San Francisco, California
Sand Hill Property Company
250,000 sq. ft.
Adaptive reuse, historic preservation
When 233 Geary Street Property Owner (233GPO) purchased 233 Geary, a midcentury icon at San Francisco’s Union Square, the building had suffered decades of neglect. As the I. Magnin department store, it once embodied luxury and refinement in shopping. But by 2019 it was outmoded, inefficient, and severely underused. 233GPO was deeply aware of the building’s historic significance and confident of its future potential. Their challenge was to find the optimal balance between the two, while navigating a complex development landscape. 233 Geary is beloved by locals and historic preservation groups, making public engagement and architectural excellence especially crucial. The changing nature of retail introduced uncertainty about demand and, combined with local zoning requirements, necessitated early, high-level strategic definition and planning. Shortly after acquiring the property, 233GPO brought WOWA into their in-house team, to help define and implement their vision.
WOWA’s role began with intensive listening and analysis. We synthesized data to understand the local development ecosystem and worked with 233GPO to articulate a vision for 233 Geary. We helped define criteria for success and create the narrative for stakeholder engagement. Strategic thinking in the pre-design stage crystalised the owner’s goals and how to meet them. This midcentury gem will be transformed by Handel Architects into world-class twenty-first-century mixed-use architecture, combining retail, office, and residential uses in a flexible configuration, and bringing renewed vibrancy to the Union Square district. To ensure architectural excellence and best practices in execution, WOWA participated in selecting the design team and is representing the owner’s interests throughout. The creation of a digital twin for 233 Geary enabled remote coordination, analysis, and visualization for the design and entitlements processes, fostering pandemic resilience during 2020’s COVID-19 disruptions.
With 233 Geary, WOWA unlocked a historic icon’s future potential. The existing 250,000 square feet, redesigned to adapt to changing patterns of use and market conditions, are positioned to remain vibrant and profitable for decades to come. The digital strategy for the development is future oriented and open to technological change at every level. The digital twin is a true innovation for San Francisco. Its adoption builds capacity for 233GPO and sets an important precedent for the local real estate industry. Its predictive power enables decisions that prioritize the health and well-being of the building’s users, improve efficiency, and reduce its carbon footprint. Climate-responsive features align with the city’s environmental aspirations, while 233 Geary’s dynamic mix of uses will reactivate the surrounding urban space, increasing foot traffic, creating employment opportunities, and breathing new life into the Union Square district.