The Armory Community Center is poised to host public sports, art and educational events, as well as private functions, now that the city has granted a recreation permit allowing the owner of the landmark brick structure to expand its G-rated family fare.
The driver behind the project is Peter Acworth, owner of the historic Mission building and founder of Kink.com, an Internet company that produces BDSM-themed (dominant and submissive sexual role-playing and bondage) content for the web. Kink.com and the new events space will be kept separate, Andrew Harvill, director of TACC, was quick to explain.
“Peter wants to diversify,” Harvill said. “He doesn’t want to do only porn.”
Work to transform a 40,000-square-foot drill court began at the start of this year. The space was previously available for use with day permits, which made it impossible to streamline a long-term events calendar with repeating events, such as the multi-night theater production that will open next month. The American Conservatory Theater will put on “Black Watch” from May 9 through June 9.
Kink.com staff said that company activities won’t affect events at TACC, and that the two spaces will have different entries.
“We are working hard to show that this is not porn-related,” said Harvill. The studio has been criticized by community members for the nature of its product. “We don’t know how the neighbors are going to respond, but we want to work very closely with them,” he said.
The first conversations, Harvill said, have been mostly positive, except for one person “who just didn’t like Peter and what he does.” Even some members of the Anarchist Book Fair, which was held at the armory last month, were skeptical of having their event at the BDSM headquarters. Harvill is considering proposing monthly meetings with neighbors to keep the lines of communication open. “If they weren’t happy, we would consider it a failure,” he said.
Neighbors did complain when Kink.com moved into the Armory building at 14th and Mission streets in 2007, but the relationship seems to have eased since then. “I think they have done a good job keeping the property clean outside and keeping it private. Those were the major concerns,” said Roberto Hernandez, a longtime community organizer in the Mission who was one of the protesters in 2007.
Hernandez described this new venture as “great,” emphasizing that the center will not be part of Kink.com and will have a separate entrance. The company’s plan to offer reduced rates to nonprofit and neighborhood groups that want to rent the space will be excellent for the community, Hernandez said.
The company’s plan is to start out slow and host “peaceful, quiet events,” at least in the beginning. “We think that loud rock concerts or parties would not be right for the neighborhood right now,” said Harvill. He has already been asked about hosting a Halloween party, but is hesitant to say yes because it might run counter to the low-key, family-friendly image he hopes to promote for the space.
Carey Perloff, ACT’s artistic director, said that she is not concerned about using the Armory space for the theater company’s upcoming show, since it has a separate entry.
“We needed to find a huge space that could accommodate audience on two sides and lots of marching and movement in between,” said Perloff. The company searched all around the Bay Area for something suitable and considered everything from piers to airport hangars to other theaters, but “nothing worked until General Manager Don-Scott Cooper went to see the drill hall at the Armory … It’s absolutely perfect for the piece in every way.”
In recent weeks, workers have been replacing the floor to improve the acoustics. Windows will also be replaced and the walls repainted. Renovations start at 5 a.m. and stop in the afternoon so that construction noise does not interfere with film shoots at Kink.com. If everything goes as planned, there will be a second round of improvements at some point.
TACC is in conversations with other organizations about hosting such events as amateur boxing competitions, roller derbies, film festivals, flea markets and book fairs, as well as events for large tech companies.
The venue, which can hold up to 3,997 people, was a National Guard armory until 1976, used for military drills and training. In 1978, filmmaker George Lucas used the space to film spaceship interior scenes for the movie “Star Wars.” The San Francisco Opera used the court for building sets and for rehearsals in the 1990s.
The community events space will be Acworth’s second new venture within the past year. In September 2012, the Kink.com founder opened a bar just across the street, called the Armory Club. He has planned to open a community center in the Armory almost from the time he bought the building, in 2006.
Find out more about TACC and how to book future events here.