Ken Garcia: In upside-down S.F., porn is OK in the Mission, but housing isn’t 

San Francisco seems to have a particular fetish for finding obscure reasons to block new development and housing. But prohibiting porn? No way — that would be like stepping on someone’s thigh-high, leather boot-covered toes.

In that frequent act of reality arriving on the shores of San Francisco’s fantasy land, it was reported in The Examiner on Wednesday that an online fetish company purchased the landmark State Armory building at 14th and Mission streets as a site for producing kinky porn flicks. While that might not get many hot and bothered here in Sin City, it should serve as a reminder of the lunacy that’s been surrounding that historic site for decades.

But I will say this — after lying empty since the National Guard abandoned the stately brick fortress in 1971, it appears the armory is about to see some considerable action. Its new owner, Kink.com, is a burgeoning porn conglomerate, with a dizzying array of submissive and dominant-related hardcore Web sites, ranging from "Men in Pain’’ and "Hogtied’’ to "Water Bondage’’ and "Ultimate Surrender.’’

Yetit is developers, housing activists and commercial investors who have made the ultimate surrender over plans to make over the Moorish-influenced building. In the last 20 years, so many groups and entrepreneurs have tried — and failed — to take over the building that one local newspaper did a story talking about the armory’s "curse.’’ And the reason for the hex is that a list of nonprofit community groups have fought every proposal under the froth-inducing flag of blue-collar job displacement and gentrification.

If any argument deserves a ball gag, it’s the one that suggests a thriving commercial and housing development will somehow ruin a neighborhood’s character. But at the armory, the only thing that has thrived is the rhetoric dished up by groups such as the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, which led the backlash against dot-coms in San Francisco.

Back as far as 1980, Delancy Street, the national model for organizations trying to rehabilitate ex-cons through gainful employment, was interested in taking over the building. But community activists objected because Delancy Street wasn’t based in the Mission district. Not long after, several film companies became interested in the site, and August Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s brother, wanted to turn it into something like the Metreon, with shops and entertainment.

But there were always objections. Seven years ago, a Planning Commission meeting over a proposal to turn the building into a dot-com office complex for 600 workers resulted in a near-riot when the plan came up for a vote. Later, the developer offered to turn the building into a giant computer-server farm — an idea that was also rebuffed.

A few years ago, Supervisor Chris Daly and attorney Sue Hestor sought to rezone the area around the armory to keep it from being built out. And recently, a plan to build 169 condominiums ran into trouble with the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board over whether luxury housingwas a good fit for the neighborhood.

The City hasn’t been able to build much-needed housing there and virtually every commercial enterprise proposed for the armory has been shot down. So to say there is irony in the fact that a porn production company is poised to turn a landmark into a rough, edgy movie palace would be a major understatement.

Kink.com founder and CEO Peter Acworth told reporters that "I am looking forward to an exciting restoration project and helping to revive San Francisco’s movie industry.’’

It should be some revival. The company’s Web site said Acworth left academia to devote his life to "subjecting beautiful, willing women to strict bondage.’’ But for the politically correct masses in San Francisco, please note that Kink

.com’s models "are never told to act or artificially struggle.’’

It’s too early to tell if their plans will turn out to be a struggle. Yet clearly company officials are pumped up about the prospects. Kink.com reported that the details of the historic block-long armory will be utilized for its films, from its "dungeonlike basements,’’ to its stone staircases and its drill court.

Is it a good idea to have a porn production company in a dense residential neighborhood? San Francisco, after all, is not Chatsworth, or any other nondescript community in the sprawling San Fernando Valley, porn’s undisputed capital.

But by city standards, it may be far less controversial than something truly objectionable — such as offices or high-rise condominiums.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@examiner.com or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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