Armory Finds New Life in Porn

I have no problem with preservation of interesting, older buildings. Better than a strip mall, right? I'd even like to take a tour of the interior. Ahem.

Venetian Night

No Condos, Please: Old Armory Finds New Life in Porn -

When the National Guard left this city's historic State Armory and Arsenal building in 1975, the big Moorish castle fell into disrepair. Today, it has a controversial new lease on life.

Over the years, developers suggested turning the 1914 building, which is a mile from City Hall on the edge of the Mission District, into a church, storage space or an apartment complex. But proposals kept getting shot down, many of them falling victim to the city's powerful Planning Department and a thicket of zoning rules. Developers joked that the 200,000-square-foot Armory, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was cursed.

It turns out there was an easy way to preserve the Armory that doesn't run afoul of San Francisco's planners: make pornography there. In December, Peter Acworth, chief executive of the Internet porn company, bought the landmark building for $14.5 million. Last week, Kink began shooting bondage films at the site, and the Planning Department doesn't have a problem with that.

Mr. Acworth says city officials were especially pleased that he planned to use the Armory as is, without making big changes to its interior. That way, he didn't have to go before San Francisco's Landmarks Board for approval. In fact, the building's very details -- the dungeon-like boiler room, shadowy rifle range and wet basement -- appealed to Mr. Acworth.

“It's an authentic castle, whereas we had been building fake castles all this time” for our films, Mr. Acworth says.

and the planning office is right: they shouldn't be concerned with moral impropriety. Not their role. Let Bile-Bill Donohue worry about it, or some other moral scold with their head up their sphincter.

Former suitors took it all in and saw a massive renovation project. Mr. Acworth saw the perfect backdrop for Kink's hardcore videos. The 36-year-old Englishman says he had been studying for a graduate degree in finance in 1997 when he decided to drop out, move to San Francisco and start filming risqué videos in his apartment. In 1999, he launched CyberNet Entertainment LLC, which later became Kink. By last year, the company had $20 million in annual revenue, Mr. Acworth says, and nearly 70 employees, and it needed new digs.

Mr. Acworth, who was introduced to the Armory by a movie location scout in 2005, was immediately inspired by the building's size, winding stone staircases and marble columns. He kept in touch with the building's owner, a company run by businessman Kelly Ng. He had tried to sell the Armory several times but to no avail, and his own two-year effort to convert it to condominium apartments kept hitting roadblocks. In November, Mr. Acworth entered talks to buy the Armory. His lawyer sent a letter to a city planning official named Larry Badiner, stating that Kink intended to use the Armory to make “independent films and NC-17 rated films.” NC-17 is the designation given to X-rated movies, denying admission to anyone under the age of 17.

In January, Mr. Badiner responded, saying the proposed use seemed just fine. The zoning official says he didn't notice the wording about NC-17 films. “Frankly, I kind of missed that,” he says.

Still, Mr. Badiner and other officials who signed off on the plan say it's hard to imagine a better proposal than this one. Amit Ghosh, director of the city's Planning Department, has publicly said, “The planning not really worried with moral propriety.”

Mr. Acworth says he was surprised things went so smoothly for Kink at the Planning Department. “It's kind of funny that it's porn that has got everyone thinking” about how the planning rules should change, he adds.

Mr. Acworth says he plans to rent some space in the Armory to mainstream film producers, and that he will use the building to shoot his own features. Among the film ideas floated by his employees: shooting a naked-paintball scene, suspending women from the 65-foot-ceiling of the building's onetime drill court and using the dark, underground hallways to make zombie movies.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on February 10, 2007 9:21 AM.

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