Olympia Building Destined to be Dashed Against the Rocks of Development
Originally published in The Potrero View in March 2017.
The Olympia building, 600 20th Street, has been a notable presence in Dogpatch for more than a century, though arguably not as historical as its namesake. The structure was named after the U.S.S. Olympia, built across the street, at Pier 70, which was the flagship of Commodore George Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
The building originally consisted of a restaurant-saloon on the ground floor, shipyard workers’ housing above. The Syme Family purchased the property roughly 100 years ago. They demolished the initial edifice in the early-1970s, erecting in its stead a cinderblock warehouse structure.
The Syme’s had a “soft spot” for the property, given the family’s long history with it, according to John Borg, owner of Eco Imprints and the building’s master tenant. However, the property became too much for them to manage. Last year, the longtime owners sold it to Ronaldo J. Cianciarulo, of Mindful Investments, L.P..
Borg’s lease extends through 2022; he has no intention of leaving before his contract expires. In addition to Eco Imprints, the structure houses Jim’s Smoke Shop and Specstones Studio, which sublease space from Borg. “I have five years left on my lease,” he said. “I have been in the building over 25 years. I run a design and production business here.”
Sometime after 2022, when Borg’s lease expires, the building will be razed by Bay Area developer Workshop1 to make way for a six-story edifice, with ground floor retail, basement parking garage and two dozen condominiums averaging roughly 800 square-feet each.
“We are among the last remaining old warehouse-type buildings left in the neighborhood,” Borg said. “Sign of the times.”
Borg would know. He was instrumental in crafting a string of successes that led to Dogpatch’s recent boom. He helped draft the Port of San Francisco’s comprehensive Central Waterfront Land Use Plan to revitalize the Dogpatch and Mission Bay coastline, co-founded the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, and served on the Potrero Power Plant Citizen’s Task Force, which laid the groundwork for decommissioning that generating station.
“I am proud of the small role some of us played in shaping what it is today,” he said. “There is often more to a simple story like this, and it can sometimes be forgotten that people, families and businesses who make plans based on clear terms can be impacted when new parties with other agendas get involved.”