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San Francisco Landmarks

San Francisco Landmark 108: State Armory and Arsenal
26 May 2008
(Click Photo to Zoom)
San Francisco Landmark #108
National Guard Armory
1800 Mission Street At 14th Street
Built 1914

For fifty-eight out of its sixty-five ear existence, the Armory was home to the San Francisco National Guard units. Somewhat forbidding with its dark, fortress-like appearance, the building is entrenched four-square at the corner of Mission and 14th Street attempting, as it were, to convince the skeptic that its function at that intersection is of no less importance than Fort Point which guards the Golden Gate.

Adapted from San Francisco Planning Commission Resolution 8376 dated 20 September 1979

The California Armory and Arsenal was designed by State Architect John F. Woollett to house companies of the Coastal Artillery, two divisions of the Naval Militia, one Signal Corps, one Engineering Corps, and several other divisions of the California National Guard brought in from Oakland and San Mateo.

Almost as important as its military purpose was its promised role as a social and recreation center for Guardsmen. It was believed that the multitude of amenities and activities offered would help to recruit men into the service of the California National Guard. From its completion in 1914 onward, the Mission Armory served as a social center for National Guardsmen, many of whom were recruited from San Francisco.

From 1920's through the 1940's, the Mission Armory served as San Francisco's primary sports venue, eventually earning the nickname the Madison Square Garden of the West. For almost three decades, at least two prizefights were held in the Drill Court each week, usually on Tuesday and Friday nights.

After the Korean War, the Mission Armory slowly lost its value as a military training facility. By the late 1960's, it was deemed obsolete, and in 1973, the California National Guard announced its intention to move operations to a new armory at Fort Funston.

In 1976, George Lucas used the Drill Court to film some scenes for Star Wars, but plans to convert the building into a full-time film studio never came to fruition.

Mission residents, determined to prevent the building's demolition, actively pursued landmark status for the Mission Armory. In 1978, the Mission Armory was listed in the National Register, and a year later it was designated San Francisco City Landmark #108. In 1979, the California National Guard abandoned their plans to replace the Mission Armory and decommissioned the building.

In 1996, a taskforce, lead by City Supervisor Susan Leal recommended that the City purchase the Mission Armory, but by this point the State was already in negotiations with a private developer. In 2000, yet another proposal surfaced to convert the building into dot-com office space. When this effort collapsed in the face of intense neighborhood opposition, plans were amended to convert the Mission Armory into a server farm for computer equipment.

This plan also failed to gain support, and the building remained empty until January 2007 when Armory Studios, LLC purchased the building.

Excerpted from sfarmory.com.

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