Articles

Google to Hang Its Doodle in San Francisco’s Mission District

by Mostafa Heddaya on February 18, 2014

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Google has leased the old Howard Quinn printworks in San Francisco’s Mission District. (image via Google Street View)

In the Bay Area, where Silicon Valley’s private-shuttle ingenues are a nightmare vanguard to low-income residents in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, Google has taken the unprecedented step of directly leasing office space in one such area: San Francisco’s Mission district. As the Financial Times first reported over the weekend, the Mountain View-based technology behemoth will soon plant commute-averse employees at a 35,000-square-foot former printing press in the “trendy” neighborhood. The space, which per the FT can accommodate up to 200 people, had been operated by the newspaper and catalogue printer Howard Quinn for a half-century before the business went under in 2012.

Yes, San Francisco is a pretty “now” town (with up so floating many bubbles down), and long-simmering tensions between old and new residents have come to a spectacular head in recent weeks. Protests, both real and manufactured, have erupted around the stops where private buses pick up employees living in San Francisco for the commute southward along the peninsula, where most technology firms are headquartered. Colle.o, an art collective comprising Colleen Flaherty and Matteo Bittanti, has even crafted miniature recreations of neighborhood flashpoints created by the bus passengers. These are not hysterical reactions to the city’s socioeconomic siege. Rebecca Solnit, after considering these controversial coaches (alternately “spaceships” and “company buses” reminiscent of coal mining towns), recently wrote in the London Review of Books:

A Latino who has been an important cultural figure for forty years is being evicted while his wife undergoes chemotherapy. One of San Francisco’s most distinguished poets, a recent candidate for the city’s poet laureate, is being evicted after 35 years in his apartment and his whole adult life here: whether he will claw his way onto a much humbler perch or be exiled to another town remains to be seen, as does the fate of a city that poets can’t afford … Rental prices rose between 10 and 135 per cent over the past year in San Francisco’s various neighbourhoods, though thanks to rent control a lot of San Franciscans were paying far below market rates even before the boom – which makes adjusting to the new market rate even harder.

Google is apparently in no hurry to occupy the building as is — surely teams of in-house corporate identity goons (“Googlers,” in their actual parlance) are hammering out a scheme to inflict some sort of color-coded kitsch on the space. (For an idea of the aesthetic sensibility at Google, see the below image.) The view on the ground confirms as much, with the Mission Local blog noting that “From the looks of the building, Google employees will not be moving in for awhile [sic]. Many of the windows are out and restoration work is in progress.” The FT reported that Google intends to use the new space to house acqui-hired employees, some of whom may balk at commuting to the Valley’s infantilized suburban office parks: if you can’t bring the Mission to Mountain View, bring Mountain View to the Mission. And the internet’s rainbow has been doing a lot of bringing, with its recent $3.2 billion acquisition of the thermostat company Nest the most visible dimension of a manifold buying spree.

Google's campus in Mountain View, California circa February 2012 (photograph by the author)

Google’s campus in Mountain View, California circa February 2012 (photograph by the author for Hyperallergic)

When Howard Quinn left the industrial space in 2012, the photographer and multimedia artist Sean Dana documented the plant’s employees and infrastructure, producing a 16-page tabloid on the ill-fated presses. In the project’s description posted on his site, Dana writes:

When I began shooting photographs and video at Howard Quinn in January, it was like stepping into a time capsule of printing technology and San Francisco history. The building which houses the printing company was built in 1920’s and tinplate tiles from the era adorn ceilings on the lower level. The smell of printers ink and oil saturate the air, and around every turn is evidence of a half century of hard work, deadlines met, and the pride of customer satisfaction. They know every idiosyncrasy of their presses and every nuance of pre-press. Howard Quinn’s output has shaped the community and stands as a tribute to the power of the printed word.

In this halcyon hacker’s world, only rubes cling to the obsolete “power of the printed word.” So when Dana writes that his commemorative tabloid was “the last four-color job” pulled on the premises, he can be forgiven for not anticipating Google’s technicolor squat. For their own part, the tech clairvoyants have heard, have seen the future in their mind’s Glass™ eye. In bottoms-up San Francisco, the ends justify the means, and words on paper are barely instrumental — to be used for evicting honest people and inking multi-billion-dollar contracts for household appliances that Tweet.

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