Ever since the removal of the double-decker Embarcadero Freeway after the Loma Prieta earthquake and its replacement with a graceful boulevard, high quality development has been replacing empty piers and parking lots along San Francisco’s northern waterfront.
Think the Ferry Building, Pier 1, Piers 1½, 3 and 5 (Coqueta, La Mar Cebicheria, Hard Water), the Exploratorium, and the new Cruise Terminal to mention a few. Fisherman’s Wharf has a going Community Benefits District, a brilliant streetscape plan, and some quality new buildings housing such uses as the flagship Boudin bakery/restaurant and a new Madame Tussauds.
For years, it has all fallen apart when one hits Van Ness. But a brilliant new plan for the non-profit Fort Mason Center is about to change all that.(full disclosure: I have joined the Fort Mason Board to help accomplish this plan.) On September 17, 2014, a newly reconceived Pier 2, a 35,000 square foot events venue, opens after a $21 million remodel, by San Francisco architects Leddy Maytum Stacy. This is on top of a $13 million upgrade of the pier substructure completed by the National Park Service, the property owner of For Mason.
This comes hot on the heels of this summer’s opening of The Interval, one of the hottest new “salons” (think “bar”) in San Francisco. Described as a “library, bar, museum and café”, The Interval is a happening place for discussion and small events exploring long-term thinking. It’s an adjunct to the Long Now Foundation (remember Stuart Brand, The Whole Earth Catalogue?) to promote long-term thinking about the gnarly issues we all face as a world.
And all this comes out of a 2012 International Design Competition for Fort Mason sponsored by Ann Hatch and the Tin Man Fund. Twenty invited firms submitted entries; three teams were shortlisted: Bruner/Cott of Cambridge; AMP Architectos of Tenerife, and West 8 of Rotterdam and Manhattan. The winning West 8 team includes local landscape architects Bionic (Marcel Wilson), Jensen Architects, Architectural Resources Resource Group, Ila Berman of CCAC, Moffat & Nichol engineers, Magnusson Kemenci Associates, Scaleshift, HR&A Advisors, New York real estate economists, Langdon Associates, and Impark, LLC.
Fort Mason began its life in 1776 as a Spanish garrison; taken over by the US Army in 1850; and rebuilt as an Army supply and transportation depot after the 1906 earthquake. It served as a military port of embarkation until its close in the 1970s and its inclusion as a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In the intervening years, the non-profit Fort Mason Foundation has provided an affordable home to scores of San Francisco institutions – the Magic Theater, the Museo Italo Americano, the Mexican Museum, Green’s Restaurant – to mention a few, that would not exist without the Foundation.
But like every other real estate venture, the world has changed for Fort Mason since September 15, 2008. The National Park Service is squeezed for resources; the non-profit tenants have always been; and Fort Mason is searching for new ways to meet its mission of supporting arts and culture in San Francisco. Thus the design competition. The competition brief called for visions to “inject cohesion, focus, and renewed energy into the campus” and “enhance Fort Mason Center’s profile as an arts and cultural destination.”
First up is opening the buildings to the spectacular site. As a military base, and basically warehouses, the piers and back-office space present a foreboding face to the public. At Pier 2, Leddy Maytum Stacy have replaced steel garage doors with glass storefronts, bringing in drop-dead views of the Bay. The West 8 plan calls for Pier 1 (essentially used by the Park Service for storage) to be a boutique hotel, which will be the only hotel on the San Francisco waterfront, since as a Federal enclave, Fort Mason is not governed by San Francisco’s planning code. Plus it has dead-on views of the Golden Gate–hard to beat.
Fort Mason has to be the only place in San Francisco that has parking going for begging. Think about it. Underutilized space for arts and culture groups, and underutilized parking. Can this really be San Francisco?
An early next step will be the redesign of the entry to Fort Mason, the rationalization of parking, and landscaping (and signing!) the entry. Opening ground floors throughout the campus is a high priority, as is another restaurant.
All the focus is on making Fort Mason a REAL community center. And great architectural and landscape architectural plans are at the center of all of this. As the West 8 vision plan turns into schematics and cd’s, I expect many Urbdezine readers to be a part of the process of turning Fort Mason into a designed urban environment.
All photos from the Fort Mason Center website via permission and Fair Use Doctrine