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S.F.’s new animal shelter created with dogged devotion to building’s history

The unlikely corner of Alameda and Bryant streets in the Mission, close by a Highway 101 overpass, is where you’ll find San Francisco’s most beguiling architectural sleight of hand this year: the conversion of an 1890s powerhouse into a home for animals ranging from pit bulls to chinchillas.

It’s an atmospheric hulk that once held steam engines that powered streetcar lines, with 21-inch-thick brick walls and the occasional grand arched window, the type of old building too easy to take for granted. But the interior that holds the city’s Animal Care & Control agency is entirely new, a three-story insertion that reaffirms a basic truth of cities — some of the best urban structures are the ones flexible enough to live multiple lives.

“We fell in love with the history,” said Patty Solis, a senior architect with the city’s Public Works department. “It has so many layers, and then we built a building within a building.”

In her 10 years with the Bureau of Architecture, Solis has worked on projects ranging from the War Memorial Veterans Building’s restoration to the navigation center for homeless people on the Embarcadero that opened shortly before the pandemic. But this one, a $76 million effort that opened in the spring after six years of planning and construction, may be the most complex yet.

The north (left) and south (partially seen at far right) buildings at the new San Francisco Animal Care and Control center, which is the shell of a streetcar power facility from 1893.

Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle

The east wing from 1893 houses a shelter for animals who might have been found on the streets or turned in by owners. The day of my visit there were no shortages of dogs and cats, but also a turtle, several rabbits and a trio of chinchillas.