I must have walked past the building at the corner of Main Street and Harrison Street 50 times without ever really noticing it. Normally I’m at least aware of historical structures, but this one, with its mauve mullions set amid dirty, peeling shades of beige, was particularly featureless. Then I started to work on its adaptive reuse, and its potential was revealed.
The building was constructed in 1942, a time when manufacturing and utilitarian warehouses dominated SOMA, the neighborhood south of San Francisco’s Market Street. The 8-story structure, which takes up an entire block, was built as a military warehouse, with 10-foot ceilings and floor plates of 63,000 square feet. Like many SOMA warehouses of that time, the building’s ground floor let freight trains pass through for loading and unloading. It was first used for military storage through World War II; later, when the building was known as the Rincon Annex, its postal workers sorted all mail addressed to the war zones in Korea and Vietnam. Then, for years, it went mostly unused. Occasionally, the police department used it for target practice.
Eventually, Perkins+Will was selected by the Bay Area Headquarters Authority, a coalition of four regional governmental agencies, to help them realize the Bay Area Metro Center: a new, collaborative workplace that would bring four regional governmental agencies—the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Association of Bay Area Governments, and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission—under one roof.