Even before earning its reputation as a leading tech hub and one of the most expensive places to live in America, live/work lofts were in high demand. In 1853, a four-story center called the Montgomery Block was primarily rented by artists and writers for cheap. For nearly 100 years, this block-long warehouse became a mecca for creative-types, before it was demolished in 1959. The decades that followed saw many artists seeking out alternative living spaces, including old warehouses and factories, with many squatting or otherwise inhabiting the space illegally. As the city grew, most of these artistic types found themselves with eviction notices when the buildings changed ownership with plans for construction. Even the buildings that were officially designed as live/work spaces for artists were eventually phased out by the tech boom. Today, lofted spaces are heavily occupied by those in the tech or startup world.
The Pacific Mail Steamship Company built the Oriental Warehouse in 1867, the first firm to offer mail, passenger and trader service between the United States and the Orient. In 1996, it was converted into a 66-unit loft building. Many include original exposed wood beams, 20-foot ceilings and plenty of natural light. It is located in the South Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, a block away from the Embarcadero Waterfront, within walking distance to the Financial District, Ferry Building, and AT&T Park.
Built in 1907 for a printing firm, the Clock Tower is also located in the South Beach neighborhood and boasts 127 live/work lofts. It is considered a historical landmark and even has a unit inside the actual clock tower. The heavily remodeled building includes materials such as clock timber, masonry, and concrete, as well as extensive landscaping that includes a courtyard with palm trees and a rooftop deck with city views.
Another historic property built in 1916 known as the Heublein Building has been unofficially credited as the first loft conversion in the city, undergoing its renovations in 1989. Located in the SOMA neighborhood, units feature original industrial windows and exposed concrete.
Originally constructed in 1857 and considered one of the city’s oldest buildings, the Harbor Lofts (originally known as the Hathaway Warehouse) was converted to 46 live/work loft units in 1996. Unit sizes are as small as 650 square feet, or as large as 1700 square feet.