Developer wants penthouses atop armory 

The latest proposal for developing the long-abandoned armory at 14th and Mission streets calls for condominiums and penthouses, once again stirring controversy about what the old National Guard building should become.

This is not the first time the 123,000-square-foot armory is at the center of a gentrification battle. Since the National Guard abandoned the armory in 1971 about 10 proposals ranging from a movie studio to a church were offered up for the brick fortress that seems an impenetrable castle taking up the entire block of Mission Street at 14th Street.

In 2000, it became the focus of the Mission’s dot-com gentrification wars, with protesters floodinga Planning Commission meeting and arguing against a new-media office complex.

Now, Mission Armory Preservation Partners LLC aims to build 169 condominiums, including eight controversial penthouses, and roughly 30,000 square feet of office space in the 1914 armory that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

In order for the latest proposal to pencil out financially, the penthouses must be part of the project, since they will help cover the costs of the restoration and seismic work that’s slated to cost upward of $10 million, said Brett Gladstone, an attorney representing the owner, Alpha LLC.

The penthouses would be set back from the edge of the roof, thereby creating a less obtrusive look, said Andres Grechi, design director for MBH Architects.

"To preserve it we have to give it new life," Grechi said. "It would bring new life to the neighborhood. It would no longer look like a prison."

Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board members Alan Martinez and Ina Dearman both questioned whether the penthouses are the right fit for the Mission neighborhood.

"There should be no penthouses," Dearman said. "We need housing but it’s too expensive."

The developer needs the approval of the commission since it is tasked with preserving historic structures in The City.

The need for housing in The City and neighborhood revitalization the project would bring would serve the area well, said Tim Colen, of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition.

In the past, the armory has been used for boxing matches, set construction for the San Francisco Opera and during the filming of the 1977 film Star Wars, most of the spaceship-centered scenes were shot in the drill court. In 1986, a plan to turn it into a movie studio was abandoned. Eleven years later, a proposal for live-work lofts was also tossed aside.

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