Long before hoodie-clad techies walked its halls, 570 Pacific Avenue in San Francisco catered to a much grittier clientele--often drawing the likes of can-can dancers and jazz musicians to a site that once served as a brothel.
The saloon, Spider Kelly's, was situated in the city's old International Settlement, a strip of Pacific Avenue between Kearney and Montgomery streets laden with bars and restaurants, where iconic dance steps such as the Texas Tommy and the Turkey Trot were born, and gunfights and brawls were allegedly a regular occurrence. "Spider" was the name of the saloon's original owner, who was formerly a professional boxer.
"The place [Spider Kelly's] was a favorite of sailors and had an especially sleazy reputation. A police captain visiting from Chicago called it 'the worst dive in the world,'" writes San Francisco historian Rand Richards in his book, Historic Walks in San Francisco: 18 Trails Through the City's Past.
Today that same area, dubbed Jackson Square, is touted by some as the "new Sand Hill Road." And what was once Spider Kelly's saloon is now the office headquarters for 14-year-old Grow Marketing, an experiential marketing business founded by two former executive rivals. Cassie Hughes and Gabrey Means worked for Levi Strauss & Co. and the Gap, respectively, but they decided to launch their own company--and redirect that competitive spirit--over a bottle of wine back in 2001.
So far, so good. While Hughes refused to disclose revenue, she notes that the company has grown by roughly 30 percent year-over-year since 2012, enticing high-profile clients such as Glenlivet, EA Sports, Hanes' Wonderbra, and Sephora along the way. The next step, she says, was to build their dream office--and one that channeled a distinctly feminine aesthetic, while merging elements of the property's salacious past.
"The decision to have it be more feminine comes back to me and Gabrey wanting to have a corporate culture that grounds itself in feeling more familiar, like a family," Hughes tells Inc.com. To that end, a plush, pink chair can be found in one of the main rooms. Beyond, a more traditional board room is framed by pristine, Grecian arches, which were taken from a salvage shop at what had once been the Getty family's apartment over on Russian Hill. Still, the brick walls framing the space remain coated in a thin, barely visible layer of dust. This is an homage, according to Hughes, to Spider Kelly's.
Hughes and Means embarked on the project back in 2013, enlisting the help of interior designer Josef Medellin, and it was completed in April the following year. Although Hughes would not disclose the final budget, she admits that she and her partner accidentally passed their "one million" dollar ceiling--small potatoes, really, in the larger scope of Silicon Valley undertakings. (Apple's lofty budget for its Cupertino headquarters, for reference, is projected to exceed $5 billion.)
When Hughes and Means set to work on the property, there was very little to actually work with. The building had been variously and fleetingly occupied since 1920, when Prohibition took effect.
"It [the building] had been dormant for a long time, and when we came in, you could feel the history of San Francisco," says Hughes. "The heritage of it and the history of it was definitely icing on the cake, so to speak, to be in this neighborhood."
Hughes and Means found ways to preserve that icing, even juxtaposed against the more luxury, "Parisian" feel. The building's top floor is a bar area, for instance, where employees can relax on Friday afternoons. While sipping whiskey, they glimpse old, framed photographs of Spider Kelly's saloon on the walls.
"[It's] industrial 1907 meets 2015 eclectic modern," explains Hughes. She adds that while, yes, there's plenty of pink, it also has "the coolest" men's bathroom around, with flourishes like "crazy painted walls" modeled after the 1900s--though it's worth noting that the majority of Grow Marketing's employees are female.
Ultimately, the design is meant to reflect what experiential marketing really means to the two vets: "Our business is about creating experiences for people, and environment is one of the first things.… Environment causes certain emotions and certain thoughts to flow." She also adds that men do still gravitate toward the "eclectic" nature of the interior--though one can only hope it's not for the same reasons they were once drawn to Spider Kelly's.