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Porn Palace

May 16, 2011

Kink.com, an Internet porn company and the current owner of The Armory, a historic weaponry in the Mission District of San Francisco which was decommissioned in 1973, recently started giving public tours of its facility.

This is a good thing for two reasons:

1) The Armory is an amazing building that's well worth visiting. I had the opportunity to explore it at close range by joining a Kink.com tour on Saturday afternoon. On the outside it looks like a foreboding Moorish castle and on the inside, it's a crazy combination of 1930s austerity and contemporary adult fantasia. The hour-long tour takes some 20-25 guests along the 200,000 square foot building with its lofty corridors, marble fringed staircases, high ceilings and dark wooden wall panels and in and out of rooms that have been recently converted to suit the appetites of the S&M crowd. Among other innovations, there's a meat locker complete with bloodied carcasses and metal hooks, a doctor's office full of cruel-looking medical paraphernalia, and a room packed with custom-made "fucking machines." Barrels of lube, boxes of enemas and rows of whips, manacles and chains stock the shelves like reams of paper and containers of printer ink in an office building. Most surreal of all is the presence of Mission Creek, an underground stream which gushes along an open channel in the basement of the building. According to the tour guide, a buxom redhead wearing knee-length silver boots, the National Guard wanted its own water supply so built directly on top of the creek. Apparently, The Armory is the only building in the city which has direct access to this body of water. Oh, and another interesting tidbit: George Lucas shot part of the first Star Wars movie in The Armory's massive drill court. Some of the rigging from the film shoot can still be seen in the rafters.

2) Kink.com is on to a good thing in reaching out to the public. The adult film industry is viewed by many outside the community as something to keep at arm's length. It's seen as shadowy and depraved. In providing a measure of transparency through offering regular tours during the week that can be purchased for $25 through the Eventbrite website like any other cultural happening in town, the company is demonstrating a level of approachability that's rather commendable in my opinion. The tour I went on was lighthearted, informative and matter-of-fact. It was also weirdly non-titillating, which I suppose makes sense given that you're getting a 'behind-the-scenes' look at a working business. It's kind of great that the tour guides don't attempt to sensationalize things for the gaping tourists. This is what sets it apart from, say, a Hollywood studio tour. One thing which I found interesting is that Kink.com is looking to develop community partnerships as the facility is huge and the company doesn't need to use all the space. It might be a while before local schools start holding bakesales in The Armory's drill court. But I could see The Folsom Street Fair doing more things in the building (the annual alt sex-oriented fiesta has already done joint tours with The Armory and there have been a few other crossover events to date.) The Armory might also be the perfect adjunct home for the Burning Man Festival here in San Francisco.

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