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A Digital Journal - San Francisco Public Works

In the Works

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August 2023

For more than a century, San Francisco’s historic Mission Branch Library has served as an integral community hub for the bursting-with-life neighborhood. Now a Public Works-led refresh aims to strike a delicate balance between showcasing the building’s historical charm with a modern flourish and upgrading the facility to meet the needs and challenges of a modern-day San Francisco.  


A New Chapter for
Mission Branch Library 

The historic Mission Branch Library is ready for a highly anticipated Public Works-led refresh that we’re delivering in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library.

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Once a week, starting at 8 o’clock on Thursday mornings, a laser-focused team of Public Works crews descends on a neighborhood street filled with shops, cafes and storefront offices. 


Reinvigorating a Civic Space with Pride

Harvey Milk Plaza has been at the center of the Castro community for decades and is undergoing an important upgrade and renovation to make it more accessible and inviting.

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Construction on Better Market Street Project Ramps Up

The Better Market Street infrastructure improvement project – a multi-agency, multi-phase project to revitalize 2.2 miles of Market Street, from Steuart Street to Octavia Street – is in full swing.


Love Our City

Foggy skies and a morning chill in the Sunset District didn’t deter more than 100 spirited volunteers from joining us on Aug. 26 for our monthly Love Our City: Neighborhood Beautification Day.

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Mission Library
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Construction for the Mission Library renovation project kicked off this month.

A New Chapter
for Mission Branch Library 

Light poured through the tall, arched windows, drawing glowing parallelograms on the scuffed linoleum floor. The oak bookshelves, carefully crafted more than a century ago, sat empty, solemnly guarding the walls like they always have. Pieces of an ornate wooden doorframe rested in the center of the airy hall. 

It was late August and the grand reading room – the crown jewel of the historic Mission Branch Library – had been mostly emptied out, ready for a highly anticipated Public Works-led refresh that we’re delivering in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library.

“This is the heartbeat of this building,” said Public Works architect Andrew Sohn, his words bouncing off the imposing ceiling’s decorative plaster.


Public Works architect Andrew Sohn gives a tour of the library’s historic reading room.

The library, at the corner of 24th and Bartlett streets, is one of the City’s seven Carnegie libraries and steeped in history and San Francisco lore. 


It was the first branch in the San Francisco Public Library system, opening in 1888 in a storefront two blocks from its current location. Nearly two decades later, the inferno that followed the 1906 earthquake and ravaged much of the City stopped short of the Mission library. 

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Top: Exterior view of Mission Library from 24th and Bartlett streets, ca. 1915. Bottom left: Interior view of the library’s historic reading room. Bottom right: Original library entrance on 24th Street.

The current building was constructed under the supervision of Beaux Arts architect G. Albert Lansburgh and funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American industrialist who forged his wealth in the American steel industry in the late 19th century. The library – designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style – opened its doors at the Bartlett Street location in December 1915. It received City landmark status in the early 2000s.

“The Mission Branch Library is such an important part of San Francisco history,” said Rebecca Alcala-Veráflor, chief of branches for the City’s public library system. “It has, over the years, transitioned as the community has changed, but (it’s) still doing its best to hold tight to the roots of that history.”

Though the building was renovated in 1997 to make seismic improvements and accessibility upgrades, the makeover led to the loss of some of the library’s most recognizable features, including its historic entrance and monumental stairway. 


Now, more than two decades later, Public Works architects, landscape architects, construction managers, project managers and engineers are looking to restore the showpiece reading room and the rest of the historic building to some of its original glory while adding much-needed upgrades to transform the facility into a less cramped, more accommodating and more climate-resilient space for staff and patrons. Public Works also handled regulatory affairs, site assessment and remediation.

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A rendering shows the library’s new community room.

And although the library’s footprint itself isn’t that large at about 10,000 square feet, the complex renovation project is no small feat. 

“It’s very ambitious,” said Sohn, Public Works’ project lead, adding that even just digging a basement to house utilities is a challenging undertaking.

Between providing a 100-person community room, constructing a dedicated teen room, restoring the main entry to its original location, replacing the lost historic main staircase, building additional restrooms and adding a fenced courtyard and sustainability features, such as rooftop solar panels and air conditioning, the project packs a punch – an array of robust improvements that have to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.


