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$100 Million Gift Paves Way for Affordable Artist Housing in San Francisco

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A computer rendering of a 17-story building, on a street with people and cars.
A rendering of the proposed artist housing at 1687 Market Street, planned with 100 affordable artist units, studio and rehearsal spaces, a community center and a black box theater. (Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects)

A new San Francisco development that would provide affordable housing and studio space for artists took its first step toward completion Friday.

Buoyed by a $100 million gift from an anonymous donor, two nonprofits, Artists Hub on Market and Mercy Housing of California, filed plans with the city for 1687 Market St., the current site of the McRoskey Mattress Co. showroom.

The plans call for a 17-story building with 100 affordable apartments for artists, as well as studio space, practice rooms, a community center and a 99-seat black box theater. Though the construction price is not finalized, the gift was “based around the initial estimate” for such a project, according to Randall Kline, the president of Artists Hub on Market.

Kline said the project was inspired by the ongoing exodus of artists priced out of San Francisco as rents have skyrocketed and spaces closed.

“When I came to San Francisco almost 50 years ago, I was an aspiring artist, and I could live quite cheaply here,” he said.

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“I think everyone’s in agreement that this would be a really great thing for the benefit of artists and the cultural life of San Francisco,” said Kline, who as founder and former director of SFJAZZ shepherded construction of the $64 million SFJAZZ Center, which opened in 2013 at Franklin and Fell Streets, six blocks from the proposed housing.

SFJAZZ founder Randall Kline accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award at the organization’s annual gala in San Francisco on May 4, 2023. (Drew Alitzer Photography)

According to Kline, both Mayor London Breed and San Francisco’s planning department have so far been enthusiastic about the project, known simply as 1687 Market. The project would be fast-tracked by Assembly Bill 2011, approved in 2022, which encourages affordable housing on commercially zoned land.

The hope is to begin construction in late 2025, with completion sometime in 2027. Overseeing the project is San Francisco architect Mark Cavagnero, whose projects include the SFJAZZ Center as well as the nearby San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

It is “far too soon” to provide an estimated monthly rent for space at 1687 Market, Kline said. Applications for artist housing in San Francisco are typically subject to a lottery, though that process has at times been onerous.

As an inspiration for 1867 Market, Kline cited New York City’s Manhattan Plaza, an artist building that has been home to many jazz musicians, as well as singer Alicia Keys, writer Tennessee Williams, actor Timothée Chalamet and others.

“There’s a building older than that, also, called Westbeth,” Kline said, referring to the downtown New York building that has housed jazz guitarist John Scofield, visual artist Nam June Paik, choreographer Merce Cunningham and actor Robert de Niro.

Robin McRoskey Azevedo, pictured in 2010 at the McRoskey Mattress Co. on Market Street in San Francisco. The building site is planned for new artist housing. (Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

The existing McRoskey Mattress Co. building would be demolished to make way for the new housing. Building owner Robin McRoskey Azevedo sold the mattress company, which was founded in 1899, to Fresno-based Pleasant Mattress in 2018. In its factory loft, the building has hosted events with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, for which Azevedo is a board member.

The project is coming about thanks to a combination of AB 2011, support from the city and a central location, Kline said, as well as his decision last year to step down from SFJAZZ. The anonymous donor, meanwhile, was crucial.

“I mean, what a gift to the city,” Kline said. “This is really a person who doesn’t care about notoriety, but does care about the artistic and cultural life of the city.”

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