When the women of Double Union received notice that their lease would not be renewed after it expired in September, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.
“Its Valencia Street – we were right next to Four Barrel,” said the group’s executive director, Mary Becica, sighing. Operating on a one-year lease, the feminist hacker and maker space was one of many non-profits that occupied the historic Fog Building at 333 Valencia St. – until a bid to buy the building came in from the Prado Group, a major realtor company that specializes in residential and mixed-use properties.
“They told us they were doing long-term renovations to the building, and that it was unclear if we would be able to move back in,” said Becica. “At that moment, we knew that our fate was sealed. We were toast.”
Having worked out of a prime location on Valencia Street with access to public transportation, a variety of restaurants and other art spaces and female-oriented organizations, the ladies of Double Union were understandably reluctant to leave.
“One of the things that (this eviction) is doing is making it harder for these kind of community spaces to exist– for the kind that are explicitly trying to serve underprivileged communities in the city, it’s nearly impossible,” said Becica.
Nevertheless, they knew they would have to leave because Prado wants to make the space a startup co-working space.
“We thought that they may let us move back in, but it quickly became clear that that wasn’t the case,” said Britta Gustafson, a Double Union member. “Leaving the Mission was tough for us.”
An effort to address sexism in technology, Double Union was founded in 2013 and has evolved into a network of women seeking to work with and and learn from each other without the pressures and inhibitions of gender roles.
When faced with displacement, Becica and others who make up the organization knew that what they had spent the past two years creating – a safe space in the city where women could sew, write, build, code, muse and connect – had to be maintained.
Despite some savings from the group’s membership-based funding model, “space hunting” in the current rental climate proved challenging.
“We pretty much depleted all of our savings,” said Becica. “We knew that if we wanted to stay in the city, we would need support from the community to make that happen.”
Resourceful and true to form, the women turned to technology, and each other, for help.
In September, the group started an Indiegogo campaign, and exceeded their goal of raising $8,000 to cover their moving costs in just ten days– proof, said Becica, of the public’s need for the space and comfort to be creative.
One of the few things that Double Union wouldn’t compromise on was moving to Oakland, joked Becica. Luckily they didn’t have to.
The “lady hackers” were able to secure a new home in Potrero Hill, at 1250 Missouri St. Having added a kitchen, a bigger workspace, and a backyard to that will enable them to create at a greater capacity, the women have adapted well so far.
Classes and workshops ranging from topics such as sewing and homemade gift-wrapping, to programming and woodworking are offered on a weekly basis – and for those who want to work, or unplug, in a safe space where mutual respect is a base assumption, the doors are always open. Kind of.
“We are working on getting front door access,” said Becica. The group recently designed a “doorbell” app to grant members access to their new building using their phones.
Building on the momentum of their fundraising campaign, Becica said that the extra money raised during their campaign will be used to create a transportation fund to grant members better access to the new, more remote location. They hope this will encourage others to join when Double Union opens its membership in January.
“I’m optimistic that spaces like these are going to stay in San Francisco, but they are going to change,” said Becica, acknowledging that group’s tech savviness and large membership helped them to avoid the displacement from the city that many art spaces are experiencing. “Traditional art spaces are still here, but because of technology, they are evolving. But the need for spaces like this will always exist.”
And while many of its members lead careers in tech, Double Union is careful not to brand itself as being exclusive to women of the tech community. Regardless of income or professional background, any woman with an affinity for learning new skills is welcome.
“We have a lot of “techie” members and we do a lot of technically cool projects, but we don’t want to speak for women in tech in general,” said Becica. “If anything, we also want to serve the makers who are not in tech. That’s really critical in getting more underprivileged and minority women interested in more technical things.”
“That conscious effort to open the space up to people who are lower-income and still making an effort to allow them to come to the space…is what attracted me to Double Union,” said Laurel Heart, a member of the organization. The 25-year-old works at a startup that manufactures interactive toys and apps for children. “There are lots of meet ups for women around tech, but not as many that make sense for everyone.”
Isn’t this why we voted for Prop J?
This business is maybe 5 years old. Prop J only protects “historic” businesses
Yes, that historic preservation fund requires businesses and nonprofits to be more than 30 years old, and Double Union is only 2 years old (it started in the Fog Building in October 2013).