I spent some time on the fringe of a group of ambitious makers. The focus of their energy was an incredible live/work space. It was a project two years in the making that reached a premature end last September. It was a home for artists, creators, and anyone that was willing to make something great.
They started with this 6,000 square foot fixer-upper. Formerly an auto-body shop in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, it became a home for a bunch of scrappy dreamers.
The first wave of residents were a mix of open-minded friends-of-friends and desperate Craigslisters. One notable entrance was a pair that drove non-stop from Montreal to San Francisco. On their first night in the city, they parked their car in the warehouse, made a tent and went to sleep. Other residents set up their own camps and eventually a tent city emerged. It was around the time the Occupy movement was beginning to gain momentum. The shared imagery of a temporary community felt poignant.
In bursts of productivity, the residents sculpted the warehouse’s character. The first iteration of the kitchen was a second hand refrigerator, stove, bucket and a hose. Someone built a kitchen sink to replace the bucket. Someone else moved the entire kitchen to new location.
Every resident came to the warehouse with some understanding of cooperative living. Those that didn’t came with a high tolerance for experimentation. The vision for the space and the community was lofty, high minded and intellectually rigorous. The reality was a compromise between those idealistic visions and the practical needs of people living there.
A rooftop garden was assembled and then relocated when neighboring condo dwellers complained.
They created a wood shop with an impressive inventory. A planar, a chop saw, a table saw. Anything and everything you needed to make a picture frame or a table.
Unoccupied rooms became bike shops, painting studios, sculpture workshops, and crafting studios.
There was a constant flux of new residents. It made the community exciting, but it also crippled its capacity to embark on long term projects. It’s most important role, to me at least, was a haven for transplants and transients. It was there for people who needed a week, two weeks, or a few months to start their life in the city.