The SF Armory, aka the former 'Kink Castle', may return as concert/event venue with added jazz club

The SF Armory, aka the former 'Kink Castle', may return as concert/event venue with added jazz club
By Tim Henry - Published on March 10, 2023.

From ammunition depot to sports venue to giant porn production house, the San Francisco Armory has gone through several iterations in its 109-year history, and may soon be slated to return as an active event space. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there are new plans to turn a portion of the innards of the giant, castle-like Armory in the Mission District into a jazz club and VIP lounge.

The Armory's current owners, AJ Capital Partners, submitted an application to upgrade the building’s interior, leaving the historic, Moorish Revival-style facade unchanged, "while adding more equipment infrastructure in the Drill Court venue," according to SF YIMBY.

After sitting empty for years, the Armory was famously purchased by the San Francisco-based internet pornography producer in 2006 for $14.5 million — earning the building the nickname "Kink Castle," a moniker which is still inextricably tied and bound to the structure — who used the cavernous space for, ahem, "production," until the Armory was sold around 2017 for $65 million. There were rumors in 2018 that AJ Capital Partners was going to turn the Armory into a Soho House, but that particular bit of gentrification never came to fruition.

The San Francisco Armory's chasmal Drill Court has seen a lot of action over the years. | Source: San Francisco Armory

The Kink Castle's 39,000-square foot Drill Court (so named before Kink took over), served as a 4,000-person concert venue in recent years, hosting events such as Pride parties and books fairs. "But its potential as a music venue was put to the test in back in July [2015] when the British electronic duo The Chemical Brothers played there as the headliners of the Hard SF Festival," according to KQED. The Drill Court was significantly retrofitted around 2017, with new lighting, floors, and sound baffling. It briefly served again as a concert space before the pandemic.   

What hasn't the SF Armory been in the last century? It served its titular purpose for the US National Guard up until 1976 — the Drill Court was used to host boxing matches from the 1920s to the 1940s, then sat empty for decades. The building was used to film a few scenes from the Empire Strikes Back, aka Star Wars Episode V. "Accounts differ on whether these were spaceship interior shots or explosions created by the special effects team," according to The Guardsman.

The current plans — which have not yet been formally submitted, and are just part of a project design meeting with Planning — shows a two-level jazz club that includes a dining area and bar, as well as a new two-level VIP lounge on the 14th Street side of the building, and renovated PDR (production, distribution, and repair) space on the remainder of the second level. The proposed plans also include new "venue support" areas on the stage side of the Drill Court space.

The "castle" side of the building has two full floors of offices on the third and fourth floors, and it's unclear if those have any current tenants.

The building's website indicates multiple amenities that may not yet exist, including a spacious, furnished roof deck.