Making Good

The art of survival -- and the universe -- finds new meaning at the Goodman 2

Arts activist Martha Senger knows the difference between chaos and a condominium. Distinctly, in fact. But when it comes to the lofts and work spaces at 18th and Arkansas on Potrero Hill -- a gleaming new home for dispossessed and devoted artists -- she can't help but see a convergence.

"Certain theorists recognize that chaos is not disorder -- it's a source of infinitely complex order," says Senger, executive director of the Artspace Development Corporation (ARTSDECO), the nonprofit dedicated to building what's been dubbed the Goodman 2, a reincarnation of the original Goodman building, the artists mecca and cause cŽlbre from which 26 tenants were evicted in 1983.

The first of its kind in San Francisco, the neoindustrial, nearly completed Goodman 2 is a jigsaw puzzle of rental units, condos, shared living areas, and a performance space for artists who crave collaboration. And it owes its existence to random events that finally, inevitably, says Senger, brought a second coming.

"It's a thrilling discovery," says Senger -- her thoughts are a bird that lands in surprising places -- "that the chance and random are not: that there is in everything a very, very fine, built-in order that is spontaneous, self-organizing, organically forming, like a flower or anything else that grows from its own internal pattern."

Perhaps not like a fragile flower -- perhaps more like a sturdy, slow-growing ponderosa pine -- the Goodman 2 is as good an example as any that order, and even cheap digs, can emerge from what appears to be totally chaotic soil. A rare and well-hung spider, a brewery foe, neighborhood opponents, financial woes -- all conspired, at various times, to doom the Goodman 2 to failure.

"I've been holding my breath on this thing for 12 years," says Gary Robert, 53, a photographer and multimedia artist who, like Senger, lived and worked in the original Goodman building at Geary and Van Ness until the day in 1983 when the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency seized the building and gave it to a developer, for transformation into low-income housing. The Goodman residents -- Janis Joplin is among its more famous early alumni -- had fought to save their home with historic-preservation petitions, development proposals, media appeals, and every other tool on their political palette.

They lost. Robert moved to the Cadillac Hotel in the hard heart of the Tenderloin, as did other Goodman refugees; many more fled from the city, rent hikes and gentrification nipping at their heels.

It was a typical outflux, says Stephen Goldstine , director of graduate studies at the California College of Arts and Crafts and former president of the San Francisco Art Institute. The age-old problem: Developers covet what artists call home; in particular, developers have driven up rents in the former niches south of Market.

"There's been a steady exodus from the city since the 1970s," Goldstine says.

The Goodman 2, with 29 live/work lofts slated to be available by fall -- six of them market-rate condos, five of them rentals reserved for former Goodman dwellers, and the rest low-cost condos -- will solve only a fraction of that problem. And some former Goodman tenants say they're sorry the new building isn't all rental units, like its alma mater. But Robert, who intends to move in as soon as he can, says he's grateful, nevertheless, that the new, pumpkin-colored, corrugated-metal-coated structure exists.

"I got more done in two and a half years at the Goodman building than I'd ever done in my life" -- including a photo book on the punk rock scene called Loud 3-D, shot in stereo, Robert says. "There's so much spirit and energy radiated by that kind of mass creativity. I have been so energized in the last six months since we've been able to just go into the new building."

The old building, from the 1940s to its final days, was almost completely populated by dancers, painters, and visual explorers, including psychedelic poster master Wes Wilson and a cast of alternately ebullient and introverted others. The upstairs offered good light and high ceilings; the downstairs offered a community theater and galleries. The rents, amazingly, ranged from $60 to $80 a month, recalls Senger, who moved there in 1972. "We had defined a four-dimensional psycho-physical equation, a whole that was more than its parts," she writes of her time there.

The halcyon headiness ended when the Redevelopment Agency in 1973 plastered an eviction notice on the door. Tenants fought the piece of paper for the next 10 years, meeting weekly to plot strategy, writing grants, forming their own development corporation (GOODCO, later to become ARTSDECO), and brainstorming alternatives to the city's proposals for the building. Dozens of organizations rallied to the cause, from the National Endowment for the Arts to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

And in the end, the protest did bring a key concession. The city, under then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein, offered the displaced artists $570,000 to find a new building.

But Senger and others found nothing they could afford; nothing that would suit their needs. After years of frustration, they turned to private developer Rick Holliday to build a Goodman 2 from scratch. And they laid plans to build on a weedy, vacant lot at 18th and Arkansas.

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