Top left: The library’s façade as seen from Bartlett Street. Right: The historic reading room’s detailed ceiling. Bottom left: The oak bookshelves in the reading room have been there since the library opened. 

Construction, which started in August, will cost $23 million and is expected to wrap up by fall 2025; until then, a temporary branch for the Mission community will continue to be housed nearby, at 1234 Valencia St.

“It’s a small – by scale – project, but it’s a significantly difficult project,” Sohn said. “And I've worked on a lot of big projects and really hard ones and lengthy ones and this might be the hardest project I’ve ever done.” 

Public Works and San Francisco Public Library have been longtime collaborators on capital projects to upgrade the City’s network of 27 neighborhood branches.

In many ways, the Mission Branch renovation project, which had its construction kickoff ceremony Aug. 29, is a delicate balancing act between showcasing the building’s historical charm with a modern flourish and upgrading the facility to meet the needs and challenges of a modern-day San Francisco. 


Dancers put on a performance at the Aug. 29 construction kickoff event in front of the library.

Among the prime examples: the rebirth of the grand staircase, the relocation of the main entrance and the refresh of the historic reading room.


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A rendering shows the library’s new lobby.

The central staircase, for instance, won’t be the original, Sohn said, but will be placed in its exact same location and at the same scale as the original one. 

“We’re interpreting it with similar materials,” he said. “It's going to have stone and terrazzo and bronze, but it will be differentiated. It'll be more of a streamlined kind of design than the ornate terracotta that had once been there.”

The original stairway, which was taken out during the 1990s renovation, would not meet today’s regulations and standards, Sohn added. 

“It wouldn't even comply with the code in terms of the height of the stairs and the treads and the railing,” he said. “So even putting it back is problematic just from a code point of view.”

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A rendering shows a planned addition along Orange Alley on the west side of the Mission Library.

Then there’s the entryway along the building’s primary façade on 24th Street. Like the staircase, the main entrance was moved during the previous renovation – from 24th Street to Bartlett Street. It now will be returned to its intended location and its doors will be redone to mimic the early-1900s original.

“We don't really know a lot about what the doors were that were there other than a photograph that we have,” Sohn said. While the new doors will be made of bronze and look like the originals, they will be modernized with automated openers to improve accessibility. 

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A rendering shows what the historic reading room will look like after the renovation. 

The library’s historic reading room, meanwhile, will undergo a makeover that will provide more flexibility for staff and space for patrons. While the old, original wood shelves lining the walls will remain, crews already have removed 9-foot-tall metal shelves that had been affixed to the floor all across the room. 

“They were oppressively gigantic,” Sohn said. “We're going to do lower shelving that’s flexible.”

Staff will be able to move the new shelves around to rearrange the space as needed. The room itself will receive a new coat of paint to brighten it up. The light fixtures that were put in during the 1990s renovation will be replaced by more subdued lighting. A new, glass-covered addition along Orange Alley on the west side of the building will connect to the reading room and provide extra seating. And the historic, arched windows will be restored, with one of them turned into a backlit, fused-glass centerpiece by local artist Juana Alicia.

Although aesthetic upgrades will play a significant role in the renovation project, much of the overhaul centers around functional improvements to the space. Among the most important: equipping the building with air conditioning so the library can remain open to patrons on sweltering days. 

Previously, the only space that had air conditioning in the building was the children’s room, said Alcala-Veráflor. That meant that when the mercury rose too high, the library had to close.

“We have to respond to (climate change) to be resilient,” Alcala-Veráflor said.


Part of the push to make the facility more sustainable and harden it in the face of a changing climate includes switching from natural gas to renewable electric power and adding enhanced air filtration.


The two-story building’s current disjointed layout has also meant that staff have been more siloed than they would like to be. The configuration made it difficult to work as a team, said Alcala-Veráflor, who as branch manager for another library would at times work some of her shifts at the Mission library to help out.

Another problem post-1990s renovation? The loss of a community room.

“That neighborhood needs a community room,” Alcala-Veráflor said. “They need to be able to have a space where community members can book a space for a meeting. ... Our team can have programs in there without disrupting people browsing a collection or asking for help.” 

