From Military To Kink: The History Of The Armory, San Francisco’s Porn Castle

"We like to tie people up like piñatas," said tour guide Dusty Wallace as she led visitors through the historic San Francisco Armory.

The space serves as the headquarters for Armory Studios, better known as Kink.com, the world's largest producer of BDSM porn. Films for its 29 websites were shot within the walls of the Moorish Revival castle up until this past February. 

Kink is also the current owner and tour provider for the Armory—and it's not shy about sharing its X-rated values with visitors.

The historic Armory. | Photo: Armory Studios

As guests head to the basement, they are invited into the Hogtide Room, a chamber that was used for munitions storage when the building was as a training and social center for the National Guard.

“All the way in, folks—we’re not playing 'just the tip.'” Wallace slams the thick steel doors and invites attendees to take pictures in front of the rough cagey-looking props, which several couples do. O-rings hang from an original concrete structure in the back of the room.

The Armory wasn't always this risqué. Built in 1914, the current 200,000 square foot building replaced the original armory, which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

Now a 4,000-person concert hall, an enormous drill court at the back of the building was once home to tactical training, live boxing matches, and other sporting events, earning it the name “Madison Garden of the West.” To this day, the court is the city's largest unsupported enclosed space.

The Drill Court.  | Photo: Armory Studios

Even before Kink's arrival, filmmakers were drawn to the castle's intrigue. In 1976, Star Wars creator George Lucas visited the castle, later filming scenes for "The Empire Strikes Back" in the space.

Decades later, actor/director James Franco became fascinated with the unconventional world inside the Armory, resulting in the 2013 documentary "Kink."

The Armory |  Photo: Armory Studios

After the building was abandoned for several years following the National Guard’s move to Fort Funston, several unsuccessful purchase attempts were made by local real estate organizations. The castle received historical status in 1978, but as a result, aspiring tenants weren't permitted to make significant structural changes.

Because Kink founder and CEO Peter Acworth could use the space without major modifications, he acquired the property for $14.5 million in January 2007. Kink started filming inside later that month.

Repairs were necessary such as plumbing and electricity updates, sprucing up the original floors and surfaces and even hiring divers to help drain the flooded basement. New floors and soundproofing were installed in the drill court to accommodate the company’s plans to host large-scale events.

Inside the basement.  | Photo: Larissa Runkle

Ten years ago, many residents near the corner of 14th and Mission weren’t thrilled with the idea of their new neighbors, but the company made arrangements to be good neighbors, covering up windows and setting up the majority of filming in the basement.

Rumors of wild sex parties overflowing into the street were never more than gossip, Wallace said. “There were definitely parties, but I’ve never heard of them pouring out into the streets.”

As for the other floors, there’s not a whip in sight—well, maybe one or two—since Kink uses the upper-level spaces for the operations crew. They’ve even had a few tenants over the years, notably LGBT sex toys vendor Prerogatives.

A portrait of Kink CEO Peter Acworth hangs in the Edwardian loft. | Photo: Larissa Runkle/Hoodline

To keep costs low, Kink stopped filming at the Armory in January, instead shooting in different cities across the country. The company will even have a mobile production vehicle driven by Kink director James Mogul.

Armory Studios plans to leave most of the property as-is and rent rooms out as sets. Thanks to an exemption passed by the Planning Commission in January, Kink will be permitted to convert and rehab parts of the Armory without applying for a conditional use permit. The company will also continue to host events in the Drill Court, like the upcoming Jungle Pride

There's no word yet on leasing to new tenants, but Wallace said the building isn’t undergoing extensive remodeling. Currently, the only construction projects involve installing a new roof over the drill court and adding more green rooms and restrooms.

Although porn has left the building, Kink still plans to keep things sexy. The upstairs Edwardian Lounge—where submissives graduate to serve their dominants—isn’t going anywhere, and staff will continue to offer BDSM workshops.

To attend a tour or workshop at the Armory, visit its website. To find out more about events, visit SFarmory.com. (Both sites are safe for work.)

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