Groger’s Western Wear before it closed in 1996. Photo by Max Kirkeberg

A preschool called Creative Gardens is slated to open in July, moving into a Valencia Street site that has been vacant ever since Groger’s Western Wear closed 22 years ago.

Plans to open the preschool commenced last March, when the project’s sponsors met with a preservation planner to discuss his ideas for the historic building where Groger’s operated for 26 years at 1429 Valencia St. 

The preschool will join a cluster of other schools in the area, including Synergy Elementary School just north of it and the Katherine Michiels School nearby on Guerrero Street.  

The school is allowed a maximum of 70 students, including infants, according to project sponsor Christopher Li.

The building, a class-A historic structure, was constructed sometime in 1907, when a Swiss immigrant named Dante Tamo built a horse livery there.

The building is now a part of the Orange Alley Stables and Lofts historic district, one of the city’s smallest historic districts; it includes just three properties, all of which show the “pre-automobile patterns of development” in the Mission District, when horses pulled drays and buggies through the narrow streets.

Groger’s Western Wear store began life as a square-dance apparel store called the Whirl-Away Square Dance Shop. “We sold everything but the horse,” said Richard Groger, who still owns the property.

Groger and his wife were square dancers, living in the Haight with their three children when his wife decided to go into business selling square-dance clothing.

“There was a woman who owned a square dance apparel store at Geneva and Mission,” said Roseann Groger, their daughter, who managed the store in the 1980s. “She wanted to sell it, so my parents took a look at it and purchased the business for $5,000,” she said.

As the business expanded, space became an issue. The Grogers first moved the business to the Mission District and opened shop on the ground floor of the Reo Hotel, located at 418 Valencia St., which was owned by Groger’s grandmother.

In 1971, the Grogers moved Groger’s Western Store to the location at 1429 Valencia, where it operated until it closed in 1997.

“People loved the smell of leather,” said Groger. “That would be the first thing people commented on.”

Thanks to movies like Urban Cowboy, western wear became increasingly popular. The gay community, the Grogers said, ensured that business was brisk.

Business began to slow in the ’90s, and the shop closed in 1997. The building underwent a series of renovations in 2012 while the Grogers mulled their options.

“We didn’t know what we wanted to do with the building,” said Richard Groger. “But we did want to rebuild.”

According to Roseann Groger, a preschool fits her father’s values and long-term vision for the site.

“My dad didn’t want the next business to be alcohol-related,” said Roseann Groger. “He values education.”

The transition comes with some challenges. The biggest hurdle is curb management. The project calls for the conversion of the three parking spaces in front of the building into passenger loading zones.

Li, the project sponsor, has been in talks with the neighbors to secure additional pick-up and drop-off zones, and predicted that the neighborhood-serving function of a preschool would ultimately soften the resistance of his future neighbors.

“We haven’t secured the spaces yet. But I think the neighbors get the need for places like this,” Li said, adding that if the spaces aren’t secured, the proposed opening date would be pushed back. But he’s optimistic that the preschool will open in July.

Passenger loading zones are flashpoints in San Francisco’s hotly contested curb space on Valencia Street, which has one of the city’s most heavily used bike lanes and is described as a high-injury corridor by the SFMTA.

“I am working with the city to come up with a plan about the bike lane,” Li said in an email. “We don’t have finalized details yet.”

Closed and vacant for 22 years  at1429 Valencia St.. Photo by Elizabeth Creely.

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