Newspapers are getting smaller and smaller, and the cubicles within them are growing emptier and emptier. At the same time, the buildings that house those empty newspaper cubicles are getting more and more expensive. The San Francisco Chronicle’s parent company has come up with an elegant solution: It is renting out the space in its historic 1924 building to Intersection for the Arts, a local performance and visual arts nonprofit.
The Chronicle building — the newspaper’s second office, after the first was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires — was built in the Gothic Revival style, “said to reflect the scholastic and romantic nature of the newspaper business,” according to San Francisco’s SPUR.
It has been the Hearst-owned paper’s home for the nearly 90 years since. But as staff at the Chronicle has shrunk — as it has in newspapers everywhere — management sought a way to save money, especially because the newspaper was headquartered just blocks away from Market Street, a stretch of prime real estate.
In 2009, three technology companies leased space on the building’s first floor. The year after, Intersection, which worked out of the Mission District since the 1980s, joined the collective and the space. Reporting on its new tenants, the Chronicle wrote, “The ground floor of the San Francisco Chronicle building, at 901 Mission St., may seem at first like an odd location for a radical cross-sector collaboration with entrepreneurs and innovators working to create social change. But times are tough for newspapers.” This week, Intersection announced that it will be giving up its Mission space and moving into the Chronicle building altogether.
The partnership between Intersection and the Chronicle could become a model for other cities. Opening empty space in iconic newspaper buildings to arts organizations is a good way to preserve the decorum of the landmark buildings, which hold more history than your average office building. Adding an arts group to the space speaks more to the building’s sense of public-service purpose than, say, converting units into condos.
Intersection is best known for its performing arts groups, since as the Campo Santo theater company, Erika Chong Shuch Performance Project, Living Word and Felonious. In the 70s and 80s, it fostered early works from starts like Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams. Reporting again on its new tenants, the Chronicle interviewed Intersection’s executive director, Deborah Cullinan. “We're not losing a space,” she said. “We're creating a new one.” The same could be said for the paper.