The title of this post is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Gas stations all across San Francisco are in fact disappearing at a shocking rate, but no one actually misses them when the bulldozers sweep them away. That’s the whole point. Gas stations suck value away from adjacent properties and do nothing to raise the quality of life for humans, although cars seem to enjoy having them at every corner as they race across the city. What’s going up in their place are multi-story apartment buildings – most with shops on the ground floor.
Here’s another example of an old gas station being removed to make way for a luxury condo building on the corner of Market and Buchanan. This is the beginning of a stretch of the city loosely called Mid-Market. It isn’t downtown, it isn’t the Mission, it isn’t SoMa, it isn’t the Castro… It was once vibrant but it hasn’t had enough foot traffic since World War II to support shops or restaurants, yet it isn’t exactly peaceful or quiet either since it’s burdened with a lot of car traffic that just passes through from one part of the city to another. The construction of an elevated freeway in the 1950’s destroyed the quality of life in the immediate area and once grand buildings were torn down to make way for gas stations and parking lots. For decades the neighborhood languished. I know because I used to live a across the street in my impoverished youth. Then the freeway was pulled down and the economy super heated with the tech boom. The current housing shortage meant that developers saw every decrepit gas station as a lucrative building site.
Suburban style chain restaurants and their associated parking lots are also rapidly disappearing here in San Francisco. The revenue that can currently be generated from a drive-thru taco or burger joint is insignificant compared to what a developer will pay for a quarter acre lot in a walkable neighborhood near transit. I spotted this recently closed restaurant and took a few snapshots before it disappears under the wrecking ball like its brethren up and down Market Street. Cast your eyes on these blank plywood and stucco walls for the last time. This particular lot actually sits directly on top of a MUNI (underground train) station and has a streetcar and multiple bus lines right out front. In a city with a massive pent-up demand for housing these infill projects are essential.
Here are a few photos of what is likely to appear in its place once the architects, builders, and real estate folks are done. I wasn’t quick enough to photograph the old 1950’s tiki hut burger joint and parking lot before it was removed so I had to resort to a Google street view image. The photos of the new building are mine. How many people did the old drive-thru employ compare to the multiple shops that will replace it? How many people were able to live on that triangular parking lot? How much tax revenue was generated for the city? Not much. The new building not only has 22 apartments but the entire ground floor is lined with new shops. I have no doubt that the underground parking garage accommodates at least as many cars as the old surface lot used to. Notice that there are Victorian row houses directly across the street. For some this new building might seem like an awfully big neighbor. But the building has actually made the Victorians more valuable and the shops make the neighborhood more vibrant. A view of a parking lot and a decrepit hamburger shack do very little for property values. Each of the new apartments sold immediately for between $845,000 and $1,350,000. That translates directly into revenue for the city which makes it possible to fund improvements in public schools, parks, transit, police and fire protection, pensions…