A photo essay of San Francisco after the Web boom
A "Space Available" sign lurks below Wired Magazines black pirate flag, a sign that coveted space in the epicenter of the Web boom is now available in the wake of so many dot-coms becoming dot-gones.
The following pictures were taken Memorial Day weekend 2001 in San Francisco, California in an attempt to find signs of this exodus and to see how a city famous for reinventing itself is adjusting to this latest seismic shift.
A quick walk around South of Market (aka SOMA home of South Park, Wired magazine, and the Moscone convention center) with two long time local web workers revealed an amazing array of space available signs and empty offices.
Both of these Web workers started in the early and mid-nineties out of passion for technology. Betty Ray moved to San Francisco for love of the City and excitement of the early Web in 1996. She has a very good job down in Foster City with a dot-com and reports her commute is noticably free of traffic nowadays. She says she's the only one of her friends who has their same job from last year. But that her friends are mostly happy for the break and persuing school, relationships, starting companies, changing careers, traveling, etc.
The other host for the tour of SOMA, Peter Merholtz, had started a five person Web design and usability company three months ago and is doing well. He attributed this to his long time contacts in the city and low overhead due to using existing personal computers and working out of their houses. He too echoed the belief that the locals who got into the Web early were mostly staying in the city and career, and doing fine, if a little poorer.
This sentiment was echoed by other local Web workers after attending a meeting of 48 Web developers in Sausalito by the well known group NoEnd, which has been running for 5 years.
Most of this pre-1997 crowd reported doing well and being excited that some of the hype is gone and the city can get back to being a more diverse place now that the irrational money has had a reality check.
The general belief was that the people who have left the city must not have lived their long enough to build professional support networks. And, they didn't come to the city because they loved it or technology, they were after easy money. When the easy money went, so did they.
True or not, a walk around the Haight, Castro, Noe Valley and downtown revealed obvious signs that lots of people have left the city.
A picture of developers and entrepreneurs who haven't moved out of the city taking a collective deep breath materialized from the trip. And while they hang their heads in memorial for their fallen dotcommie comrades, they hide smirks that celebrate the drying up of irrational money and the motivation it brings.
Russ Klein, a programmer and entrepreneur for 13 years in the city, reports that most of his friends are doing fine, but a few are not. He says that people who were getting well paid at a dot-com, then bought real estate before the crash, found themselves in a bad spot when laid off. Some even got hit for taxes related to options of worthless shares. Now they are trying to escape from under their high mortgages in a bad market. Russ suggests now is a relatively good time to buy a home in San Francisco. One can't help but think that it's also a good time to by office space or an entire company.
If you've always loved San Francisco the coming months are great time to move, if you can find work. Not only are places for sale, but apartments that formally had lines out the door are sitting open. Adam Savage, a model builder for Lucas Films, says that friends of his actually got a call back from a landlord about an apartment they'd turned down because it was too expensive. He called to let them know he'd reduced the rent and to see if they wanted it.
Amid all this change any time spent in this city still leaves one with a feeling that life will go on.
San Francisco will learn and prosper from the 1990s irrational exuberance the same way it has from the gold rush, earthquakes and hippies. It is, and will be, a beautiful Babylon by the bay.
- The dot-gones,
- And the people-gones.
- But life will go on.
- And the city is still a Babylon by the bay.