A privately owned public space forms part of an urban renaissance
in San Francisco's South of Market Area.
By Mark Hinshaw
Photo by Peg Skorpinski
On the north side of Mission Street in San Francisco, between First
and Second Streets, a privately owned public space offers a visually
stunning centerpiece. Adjacent to the 560 Mission buildingan
elegant office tower designed by Cesar Pellithis
narrow but deep public space is a singing example of elegant minimalism.
It seems to be successful from a social perspective as well. People
lounge about on the terraces. During the weekday, movable chairs
are brought out to encourage schmoozing, lunching, and lingering.
It is not uncommon to see passersby glance sideways, do a double
take, and stop dead in their tracks to take in the scene.
Not too many years ago, this South of Market Street Areaor
SOMAwas a hellhole worthy of a Dickens novel.
Dilapidated buildings were filled with flophouses, missions, sleazy
bars, X-rated movie houses, and pawnshops. People foolish enough
to walk there found themselves passing through gauntlets of drunks,
drug addicts, drug dealers, hookers, and street hustlers pushing
every conceivable scam.
Three decades later, with the last pieces of an urban renaissance
dropping into place, SOMA is now a bustling neighborhood. Swirling
around the sprawling and largely underground Moscone Convention
Center are art museums, upscale housing, trendy restaurants, galleries,
lofts, and swanky hotels. Anchoring the area is a splendid park
that regularly hosts high-profile events. Nearby, a vast Nordstrom
store sits atop a glittering shopping complex on a site that used
to be occupied by a row of tawdry burlesque theatersand
we're not talking vaudeville here. Yes, the place has certainly
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