Photo courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

Built in 1901 as an office building and streetcar operations center, the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse has had a rich and long-standing history at the heart of San Francisco. This historical landmark, which Performing Arts Workshop became the tenant of in 2019, has witnessed the changing landscape of San Francisco for over a century. Looking ahead to its future as a hub for equitable youth arts education in District 11, we reflect on the building’s past, present, and future amidst a historic global-pandemic, with our Senior Program Manager, Van Nguyen-Stone.


Over the years, the Geneva Powerhouse building faced the ebb and flow of the development tide. Proposals of the building’s demolition were filed in the late 90s to make way for parking space in the area. However, the building, which was appointed as a San Francisco historical landmark in the 80s, was treasured by the neighboring communities and neighborhood advocates pushed back against the demolition plans and successfully preserved the building. The building was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and remained idle until the community formed a nonprofit called Friends of the Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse to advocate for the building’s preservation. They entered into a partnership with the city’s Parks and Recreation department and raised funds to restore the Geneva Powerhouse as a future youth art center.


This initiative was greatly welcomed by the District 11 community because, as Van mentioned, D11 communities members “have shared that they would like to have more arts programming and additional spaces for the community to connect.” In 2019, coinciding with the conclusion of the 1st phase of renovation for the Powerhouse, the building was set to become one of the few youth arts centers within the Excelsior/OMI neighborhoods. However, with the rise of COVID-19 cases and the shelter-in-place mandate, the launch of in person arts programming at the Powerhouse came to a halt.


Yet throughout the pandemic, the Powerhouse remained true to its mission to be a space for the neighborhood youth. According to our Senior Program Manager, Van, “Currently the Powerhouse is being used to host one of San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth & Their Families (DCYF) D11’s community Learning Hubs. These hubs are supporting students in their learning during school closure by providing resources, school supplies, and access to Wi-Fi, tutoring, and enrichment programs.” In partnership with Jamestown Community Center and the Mission YMCA, we were able to open the Powerhouse’s doors to local students in the surrounding neighborhood and share our resources to provide a safe and socially-distanced learning space for our community. Thanks to the efforts led by staff at Jamestown Community Center and the Mission YMCA, students have thrived in a space that support their learning and art creating while staying safe and adhering to health and sanitary precautions.


Gazing ahead into the future, as San Francisco opens back up, we are looking beyond the pandemic and re-imagining what The Powerhouse will look like for in-person arts programming. As part of the Community Arts Collective Series, the Workshop will have its first in person class called Moving Towards Comics that combines two art forms — comics and dance, and students aged 14-18 who complete the course will receive a $1000.00 stipend. The Community Arts Collective Series will also include virtual courses such as spoken word, visual art, and dance for ages 10-18, and the classes are set to run July 6 – July 30. Our artists are eager to welcome students into our summer programming, both in-person and online, and we encourage students, parents, and guardians who are interested in no cost youth art classes to go to our website and sign up for Powerhouse summer programming. Early registration ends on April 30th.


When schools closed down and turned to virtual, we pushed hard to switch all of our programming to distance learning. We are driven by the questions: how can we continue to promote the Powerhouse’s goals to provide no cost arts programming, fulfill our commitment to the D11 community, and how can we strengthen and build anti-racism virtual learning?  Currently, our distance learning classes have been running for over a year. But ultimately, our goal is to run full in-person classes. We are excited to announce that we will have our first in person dance and comic class called Moving Towards Comics at the Powerhouse starting this July.”

Van Nguyen-Stone

We are also thrilled to launch our first-ever student referral program, which will provide students that refer other students to register and participate in our summer Powerhouse classes with a $25 stipend. This was an idea that came from the Workshop’s Program Director, Lorena Landeros, who recognized that the students we work with are the greatest resource we have. In empowering them to recruit their friends and communities to participate in our programming, we can both have a bigger impact on our mission to provide access to arts education to all young people living in the Bay Area, and we can recognize the value that our students bring to us as leaders. Over time, we hope to grow this program and offer larger stipends, but we are excited to be taking these first steps now as we officially bring the Powerhouse online. Students that are interested in being a part of our referral program can go to to learn more.

When asked about the Powerhouse beyond the classroom, Van reiterated that “in terms of community support, we’ve been getting lots of love from the D11 community, from store owners, teachers, principals, after-school providers, and long time members of the neighborhood. They all have expressed excitement about arts programming for young people in the Powerhouse.” As one of the few arts centers in District 11, we are excited to offer arts resources not only for students, but also for the greater D11 community, particularly Black, Indigenous, Asian, Brown, Pacific Islander, and Latinx communities. As Van mentioned, “We’ve already met with D11 Black leaders to ask how and what ways can the Powerhouse be utilized to support their work and/or organization’s mission. In honoring our statement in Defense of Black lives, we are asking how can we support our Black artists and Black led organizations to promote, sponsor, and host their events? We are being intentional to listen to community needs and are working to build around that.“


Student performances and exhibits, community art exhibits, community gatherings, events, D11 leaders’ meetings, adult arts classes, youth council meetings, events for our elders, and beyond. Our vision for the Powerhouse is only limited to what our community can imagine. As Van beautifully articulated, “Through the Powerhouse, we’d have a direct connection to get to know the community as well as our students, their families, and their stories. As an organization that offers in-person programming and a community space, we have the opportunity to grow based off of these relationships with the communities that we work and collaborate with. This is especially true for the Black, Indigenous, Asian, Brown, Pacific Islander, and Latinx  student community.” For more information or to tell us what you would like to see happen at the Powerhouse, email