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A rendering shows the inside of the library’s new Orange Alley addition for teenagers.

And with a new, dedicated space for teens in the planned Orange Alley side addition, younger library patrons will be able to enjoy a sense of privacy in their own section – as opposed to the makeshift teen area that was previously created using partitions. 

“Teens couldn’t be teens in that area,” Alcala-Veráflor said of the previous model.

The library holds a special place in Alcala-Veráflor’s heart. 

For as long as she can remember, the Mission Branch has been an integral community hub for the bursting-with-life neighborhood – a place where adults and families can find resources, get help and connect with people in Spanish and English. Staff know community members by name and vice versa and even if they leave to work elsewhere, former staffers often return to the Mission library later in their careers, she said.

“If you want to learn about being embedded in the community and doing outreach to underrepresented communities who have been traditionally marginalized, Mission is doing it,” Alcala-Veráflor said. “So, that is something that is incredibly special about the branch.”

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Clean Corridors

A Public Works street cleaner pressure washes the sidewalk in the Castro District.

A Mood-Boosting,

Once a week, starting at 8 o’clock on Thursday mornings, a laser-focused team of Public Works crews descends on a neighborhood street filled with shops, cafes and storefront offices. 

They pull out their power washers, paint brushes, weed whackers and brooms and jump into action. They are part of the specialized street cleaning operation known as CleanCorridorsSF.

In additional to the manual labor, we also send through mechanical sweepers to clear leaves and litter from the curb lane and a flusher truck to wash down the roadway. Graffiti inspectors and outreach workers also are on hand to inform residents and businesses about their responsibilities to help keep San Francisco clean. They also tell them about the tools and services we have available to aid them.

CleanCorridorsSF initially began in February 2020 in the Tenderloin’s Little Saigon area but was shut down a month later when shelter-in-place COVID-19 restrictions were enacted. Public Works relaunched the operation in January 2021 and it has been going strong ever since. We kicked off the new season in July with the start of the new fiscal year and rotate through a different neighborhood every week. 

Every Thursday, a large contingent of our street cleaners is deployed to a different neighborhood commercial district for a coordinated deep-cleaning blitz.

Recent operations were conducted in the Tenderloin, the Castro, the Excelsior and West Portal. Coming up are the Richmond, Bayview, Cow Hollow, the Haight, Visitacion Valley and the Mission. The full schedule can be found here.

Ulysses Whittington has been a street cleaner with Public Works for five years and regularly works the CleanCorridorsSF operation. He took a short break after power washing a public trash can and bus shelter.

“I really enjoy it because being a native of San Francisco, it gives me a rewarding feeling to go back and to give back to the community. It makes a difference,” Whittington said. “It not only makes me feel good, but it makes the small business owners and the people that pay taxes here, it makes them happy. It keeps the City clean and that’s what we’re here for.”

Public Works’ Ulysses Whittington shares his thoughts on the weekly cleaning operation.

Brenda Lopez, on the crew that wipes out graffiti, echoed her co-worker.

“What I like best is that it makes our city look cleaner and nicer,” she said, after painting out a couple of tags on a trash can and a traffic signal.

Public Works’ Brenda Lopez talks about the work she does as part of CleanCorridorsSF.

While Lopez was at work with her roller at 18th and Castro streets, Ron Aleman, a member of the Public Works Outreach and Enforcement (OnE) Team, visited with shop owners and managers in the area.


“I’m here to enforce and do outreach; I’m here to educate and inform the community on how we can all partner together and work together to follow codes so that we can see our city really thrive and be a lot cleaner,” Aleman said.

Ron Aleman, a member of the Public Works Outreach and Enforcement (OnE) Team, helps educate and inform the community as part of the cleaning blitz. 

While our street cleaners are on the job 24/7 throughout the City, moving quickly from site to site to respond to the 11,000 or so service requests that come to us each month through the City’s 311 customer service center, the CleanCorridorsSF initiative allows us to do a proactive, deeper cleaning, down to digging out sidewalk weeds and steam cleaning away the grime from curb ramps. The team of 10 to 20 workers typically scours at least eight blocks during each operation. 

