Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Armory Tour

At last! I post about my armory tour of a few months ago. Due to the fact that my scanner is broken and I don't own a digital camera (I'm starting to draw imaginary lines at technology consumerism--I just can't own and learn how to use all the stuff that's available on a monthly basis these days), I was delayed in writing about an exciting visit to a mysterious former urban ruin. The armory was built in 1912 in San Francisco's Mission District and was used by the military for training and whatever else the military needed. It had been abandoned since 1970 until this year when Peter Acworth, CEO of, bought it for $14.5 million to house his Internet porn empire (and probably to rent out space to non-porn film crews at some point). You can read more about the sale of the building, as well as see much better photos than I took at this SF Gate article.

True, there were initially some neighborhood protests as started moving into the city-block long building, but the porn company has done much outreach (and offered many friendly tours) to all interested parties. They've promised to clean up the exterior of the building and light it up outside so it will no longer resemble a Gothic prison covered in graffiti and overrun by illegal street activities. I realize that some people reading this might not take to porn but know that is highly regarded both inside and outside the industry as an honest, fair-minded employer of well, porn workers.

Erich Von StroheimIf you don't like reading about porn (and this will be a clean read); if it makes you feel all "gitchy" inside and mad and like I'm going to hell, I'll give you a warning. If I'm writing about anything kind of porny, you'll see this image of silent-film director genius, Erich Von Stroheim--a man known for his multiple military, foot, and hand fetishes, as well as some not-so-hidden S&M proclivities. A man who knew something about censorship, since all of his films were heavily edited by studio heads, and are only available in butchered form today (or not at all--many were destroyed). A man who shot a few orgies on the studio dime, which never made it into general distribution. Clearly, a filmmaker who would appreciate an armory tour. Here he is: fair warning.

I've wanted to see the inside of this building since the early 80s when I would walk by its foreboding exterior on the way to some dive bar or warehouse party or performance art happening of some sort. It was a sort of Sleeping Beauty castle that no one could penetrate. So when my friend from grad school started working for, and I read about the building sale, I immediately bombarded her with requests for a tour. And she complied! A bunch of us former film students gathered one night for potluck dinner, then ran around the building, taking photos and seeing a fabulous night-view of the city from a tower only reachable from a rusty old ladder on the roof. My photos are dark and grainy--sorry about that. Maybe it's fitting.

Here are some of us in the basement. The basement of the armory is awesome because it's really decrepit and it has a creek that runs through it. Yes--a creek. You have to use stepping stones and some make-shift bridges to get around down there. I put some arrows in the photo to show how high the creek rises if the pump stops working. Before the building sale, the pump did stop working and that's how high it went. Gnarly! There have been some shoots down here, but no props that we could see other than some chains hanging from overhead. has not started building a lot of sets yet. They're in transition mode with their old building, which is full of props and sets that look like the lair of Snow White's wicked step mother.
Running around in the basement. There was a child on the tour, so we kept it clean, or oblique anyway. He was such a trouper. It might be fun to re-name all of us (except the child, of course) with fake porn names, like when you use the name of your first pet and the name of the first street you ever lived on to come up with your porn name. I've had multiple pets and lived on many streets, so I can dole these out pretty easily. That's Caz Pasadena above. The child shall remain nameless. Photos by Tasha Tamarack.
Here's a close-up of the creek. It's full of some kind of rusty sludge and God knows what else. Kind of beautiful in a dark, mysterious way.
Brandi Page and Caz Pasadena check out the big marble bathroom. I blew it and should have photographed the dozens of commodes on the other wall, but you get the idea. Lots and lots of bathroom activities over the years.

Our lovely tour-guide, Gertie McAllister, demonstrates the dunking chair. Strap your subject in and dunk him or her backwards into the water below. Don't forget to raise it back up again. By the way, has a rule that no one can cry or look like they're suffering in any of their films. Personally the dunking chair is a little too "Salem witch trial" for my tastes, but it's got a natural wicker look to it that I like. Other props we saw: doctor's office table with leg stirrups and dentist chair with lots of padded details and shiny metal things. Again, not sexy to me--I really avoid the doctor or dentist as much as possible, but different strokes...

It's too dark, but way beyond and below these stands is the drill court, where platoons practiced their perfect marching while spectators, generals and what-not watched far above. Or you could stage some female mud-wrestling as well. The drill court is like a football field under a domed ceiling. The highlight of the tour was climbing up 147 rickety wooden steps on top of the dome to see the city all around us. Gee, San Francisco sure is pretty! Pretty porny!

Other stuff we saw: horse stables in the basement (not fun for horses, I bet), huge furnace that you can crawl into (and some have), many offices that will soon be...offices. Interesting dream I had that night after the tour: part of the building was turned into a gallery and featured a HUGE sculpture of Mr. Potatohead. I think that's as kinky as I get.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wow, cool tour. and check the gas prices outside the armory - vintage!