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San Francisco Armory sells for $65 million (updated)

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Army fort turned porn studio turned events venue now reportedly in hands of trendy clubs company

Photo by Sanfranman59/Wikicommons

[Update: Supervisor Hillary Ronen told the San Francisco Chronicle that she’s spoken with the developers and that they intend to use the building not for luxury dining and socializing, but instead for offices and manufacturing space.

Although purchaser Chicago-based AJ Capital Partners has developed Soho House projects before, Ronen says they’re not doing it in San Francisco.]

The San Francisco Armory, perhaps the only historic SF building with a more colorful and unpredictable history than the prison on Alcatraz Island, is now set to transition to the next phase of its ever more unpredictable life after chic London-based nightlife company Soho House purchased it for $65 million this week.

That’s according to the San Francisco Business Times. In late 2017 International Business Times reported that Soho had its eye on the Armory and was reaching for its pocketbook, but at the time, a confused Armory spokesperson denied any sale was pending.

Now three months later the paper reports again that it’s a done deal, with the buyer being an LLC related to Soho.

According to Eater SF, Soho specializes in exclusive private restaurants and clubs catering to the highest of the high-end:

Soho House was founded by restaurateur Nick Jones in 1995, located in a vacant space above his London restaurant Café Boheme. Now it operates in 18 locations, and its US clubs in New York and West Hollywood charge annual memberships of $2,100 to join a single club — more to have access to them all. Locally, its closest equivalent is the Battery.

But Eater also notes that Soho properties in some cities are open to the general public. Peter Acworth, owner of the bondage-heavy porn studio Kink.com, bought the Armory in 2006 to the tune of $14.5 million under the discrete name of “Armory Studios.”

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Previously the Armory had a reputation as a “cursed” property that had thwarted new development for decades.

“It’s a crazy white elephant of a building for which one is lucky to find any viable use,” a local real estate lawyer told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000 after a plan for Armory tech offices fell apart.

In its many previous lives, the Armory served as a redoubt for the U.S. Army, hence its foreboding architecture “designed to convey the impression of a heavily armored and forbidding Moorish fortress, with four octagonal towers,” as the building’s official history site notes.

Later it became a sports venue, “the Madison Square Garden of the West,” famous for prize-fight boxing in its center courtyard. Plans to turn it into a film studio in the 1980s fell apart, although it did makes it mark on cinema history when George Lucas filmed some explosions there for scenes in The Empire Strikes Back.

Notably, the biggest obstacle to repurposing the building pre-Kink was opposition by local anti-gentrification activists. If Soho really goes ahead with plans for an ultra-exclusive club in the historic building, it will be interesting to see how the neighborhood responds.