In 1921, 1000 Van Ness was a Cadillac showroom, one of several on Van Ness Avenue. These ballroom-style car dealerships were a symbol of the automobile industry and an era of expected wealth. These days, they stand as landmarks of a bygone time of hope and entitlement. In fact, to a non-native San Franciscan, they seem somewhat ostentatious, with their crystal chandeliers and marble floors, enclosed by their glass walls from an often bleak Tender-nob scene of homelessness, poverty, and drugs.
Today, the grand interior of 1000 Van Ness comes as somewhat of a surprise to a new San Franciscan out to see a movie. In 1998, Burnham Pacific Properties converted the historic showroom into a multi-plex movie theatre. There are also 50 residential lofts, a Crunch gym, and several restaurants housed in the same building.
Upon entering the movie theatre, the box office is on your left, a grand staircase leading to seemingly nowhere straight ahead, and a large and empty ballroom floor all around. About half of the unused space is boxed-off by glass walls and a door. The south-west store-front windows look onto this enclosed emptiness. Last year it became, for one month, a "Halloween Super Store," an ill-fitted use for such a grand space (excuse the pun).
Little did I, or does anyone know, that the grand staircase at the back of the showroom leads to a mezzanine office space. Boxcar Theatre Company currently has a short-term lease on the space and will be converting it into a live theater and installation space for their upcoming adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's "Galapagos." I am in this show and have been rehearsing there for the last two weeks. For this reason, I have been spending a lot of time on Van Ness Avenue.
The avenue and surrounding neighborhood contain some of the most striking architecture in the city. I am consistently dismayed at how much of it is empty. Empty storefronts, empty office space overhead.
In 1849, William Eddy developed Van Ness as the city's central north-south avenue. Hopes were that it would become a major commercial zone. What went wrong, and when? Read its full history here.