Western Plywood. “When Western Plywood was here, I loved them,” she said.  “We got all our stuff from them. But they’re not here now. You can’t stop change.”

The flatiron warehouse, built in 1924, was the sole remaining structure from the neighborhood’s past as a small complex of wooden mills and lumber yards around Harrison, 23rd Street and Treat Avenue.

The Western Plywood Company was the last tenant in the warehouse.  One of the first was the Special Materials Corporation, which sold plywood, insulation and other building materials in the 1940s. The Ardes Company, a printing company specializing in “super finished book covers and imitation leather products” occupied the warehouse in the mid-fifties.

Western Plywood moved into the warehouse in 1971 and was a supplier of lumber as well as a cooperage — a manufacturer of barrels and casks. The owner, Robert D. Woerner, died in 2007, and developer John O’Connor purchased the property in 2013.

The demolition of the warehouse is slated to end this week, with construction on the new residential building beginning soon thereafter, according to O’Connor.

“We’ll hopefully be finished with demolition this week,” O’Connor said, adding that rain could delay the work. The construction of the development will commence shortly thereafter, “within a week to ten days.” The cost, according to the planning department records, is estimated at $4 million.

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What will rise on the site of the former warehouse is a nearly 40-foot, four-story residential building with 19 dwelling units. A ground-floor space will be leased for production, distribution and repair.  The building will encompass the entirety of the 26,845 square feet, running 178 feet along Harrison.

Some neighbors opposed to increased density in the neighborhood sought to have the size of the development scaled back to 65 percent of the lot, leaving 35 percent for open space. There is no open space, in the conventional sense: the development completely fills the property lines. O’Connor is providing what is quickly becoming the preferred open-space alternative: a roof deck.

The development backs up to the contested railroad right-of-way, described by San Francisco planning staff as the “de facto mid-block open space” for the neighborhood. The boundary will be marked by a four-story wall.

The development on Harrison street — and future developments slated for the area– comes at a time of increased scrutiny on the right-of-way that threads its way through the rear of the Harrison street development. Three new buildings are slated to be built in the next two years; this construction will happen even a neighbors continue to try to transform the parcel — which has no owner, and has paid no taxes for years from a vacant lot to a public greenway.

The Mission Greenway group, which is now meeting weekly, intends to keep pushing the city towards conserving Parcel 36 as a greenway throughout the construction period. The idea of a greenway is supported by the city’s general plan and the Planning Department’s use of standards for establishing the desirability of proposed developments.

The proposed Greenway, earlier this week. Standing on the old right-of-way, looking northeast towards 22nd street. Photo by Elizabeth Creely.

In general, building developments that provide opportunities for recreation and the enjoyment of open space in the neighborhood and maintain a neighborhood’s “image, sense of purpose and orientation” are viewed favorably, as are “green streets:” corridors that connect open spaces and improve the walkability and ecological sustainability of the neighborhood.

The preservation of historic and natural spaces are also noted as critical enhancements to a rapidly densifying area.

These planning standards, which were met by O’Connor, will also be used to measure and assess the next development to spring up on the edges of the right-of-way: another trapezoidal parcel, which sits diagonally across from O’Connor’s building on the southwest edge of the right-of-way.

Not one, but two 40-foot residential buildings, each with three residential units, will rise from the footprint of a single Italianate-style cottage located at 953 Treat Ave. It will be demolished sometime this year.

Craig Stoll, owner of the restaurant Delfina and owner of a house on Treat Avenue, is open to the idea of publicly-accessible green space. In 2015, he wrote in support of the development at 2600 Harrison St., describing the block as “dangerous and crime-ridden at night” and proposed adding ground-level retail space that’s open during the day and night as a deterrent to crime and way to create community. Stoll thinks a greenway could improve the neighborhood, too.

“It should definitely be used to benefit the neighborhood in some way or another,” he wrote in an email. “I’m open to green space (or a) park (dog-friendly?) but would welcome other ideas/uses as well. It should be open and visible and well (but nicely) lit.”

But some have seen the developments along the parcel’s edge disrupt their working lives and fear the loss of production space. Artists Christine Wolheim and Adam Feibelman have their artist’s studios inside 933 Treat Ave., the green concrete warehouse owned by Earnest Heinzer, one of the claimants to the parcel that residents would like to see turned into a greenway. Although they don’t live there, they fear the changes coming their way as a result of the construction surrounding them. They aren’t sure how they feel about a public greenway.

“This is a working commercial building,” said Wolheim, a food and props stylist whose clients include Apple, Campbell and Better Homes and Gardens. “We have businesses here. I use this loading dock almost every day,” Wolheim said, gesturing to a wooden deck behind her. “That’s part of the value of this space.”

The artists had a parking lot in between their studios and the lot next door at 953 Treat Ave. that they used for deliveries, but it was “taken away”, according to Wolheim, and is likely to be demolished along with the cottage. She feels “impinged upon” by the construction.

Feibelman, a printmaker and fine artist, agreed. He has good reason to worry about displacement: he’s lost five studios in the past five years and feels pessimistic about the possibility of relocating again.

“One great thing about the Mission is that there’s always been a little bit of extra space for us,” said Feibelman. “But I don’t know if the idea of the neighborhood is to evict all of the people who have been here the longest. If the city wants to keep people who are a working creative class, then it needs to not just be constantly shoving us around at the whim of people with a ton of money, which are the property owners and the developers and people who own houses in the neighborhood, who feel like they need more of a backyard. and who can all the sudden just throw us out.”  

Both Feibleman and Wolheim agree that the development of a greenway might be an unwelcome constraint upon the way they do business. “It would be a substantial shrinking to our ability to work large,” says Feibleman. “Having a loading dock where trucks can come in and drop off material is key to the business.”

He feels that property owners are unfairly advantaged. “I like the idea of green space and open space, absolutely. But it looks like it’s going to people who are already advantaged and privileged. The neighborhood association is all wealthy people. And we are not. So we will end up getting the short end of the stick,” he gestured to the weedy lot in front of him, “if this becomes a space where, if we’re out here working, people will come and say “oh, the fumes are really bothering us. It’s guaranteed to happen.”

Feibleman, who said he’d be interested in speaking with the Mission Greenway group, commented, “I don’t think any of us are interested in closing down dialogue.” Nonetheless, he feels that it’s “pretty presumptuous for people who don’t live on the block to be coming here and telling us what should be done with this space.”

O’Connor, who is currently preoccupied with demolition, has said he would like to speak with other neighboring properties before he forms a firm opinion on the best use of the old right-of-way. Tree Rubenstein, a Mission Greenway member, would welcome that. Rubenstein feels optimistic about the prospects of working with a variety of stakeholders in the neighborhood.  

“We’re open to working with anyone on the design,” said Rubenstein. “Developers on both sides of the track should join their neighbors in making this space a benefit for the whole community. That would be the right thing to do.”

Photo by Elizabeth Creely.

Standing next to the remaining east wall of the Western Plywood Company. Photo by Elizabeth Creely.

From the inside looking out. Photo by Elizabeth Creely.

Photo by Elizabeth Creely

Looking inside the old office of the Western Plywood building. Photo by Elizabeth Creely.

Looking from inside the demolition site towards the intersection of Harrison and 22nd street. Photo by Elizabeth Creely.