Space Magazine, June 2007. By Lisa Renauda

Everything old is new again, as Martin Building Company reinvents four San Francisco landmarks.

Big changes are brewing just south of San Francisco’s Union Square. The Mid-Market area, a transitional neighborhood located a stone’s throw from the Powell Street cable car turnaround, is poised for a major transformation.

Much of the area’s momentum has been generated by the Martin Building Company, a design and development firm that specializes in historic preservation. Four landmark buildings have been reincarnated as the Mint Collection, with 77 contemporary residential units seamlessly integrated into beautifully restored industrial spaces.

“We purchased the first of the properties about eight years ago,” remembers Patrick McNerney, founder and president of the Martin Building Company. “Two of them had been vacant since the 1960s—except for the pigeons.” These once-neglected buildings have now been thoroughly rehabilitated and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Each residence features a bold industrial aesthetic that honors the original architecture while creating a thoroughly contemporary feel.

“We’re transforming an underutilized space into a vibrant urban gathering place. Residents can walk right outside their doors and enjoy dinner, drinks or entertainment”

Some units are live-work spaces with open floor plans; others feature traditional enclosed bedrooms. Oversized industrial windows flood each space with sunlight and capture stunning city views, while soaring ceilings provide a luxurious sense of space.

High-end, ultra-modern finishes have been used throughout each home. Raw materials, such as acid-stained concrete floors, are a stunning complement to gleaming fixtures and warm, organic wood tones. The bathrooms are sleek and sexy, with stainless steel soaking tubs.

At the very heart of the project lies Mint Plaza. The Martin Building Company convinced the city to close a portion of Jessie Street to automobile traffic, and in its place, the firm is installing a brand-new pedestrian plaza. This sunny oasis provides open space for artistic and cultural events, plus restaurants and outdoor cafes that will serve residents and attract visitors. Another of McNerney’s ventures, an eclectic music club called Mezzanine, serves as the plaza’s anchor tenant, lending the entire space an edgy and creative feel.

“The community expressed overwhelming support for this new plaza,” says McNerney. “We’re transforming an underutilized space into a vibrant urban gathering place. Residents can walk right outside their doors and enjoy dinner, drinks or entertainment. We’re looking for the right mix of restaurants that will be open late into the evening, with outdoor tables.”

This multi-faceted development required an exceptionally bold vision, but that’s nothing new for the Martin Building Company. “If you do one building at a time, you can’t effect real civic change,” insists McNerney. “We’re not like other developers who just build it and sell it. We do every facet from concept to completion. It gives us the ultimate sense of pride and ownership”

McNerney has an intensely personal stake in all this. Not only is the Martin Building Company headquartered nearby at 54 Mint Street, but McNerney has made his own home in one of the Mint Collection residences.

Given its proximity to Union Square, Yerba Buena Gardens and Westfield Centre shopping, Mid-Market stands at an exciting crossroads. The U.S. Mint building, a grand 1869 Greek Revival structure that presides across Mint Plaza, is being restored as the new home of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, adding yet another reason to believe in the neighborhood’s potential.

Once Mint Plaza is buzzing with new residents, the Martin Building Company may very well have sparked a mini-renaissance— and given San Francisco an entirely new model for live-work developments in the process.

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