Architectural Magic Creates Parking in San Francisco

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Beausoleil Architects turn a bay window into a garage door to create parking while keeping a classic Victorian in line with codes for historic buildings.

Corey and Ben McMills of McMills Construction had a problem. Their investment property on Oak Street, near Ashbury and facing the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park, needed to have a garage built to enhance their tenant’s use of the building and maximize their rent. As is true in much of San Francisco, parking is hard to find in the Haight–Ashbury neighborhood and is almost more valuable than living space. But the San Francisco Planning Department’s historic building design guidelines forbid them from taking out the ground floor bay window. They turned to Beausoleil Architects for help.

The bottom floor of the building, a historic Victorian apartment house, had a hodgepodge of storage rooms, utility spaces and an ancient studio apartment shoehorned between a dozen wood posts. The original brick foundations were underfoot. The project structural engineer, Don David of Double D Engineering, determined that as part of upgrading the seismic strength of the structure they could get rid of the columns and the partitions, build new concrete footings, and create a clean open garage space. The problem, as Corey found out when he asked the Planning Department to review the project, was how to get a car in.

The front wall of the ground floor had a three-sided bay window, with windows on each face, matching the bays on the levels above, and the city planning department had recently started enforcing its mandate to limit changes to the character of historic building’s front facades, including conversion of bay windows into garage doors. Their design guidelines require that fronts of buildings, front yards, fencing, and similar relics of historic design be left largely intact, and that changes must be made in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings. Replacement of the bay window with a garage door, a common practice for many years, was no longer an option.

Corey, a mechanical engineer by education and a problem solver by nature, conceived the idea of converting the walls of the bay window into door panels that would fold into the garage space to allow cars to enter, and then fold back into place, keeping the historic appearance intact. The planning department agreed that this concept was provisionally acceptable. To help him realize this concept, Corey hired fellow problem solver Robert Boles of Beausoleil Architects to devise the details and keep the project in-line with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. One of the goals of the standards is to keep not only the historical appearance, but to keep the ‘historic fabric’—the original wood and glass building materials—intact wherever possible.

Beausoleil carefully measured the elements of the existing façade and drew them up, then determined how the bay window sides could be split apart from the rest of the building with almost invisible seams. They envisioned a steel framework that would be secured to the back of the walls before they were cut away from the structure, allowing the fabric of the building to remain virtually intact with studs, siding, windows all moving in concert. The front yard, which had a possibly original wrought iron fence, also had to be redesigned to incorporate a driveway and a percentage of planting areas in accordance with the zoning code. Beausoleil prepared a supplementary set of construction drawings to complement the structural set previously approved.

To make the doors work mechanically, there are two floor mounted hydraulic activators, which rotate the doors on pivot hinges. Further details, including control and security hardware, were worked out in the field by the installer, Rick Dentoni of Automatic Gate Installations.

The new garage will provide four parking spaces, while eliminating only ten feet of parking space on the street. While not entirely pleasing to the city planners, who consider cars to be the spawn of the devil, the new parking will no doubt be very useful to the tenants, at least until Bousoleil can devise their next trick—teleportation.

To see a video of the magic bay window / garage door in action, check out Beausoleil Architects’ blog.

For more information about this project or any of Beausoleil Architects’ services, call them at (415) 335-4379 or visit their website at

About Beausoleil Architects
Beausoleil Architects is a San Francisco green architect that specializes in residential green building, and sustainable architecture in San Francisco, as well as historic design. In addition to practicing sustainable architecture in the San Francisco Bay Area and the United States, Beausoleil Architects has completed projects as far away as China, Italy, and Australia. They are a San Francisco Certified Green Business.


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Christine Lebeau Boles
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