If San Francisco’s historic buildings could talk, they’d tell tales of transformation over the years. (Courtesy photo)

If San Francisco’s historic buildings could talk, they’d tell tales of transformation over the years. (Courtesy photo)

My old building has seen it all


I awoke on Tuesday morning to my house shaking. I knew it wasn’t an earthquake because the wind outside was howling like a wild animal. But still, it’s a hell of a thing to be shaken awake.

As of this year, my building will be 103 years old. Sitting on the border of SoMa and the Mission, this three-story edifice was built in 1914, 12 years after the Great Conflagration of 1906. It witnessed the area rebuilt from rubble into a sparsely populated, working-class neighborhood that, over the years, had more factories than inhabitants. Marin Dairymen’s Milk Company bottled the calcium-packed white stuff at Howard and 13th. Coca-Cola bottled the sugary brown stuff at 11th and Mission. Hamm’s brewed the golden boozy stuff at 15th and Bryant. And there were dozens of nondrinkable things manufactured right here in the neighborhood as well.

As the years wore on and the manufacturers and their associated jobs left The City and the country, my building watched as the neighborhood became a post-industrial wasteland. What was once a bustling area full of workmen became an expanse of empty warehouses and factories. This is when the real magic began …

Gay leather bars like the Stud, the Eagle, the Ramrod, the Covered Wagon and more opened along Folsom Street in the ’70s, bringing light and life to the previously dark and empty neighborhood. At the same time, the Cacophony Society started having formal dinner parties in burnt out SoMa buildings and set off what would later be called “Urban Exploration.” In the ’80s, crusty punks turned the abandoned Hamm’s Brewery into a crash pad and rehearsal space, called The Vats.

This confluence of queerness, punk and disco and freaky underground San Francisco culture turned the intersection of 11th and Folsom streets into the epicenter for all things deemed “other.” Night clubs and art spaces popped up, giving weirdos venues to perform in. And eateries like Hamburger Mary’s opened so the late-night (or all-night) revelers had a place to nourish themselves. Hamburger Mary’s also became a refuge for many of these same revelers when the AIDS crisis hit and the community needed safe spaces.

The neighborhood stayed underground and grimy until the ’90s dotcom boom and the venues in the 11th and Folsom area started attracting a more upscale clientele. My building watched as queer, artist and underground spaces became fancy night clubs, and warehouse spaces were turned into live-work lofts.

The tech bubble bursted, and while a few nightclubs like DNA Lounge and Slim’s stayed around, many slowly disappeared. Then, after another falter, the economy came roaring back. This time, it was the gay bars that started disappearing, often replaced by straight-mixed bars to accommodate the new, well-off neighbors who were moving into recently built condos in droves. Brand-new nightclubs are now sprouting up as we speak.

I moved into my place in 2012, after living all over San Francisco for the previous 10 years. My neighborhood is strange and gritty, both post-industrial and full of brand-new buildings. I often joke that I live at the corner of diarrhea and needles because, well, it’s true. My neighbors are homeless people, weirdos, queerdoes and tech workers. And depending on the night, I see everything from big gay bears to drag queens to goths to straight-laced cats in Ralph Lauren gear.

My building is 103 years old. It’s seen a lot of history, a lot of changes, some better than others. When the wind blows really hard or a semi-truck drives by — or one of my roommates is having sex — this whole place shakes like an earthquake. But as long as it withstands The Big One and as long as I don’t get evicted, I’m not going anywhere. I’m excited to be adding onto whatever chapter comes next.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.

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