Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Give Her a Kiss First Man"

(Before: Dovre Hall, Sons of Norway meeting hall)

I'm working on a piece about social change organizations that buy/build their own spaces. I want to look closely at the decision to take on (through building or buying and refurbishing) a building. What led the org to that decision? What did they try before making this commitment? How did they choose a location? What did they envision for the relationship of the organization and its new neighbors? Because I'm playing with some new ideas, I decided to play with the model for this part of the study and I'm comparing the San Diego YWCA (which built in the 1920s) to the San Francisco Women's Centers (which bought and refurbished a building in the Mission district in the late 1970s). It is kind of odd to compare different orgs, in different cities, in different time periods, but I'm hoping that leads me to think more deeply about the issues involved. Both orgs were committed to social change (though the SFWC were more upfront about this) but both also felt that there was a need to offer women a bevy of services now. I think that combination of social change and social service is important. What else will I find? Both are quite successful and not only manage to pay off their buildings, but keep them running for decades, adapting the physical space to meet the evolving mission of the organizations.

(After: The Women's Building)

The one piece that gives me pause in all this is that the SFWC people were incredibly self- reflective. The papers of The Women's Building are full of analyses of what a building would mean for the organization, what challenges they expected to face, how they might meet those, how they should work with their new neighbors alleviate any animosity that might come from them repurposing a building that reflected the older immigrant heritage of the area, etc. etc. Really? I feel sort of guilty. They did much of my work for me, it seems. I guess my job is to weigh in on what they got right but it feels odd to skip the first step that I usually face, which is just figuring what happened. It feels a bit like I am jumping straight into the deep on this one, hence the Monty Python reference in my title. Ah well, off I go to "stimulate the clitoris"...