Friday, December 31, 2010

Stable Fare on Folsom Street

 The Stable Café on 2128 Folsom Street in San Francisco ( is located in what appears to be an old stable where: - “The café features a menu drawn from owner Thomas Brian's Neapolitan Agrarian roots. The aromas of baking and fresh brewing coffee make this a welcome morning spot. Lunch is a seasonal menu with daily specials which share old family recipes with a modern twist. The evening ambiance is warm and inviting with tapas, beer, and wine. All recipes start with local, sustainable, and fresh ingredients.”

The building clearly demonstrates the architectural features of a stable, best seen in the front photograph where the second story hayloft door is open, with a dog casually observing passersby below. Above the central door is a beam that would have been used with a block and tackle to haul hay into the loft. The building is constructed of wood, which would make it very old. Bylaws at the end of the 19th Century outlawed wooden stable construction because the fire risk was extremely high. The combination of hay and open flame lighting in the mid 1800’s was clearly volatile. California may have had different building codes than D.C. at the time.

The façade has been restored at some point and adapted to its current use. Originally there would have been a large front fenestration with a heavy hinged wooden door for horses with an adjacent standard sized door for people.

It is unusual for a stable to have been built on a main street, because the majority of stables were constructed in alleys. There, out of sight from the public, the attendant smell and general commotion was unheeded. While the front of the stable café has simple corbels that are appropriate for the mid 1800’s, the window and door pilasters are more elegant than generally found in stables. It is entirely possible that the “stable” element of the café is an architectural conceit. On the other hand, it is also possible that the Folsom St. Stable Café was originally a small commercial stable or livery that fronted onto the main street.

A large segment of the second floor has been removed to create an open modern “loft” appearance. The kitchen is completely modern. For many years Washington D.C. had its own “stable-restaurant” – The Iron Gate Restaurant at 1734 N St. NW– which has recently shuttered its doors and has gone out of business.

The value of architectural historic preservation is not so much a matter of hanging on to the past but more about keeping buildings and areas of historic interest intact to whatever extent is possible so that when either the era or a novel use catches up to them, they are still there to be used. Original buildings that have been adaptively reused give people a sense of “warmth” and appreciation for historic continuity that is reaching into the future. 

“Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.”
(Jane Jacobs)