Masood Samereie, president of the San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations, happened to be walking down Castro Street during a recent CleanCorridorsSF operation and stopped to ask what was going on with all the Public Works crews in the area. He loved what he was seeing.

Masood Samereie, president of the San Francisco Council of District Merchants, talks about the importance of the weekly deep-cleaning operation. 

“By having clean streets, it’s more inviting to everyone and also for businesses,” Samereie said. “When they see the streets and also the sidewalks clean in front of their businesses, it gives them an empowerment to do more and do better with their businesses and puts them in a much better mood.”

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Castro Elevator
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A rendering shows the planned four-level elevator at Harvey Milk Plaza, part of a Public Works-led project to upgrade the Muni Metro transit station in the Castro District. 

a Civic Space
with Pride

Harvey Milk Plaza, at the intersection of Castro and Market streets, has been at the center of the Castro community for decades – the site of protests, vigils and celebrations – and honors the memory and activism of Harvey Milk, the City’s first openly gay supervisor who represented and lived in the neighborhood. 

Today, this historic hub is undergoing an important upgrade and renovation to make the Muni Metro transit station and surrounding plaza more accessible and inviting. The centerpiece is a visually striking four-level elevator that features translucent, etched laminated glass that encloses the structure and mechanics.


Public Works architects, landscape architects, structural engineers and civil engineers provided the design services, and we are the construction managers for the project. The team also includes Public Works regulatory affairs, street-use and mapping and contract administration. Public Works is delivering the project on behalf of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which operates the Muni Metro light rail station, and in conjunction with BART, which owns the station. 

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The new elevator features translucent, etched laminated glass that encloses the structure and mechanics

The San Francisco Arts Commission, the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza and community members also have been involved in the program and design development.

The elevator and surrounding site work are part of a broader effort to enhance Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility and improve safety at underground Muni stations. Currently, the Castro Muni station has one street-level elevator across from its main entrance near the Pink Triangle Park – where 17th and Market streets intersect. This elevator is hard to access for wheelchair users and others with mobility issues and isn’t adjacent to the Muni No. 35 and No. 37 bus line stops. In addition, when this elevator is out of service, there is no way to access the station without using stairs or an escalator. 

The new state-of-the-art elevator connects all four levels of this topologically complex site: the street level, the below-grade Harvey Milk Plaza, the station agent and concourse level and the platform level of the underground light rail lines. With the elevator’s transparent walls, the station agent is able to keep an eye on elevator riders to promote a sense of safety and connectedness. 

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A rendering shows the planned elevator by night.

Connecting the elevator with the broader neighborhood is a multifaceted sidewalk and plaza renovation project that includes regrading, new planting and lighting and the broadening of the sidewalk.

The brick pavement near the station entrance will be replaced and regraded so that the slope is easier to negotiate. The walkways and sidewalks above the station and on Market Street will be widened to better accommodate crowds and people with mobility challenges. 


The bricks will be removed and replaced with sparkle-colored concrete that matches the paving installed along Castro Street where the sidewalks were widened as part of the Public Works-led streetscape improvement project nine years ago. The existing plaza lighting will be replaced, and the terraces and concourse level will be overhauled with a new landscape design. New fencing and benches will be installed. 


The revamp also will address the multiple entrances to the plaza. For example, a portion of the pathway from Collingwood to Castro streets will be repaved and new landscaping and lighting will go in along the pathway between the concourse and Collingwood Street.


CLW Builders serves as the general contractor for the $11.5 million project. Work is scheduled to wrap up in 2026. More information can be found at Castro Station Accessibility Improvements Project | SFMTA. 

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Better Market St.

Our construction crew pours a new concrete base layer for the sidewalk as part of our Better Market Street project. Once this step is complete, they’ll begin installing a new brick surface. 

Construction on
Better Market Street Project Ramps Up

The Mid-Market corridor is seeing a lot of action these days: Ikea just opened its first San Francisco location at 945 Market St.; a new skatepark will open in UN Plaza this November; and the area’s many theaters are hosting a full slate of hit musicals and plays.

Amid all this activity, the Public Works Better Market Street infrastructure improvement project is in full swing.

