On tour with the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.

Place: The Mission’s ODC Theater and Southern Exposure

The visit kicks off in the lobby, the site of a cafeteria come spring, says Mark Cavagnero, the architect for the ODC Theater renovations. Construction is set to begin next month.

“We built it this way so that people from the neighborhood could see what was going on,” says Cavagnero, referring to the studio’s floor-to-ceiling windows as he stands in the Mott Family Studio, facing Shotwell Street.

To get to the theater itself, the group walks through the sound stage — filled with microphones and dials galore — that sits above the theater.

“We don’t take normally take people this way,” says Christy Bolingbroke, associate theater director, as people stop to snap photos.

“Wow, I haven’t been here in so long,” says a middle-aged woman, as she descends the stairs to the 170-seat theater.

Cavagnero speaks about the theater’s signature brick walls and how difficult it was to make them work in a space where some degree of sound reflection is key for dance and musical theater performances.

“Can I just say something?” exclaims a woman from the tour.

This space isn’t just about music or dance, she says.

“This is high-quality performing arts across all genres and venues,” says the woman — named Michaela Cassidy — who’s been involved with ODC in one way or another for 40 years. (She was on the ODC board in the 1980s and is now on the board of SPUR.)

“I’ve seen and heard some of the strangest things here,” she adds. “And I mean that in.…”

“We’ll take that as a compliment,” interjects Nicole Mitchell, theater production manager, drawing laughs from everyone in the room.

“It’s the only jewel fine enough, sexy enough, strong enough to do all the things it wants to do in this community,” continues Cassidy.

Many nod their head in agreement.

Mitchell points to the stage’s ceiling, covered by lights and wires.

“Do you see those big silver things?” she asks. “I’ll give 10 cents to anyone who can guess what they are.”


“They’re woks!” she says. They catch all the wires from the light trusses, and they come from a local restaurant supply store.

“You should patent that,” someone shouts.

“We should,” concurs Mitchell. “It’s a strange idea, but it worked.”

Cavagnero says that subwoofers, or loudspeakers, were built into the floors beneath audience seats, so that viewers can actually feel vibrations from the sound throughout performances. Chopping blocks were also added to the floor makeup, for sound-enhancing purposes.

Next Stop: Southern Exposure on 20th and Alabama

It’s not alone in the neighborhood. Nearby is Art Explosion Gallery on Harrison and 19th and Cellspace on Bryant, close to 18th. Courtney Fink, executive director, says Southern Exposure is planning Lunar Mission, which will be held on March 19. Fink envisions an artwalk involving several galleries in the area, from 19th to 24th and Folsom to Bryant.

Although there are more galleries, “it’s food, food, food, food, us,” says Fink. Richard Johnson, Southern Exposure’s designer, mentions the Parlour by Humphry Slocombe, which is slated to be housed in the same building as Flour + Water on 20th and Harrison.

“It could be worse,” Michaela interjects.

The group moves through the gallery’s intimate 4,000-square-foot art space.

The communal office — one desk in the middle of the room surrounded by four chairs — sits behind glass walls. It was designed with a mindset similar to that at ODC Theater.

“We did it this way so that there’d be a connection to the streets, so people could see the workspace,” says Johnson.

The tour here is short, and people linger to see the latest exhibit, which includes black tombstones on the ground.

Oona Lyons, a recent graduate from California College of the Arts, works at Jensen Architects as a graphic designer. She came to the tour because her firm had extra tickets, but also because she wants to learn more about architecture.

“It’s so exciting! I got to start coming to all these places more. I got all these…” she trails off, signaling to brochures from ODC and Southern Exposure.

Next to her is Robert Craft, an elderly man from Novato who’s using his large umbrella as a cane to walk around.

“I’m 83 years old. This is good exercise!” he jokes, referring to why he’s on the tour.

The owner of the printing business Craft Press Inc., he estimates he’s been on 15 to 20 of SPUR’s tours, because he enjoys learning as much as he can about San Francisco’s history.

“This Mission — there’s such history here. It’s so nice to see all this happening.”

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