Top 5 Excelsior Commercial Buildings

March 23rd, 2020 No Comments »

We have already admired, written about, and helped with landmark designation for the terrific Royal Baking Company building at 4769-4773 Mission Street, but there are a number of other great commercial buildings in the Excelsior. While there are gems farther out Mission (we love the old Art Deco realty office at 5401 Mission Street), we’re not going south of Geneva Avenue for this post. As with our top 5 residential buildings and top 5 institutional buildings, this list is very subjective. Let us know if you have a favorite one not mentioned!

Central Drug Store
(4494 Mission Street, built 1910)
Central Drug Store at 4494 Mission Street.

The form is simple (a rectangle), but the drugstore on the corner at 4494 Mission Street at the corner of Santa Rosa Avenue has a couple of big reasons for making this list. Central Drug Store is the oldest still-operating business in the Excelsior District, having opened in this spot in 1910. A circa 1950 alteration to the building gave us the sleek Vitrolite sign with “Central Drug Store” in neon. Jerry Garcia bought comic books here when he was a boy, and he is still playing the guitar on the south side of the building along Santa Rosa Avenue in the 2009 work by Precita Eyes Muralists, The San Francisco You Should Know.

Detail of The San Francisco You Should Know on side of Central Drug Store building.

Hibernia Bank Building
(4600 Mission Street at Norton, built 1928)
The former Hibernia Bank branch building at the corner of Mission and Norton Streets.

Designed in Beaux-Arts style by architect Arthur Brown Jr. (principal architect of San Francisco City Hall), this is the oldest standing bank building in the Excelsior. The stately detailing, six grand windows, and high ceiling can still be appreciated in its current use as the Mexican produce and grocery store, El Chico. Other former Hibernia branch buildings were modeled in the same style and can be seen at 18th & Castro Streets, Valencia and 22nd Streets, and Geary Boulevard and 10th Avenue. Bonus building: The US Bank building to the south, built in 1963, is an excellent example of Midcentury Modern-New Formalist Style.

Granada Theatre Building
(4631 Mission Street. Built 1922, remodeled 1931 & 1942)
View north on Mission Street to the old Granada Theatre in April 1947.(Waldemar Sievers photograph, wnp27.50127, courtesy of OpenSFHistory/Western Neighborhoods Project.

In 1931, the Excelsior Theatre was renamed the Granada and given a $150,000 remodel with a tall Spanish-style tower. Ten years later, to keep up with the times, the whole building was given a sleek remodel. The Streamline Moderne lines of the movie house tower now rise above a Goodwill store. There are exciting proposals to welcome visitors to the neighborhood with a new vertical neon blade sign reading “Excelsior.” Bonus building: The former Amazon Theatre building on Geneva Avenue between London and Paris Streets also retains its tower in its current use as a Walgreens drugstore.

The old Amazon/Apollo Theatre building at 981-985 Geneva Avenue has been sensitively adapted for new businesses.

Clean Wash Center
(4680–4690 Mission Street, built 1949)
The 24-hour Clean Wash Center at Mission Street and Persia Avenue.

Architect Mario Ciampi gave this stunner a mix of Midcentury Modern styles. According to our Research Assistant William Beutner, the building was originally commissioned by the Safeway Credit Union as partial office space for its employees (they worked on the top floor while the ground floor housed retail space). Currently a laundromat, the building points into Mission street like a 1930s ocean liner. The rounded corner, the open ground floor, the ribbon of upper-story windows, the great recent paint job… what’s not to like?

4447-4449 Mission Street
(Built 1890s)
Former saloon building on Mission Street between Avalon and Excelsior Avenues.

If modern architecture isn’t your thing, here’s a very intact Victorian-era storefront and one of the oldest buildings still standing in the Excelsior. Originally a saloon for the local farm laborers and people en route to the Ingleside Racetrack on Sundays, it has held a variety of businesses over the last 125 years but kept its second-story porch, paneled bulkheads, and somehow holds on while new buildings sprout on all sides.

Do you have a favorite commercial building in the Excelsior? Let us know at kyoung@sfheritage.org or by using #HeritageExcelsior on social media.


Thanks to Hannah Simonson for her work on the Excelsior & Portola Historic Context Statement (Planning Department, City and County of San Francisco: 2017), helping inform our favorites.

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