Art History on 18th Street

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Goodman 2 Arts Complex artists (L-R) : D. Maya Herrera, arts and crafts; Margarite Reynolds, book design and production; Bill Samios, painter; Susan Marie Johnson, sculptor; Lua Hadar, singer, producer, teacher; Dave Holsonback, sculptor; Sofia Carmi, painter; Carolyn Crampton, painter; Joan Schulze, fiber artist and quilts; Onyx Williams, painter, Anahid Aslanyan, visual artist, assemblage and photography. Photo: Peter Linenthal

Many Potrero Hill and Dogpatch apartment complexes are products of a 1990s building boom. Between 1988 and 2000, 3000 live-work lofts, intended to provide artists with housing and workspace, were built. However, the spaces were generally too expensive for the creative class, instead nicknamed ‘lawyer lofts’.  

An exception is 1695 18th Street, an innovative structure built after years of disputes over open space, affordable housing, and live-work lofts. 

For many years, the southern opening of a railroad tunnel emerged on the half-block site. The tunnel was filled-in in 1962, for good reason, as can be seen on Youtube: ‘Potrero Hill tunnel fire and cave-in’. In 1990, a developer proposed building there. Neighbors, including this reporter, organized to preserve the site as open space. Anchor Brewery created ‘Potrero Commons Ale’ as a fundraiser for the effort. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors rejected the idea in 1991, preferring to construct housing for artists evicted by the Redevelopment Agency in 1983 from the Goodman Building, a huge, ramshackle, 1860 edifice located at 1117 Geary Boulevard. 

The Goodman Building had for decades been a communal living, performance and education space with shared bathrooms and kitchens.  During different periods residents included Janis Joplin, psychedelic poster designer Wes Wilson, and about thirty other artists, including a mad concert pianist. A paint-spattered attic featured pigeons flying in and out of jagged holes. 

The Goodman artists organized as Artsdeco and joined with other displaced San Francisco creatives. With municipal funding, help from San Francisco Heritage, and a National Education Association grant, in 1996 Artsdeco partnered with developers and found a new home at architect David Baker’s artist loft building on 18th Street. The edifice, known as Goodman 2 Arts Complex, has 30 live-work studios – five of them along with a theater space owned by Artsdeco – a three-story atrium, garden, with part of the old tunnel serving as a garage.  Goodman 2 has won best landscaping, best mixed-use project, and American Institute of Architects awards. 

Goodman 2 mixes market- and below-market-rate owners with below-market-rate renters.  Residents include filmmakers, writers, musicians, and visual, metal, ceramic, fabric, commercial artists,. Vacancies are rare, with applications chosen by lottery. 

Artsdeco member Martha Senger described Goodman 2 as ‘the reincarnation of a grassroots cultural institution’.