Maybe it was the profile of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in The New Yorker. He mentioned South Park and the aha moment he had with his fellow coders from Odeo there. That got me thinking about Chronicle’s proximity to what has become hallowed ground in the digital era.
Ground Zero in the dot-com and web 2.0 eras.
Chronicle Books is situated in the South of Market (SOMA) district of San Francisco, more specifically within a two-block radius of South Park in an area that was known as Silicon Gulch in the first dot-com era.
Chronicle Books is around the corner from South Park.
Some call it South Park Ave., some South Park St.
Either way, it’s South Park.
Today, our neighborhood is officially designated as the South End Historic District by the San Francisco Planning Dept. But first, a little history.
Official sign designating our historic district.
South Park was once one of the more fashionable addresses in San Francisco owing to the real estate acumen of English transplant George Gordon. His vision was of an exclusive neighborhood like that of London’s Berkeley Square. To ensure exclusivity, Gordon insisted that no stores or saloons would be allowed in his development. Constructed in 1855, South Park was first to feature paved streets and sidewalks in San Francisco.
South Park in its original Regency style incarnation, pre-1906 earthquake.
This elite enclave began to lose its luster when in 1869 Second Street was cut through Rincon Hill to the waterfront thus opening the neighborhood to all comers, among them the less well off. The better off made their way to the slopes of Nob Hill and by the late 1800s the City acquired the property, removing the locks from the fenced and gated private park and making it into the public space it is today.
The 1906 earthquake destroyed much of the neighborhood. Rebuilt, it attracted more down to earth working class residents as well as warehouses, light manufacturing, eating establishments, baths and shops.
One of many warehouses now converted into office and residential space.
Former Gallo Salame factory, built 1907, now occupied by Splunk.
Fast forward to the late 20th century and South Park was in renaissance as dot-com entrepreneurs sought loft-like office space at affordable rents. And then the dot-com bubble burst. SOMA–and South Park–went quiet and office space went begging. Not for long, though. By the mid-aughts a new breed of tech entrepreneur was setting up shop and once again South Park became a hub of the digital, screen-based world, among them Odeo where Jack Dorsey worked as a coder.
Dorsey and his workmates were sitting on a slide in South Park when he mused about using Short Message Service (SMS) to let others know what you’re doing and vice-versa. The concept, initially called “Stat.us,” evolved into Twitter.
The slide where the idea for Twitter was hatched.
Maybe it’s the water, or the proximity to it that has borne ideas that have become businesses that have become communication tools in democracy movements. It works for us, located as we are a block south of South Park and just north of South Beach. South Beach was once known as Steamboat Point, a place of boat yards and maritime activity.
The land ends here. Plaque on King St. marking San Francisco’s original shoreline.
There is a bronze plaque embedded in the sidewalk on King Street marking land’s end. I cede my speculation on the effects of closeness to water to Herman Melville who wrote of the attraction of water in the opening pages of Moby Dick:
There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries – stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.
Twitter’s forbearers may have decamped for the Mid-Market Street area, but South Park and environs still hums with human activity and amenities. Nearby are the offices of Wired, frog design, Adobe, GitHub, Akqa, and Chronicle Books. Feeding them and Chroniclers alike are Ironside, American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, 21st Amendment Brewery, Café Centro, Butler & Chef, South Park Café, and Saint Frank popup coffee bar. And, George Gordon be damned, commerce, too, lives in the South Park orbit. In addition to Chronicle’s lobby store, you can shop at Jeremy’s Department Store, ISDA & Co., Guitar Solo, Down Etc., Ma Maison and Public Bikes.
Birthplace of writer Jack London at the corner of Third and Brannan Streets, a half-block from South Park.
To get started on your exploration of our neighborhood–and the rest of The City by the Bay–check out our array of San Francisco-themed books.