Viewed as a collection, the photographs affirm Kessler’s assertion that the garages contribute to the beauty and vitality of San Francisco streets, despite our tendency not to take note of these prosaic buildings in our daily lives.
The façades come in an eclectic mix of styles popular at the time, including Mission, Neo-Gothic, Italian Renaissance and Beaux-Arts classical. Collectively, these façades reflect an excitement about the exploding car culture, and a City Beautiful-inspired conviction that all architecture should enhance the urban environment. Many garages—like the one at 1355 Fulton—refer to train stations, reducing monumental public buildings to billboard-like façades. Although the façades are decidedly low-brow, they are remarkably dignified for parking garages.
Today, garages are vulnerable to real estate development, primarily because they underutilize valuable city lots. The show includes several examples of garages adapted to new uses—including an art gallery and a high school performing arts facility. These examples present an alternative to demolition that works for both the property owner and the community.
Jane Jacobs, an urban theorist and activist, said, “Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them.” The preservation of particular buildings that are good--but not great--is a valuable means of maintaining the scale, character and livability of our city. San Francisco’s old garages—attractive, historical and adaptable—are exactly the type of structures Jane Jacobs had in mind. She is the author of The Death and Life of American Cities, a classic in urban design and city planning.