Better Market Street is a multi-agency, multi-phase project to revitalize 2.2 miles of Market Street, from Steuart Street to Octavia Street. The first phase of this project, which is now under construction, focuses on the blocks between Fifth and Eighth streets and includes a variety of infrastructure improvements that will make the Mid-Market area safer and more pleasant for all who live, work and travel along the stretch.

The project started in early 2023 but work really picked up this summer. This month, we repaved both the eastbound and westbound curb lanes to create a smoother and safer surface for cyclists and transit riders.

Crews repave the eastbound curb lane to make the ride down Market Street smoother

and safer for cyclists and transit riders.  

Most of our recent sidewalk work has focused on the block between Seventh and Eighth streets. We’ve installed 15 soil cells – plastic contraptions placed underground to manage where tree roots grow and keep them from damaging the sidewalk. We’ve also built two new curb ramps at mid-block crossings.

Much of the remaining work involves the installation of underground electrical conduits for new traffic signals and the construction of new concrete crosswalks. Both undertakings require our construction crews to work in close proximity to the Muni streetcar tracks that run down the middle of the street. To perform this work safely, we will need to shut down Market Street, between Fifth and Eighth streets, for two weeks at a time. The first of these shutdown periods is scheduled to take place from Oct. 14 through Oct. 28. The second closure is tentatively scheduled for early 2024.

During the shutdowns, the three-block segment of Market Street will be closed to bicycles and all other vehicles, including buses and above-ground streetcars. The affected Muni lines include the 5-Fulton, 6-Haight/Parnassus, 7-Haight/Noriega, 9-San Bruno, 19-Polk, 31-Balboa, F-Line historic streetcars and L-Taraval bus. 

Despite the disruption to above-ground transit service, all below-ground BART and Muni rail lines will continue to run normally during these shutdown periods. Pedestrians will have full access to Market Street’s sidewalks and all businesses on the corridor will remain accessible. In addition, all streets that cross Market Street will remain open to traffic.

Extensive preparation goes into planning and executing a temporary change to transit service along one of the City’s busiest transportation corridors. The project team will ensure that traffic-control measures, including barricades and fencing, will be in place. On-the-ground traffic control officers will be deployed, and signage will be erected to inform drivers, transit riders and cyclists of the temporary detours and bus stop relocations.


Crews perform demolition work of the existing street surface in advance of repaving.  

Though these shutdowns will cause temporary inconveniences to transit riders and cyclists, they are necessary to complete the infrastructure improvements that include fully ADA-compliant curb ramps, repaved crosswalks, safer sidewalks and new curb bulb-outs to shorten the crossing distance across Market Street for pedestrians. Also on tap: upgraded traffic signals, new catch basins to improve drainage and streetscape enhancements, including new bike racks, benches and street trees. 

Construction on Better Market Street Phase 1 is expected to last until late spring 2024. If you’d like more information about the project, please visit


To receive regular construction updates via email, sign up here.

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Love Our City

Neighborhood Beautification Day participants work together to plant a new tree in the Sunset District on Saturday, Aug. 26.

Love Our City

Foggy skies and a morning chill in the Sunset District didn’t deter more than 100 spirited volunteers from joining us on Aug. 26 for our monthly Love Our City: Neighborhood Beautification Day.

Our signature volunteer cleaning and greening workdays rotate through San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods each month. The Sunset meetup was the eighth this year. 

With reflective safety vests, eight teams of adults, kids and teens headed off to different parts of the neighborhood to spruce up medians, remove graffiti, plant trees and pick up litter. We focused on the Outer Sunset, from the Great Highway to Sunset Boulevard. Volunteers worked side-by-side with Public Works street cleaning, tree and landscaping pros. Even the youngest among our volunteers were able to dig and prep soil for new plants. A big thank you to the Sunset Elementary School community for hosting our kickoff and providing an enthusiastic cadre of volunteers.


Volunteers of all ages help clean and green the community for the monthly event.

The mighty team of neighborhood stewards wrapped up the Saturday event seeing and feeling that they had made the Sunset more beautiful – while strengthening community ties.

Next month, Love Our City: Neighborhood Beautification Day will be in North Beach, Chinatown, Russian Hill and other District 3 neighborhoods on Sept. 16. We hope you can join us. Please sign up here!

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