Presidio Branch Library to close, major upgrade, remodel

by Jonathan Farrell

A walk up the front steps at the Presidio Branch Library shows why the 87-year-old structure needs repair. A wobbly banister with crumbling steps and a faded terra cotta exterior are obvious indicators that the Italian-Renaissance style building, which opened in 1921, is showing its age.

But help is on the way. Architects and designers with Field Paoli and Joseph Chow were eager to have their extensive renovation design plans reviewed by SF Library Commissioners and a Peer Review Panel on Feb. 5.

The public was invited to attend the "panel review," which was held in the Main Library's Koret Auditorium on Larkin Street.

The estimated cost to renovate the Presidio Branch is $2.4 million. The peer review meeting's purpose is to promote excellence in design, which is part of a Design Excellence Program established by the SF Public Library and the SF Department of Public Works.

"The renovation project is an opportunity to restore a landmark library to its original historic grandeur, making it more functional while bringing it into the 21st century," said Lee Munson, SF Library Commission vice president.

There will be no additions to the library's existing 10,205 square feet. Field Paoli and Joseph Chow's goal is to provide renovations that will meet increasing 21st century needs.

"The interior remodel will enhance the beautiful main reading room and children's room and add a designated space for teens. In addition, we are looking forward to upgrading the Presidio's program room, which will increase library and community programs for the neighborhood," Munson said.

As the sixth branch in the city's library system, the Presidio Branch is a gem to residents. Being located on a mixed residential and commercial block of Sacramento Street just west of Masonic Avenue, it is a community resource serving the Laurel, Presidio and Pacific heights neighborhoods.

"The library is now heavily used more than ever," said Marcia Popper, a long-time resident and patron who also serves on the Council of Neighborhood Libraries.

As a gathering place, it helps to anchor the community, serving as a learning and cultural center for a diverse population. Residents and local businesses in the area have been kept informed over the past few months about the upcoming renovation plans.

An initial design presentation meeting was held at the Presidio Branch in July of last year. The response was positive and the Chow and Field Paoli teams were pleased to share their results at a follow-up meeting held Jan. 21.

As part of the Branch Library Improvement Program, a set of public meetings has been held at various libraries throughout the city. The meetings are part of a bond measure to improve public libraries passed by city voters in 2000. The public has been encouraged to attend meetings to provide input to the process. At the Jan. 21 meeting, architects unveiled the plans they brought to the Review Panel and library commissioners on Feb. 5. Popper, like many, has attended them all, including the peer review.

"I think the review went very well, with good exchanges," Popper said.

"It will not be too different; not going to be a jarring renovation," said Mark Schatz a principal architect at Field Paoli, of upcoming changes.

"We will do all we can to retain as much of the original character, but within current regulations, codes and guidelines," Schatz said.

The library will have changes that comply with City and state seismic regulations and Americans with Disability Act (ADA) accessibility measures.

Initially built with Andrew Carnegie's philanthropic funds, the landmark Presidio Branch was designed by G. Albert Landsburgh. As technology plays an ever-increasing role in daily library operations, the year-long renovation will also include better lighting, energy efficiency and Internet access.

John McLaren, famed superintendent of Golden Gate Park, designed the original landscaping to make the Presidio Branch a picturesque site. It is a favorite spot for locals to gather and chat and for dog walkers.

"The library is working with the San Francisco Garden Club to develop and fund a plan to improve the landscaping," said Michelle Jeffers, SFPL media rep.

"Money is still being raised by Friends of the SF Public Library for the renovation. They generally fund about $500,000 for each branch renovation for furnishings, fixtures and equipment not covered by the bond," said Jeffers.

Renovation work hopes to begin this summer. Library programs, along with a Bookmobile, will continue while the library is closed. For more information, contact the Presidio Branch at (415) 355-2880 or visit the Web site at