Access Communications was founded in 1991, the very year I entered high school. I remember impressing my girlfriend with a bulky car phone. Now I have a smartphone with a hundred times the computing power of my 9th grade desktop.
Today, technological advancements—from the rise of Web analytics to social media–are completely transforming the public relations landscape. Access has kept ahead of the field by developing new measurement tools and grasping the implications of Twitter before tweet became a verb. It seems fitting that we begin our journey through the changing topography of PR at 101 Howard Street, a plot that has risen from ocean floor to withstand an unsteady world.
The early San Franciscans also lived in an era of extremely rapid development and had to adapt quickly to new circumstances. From 1848 to 1849 the city’s population expanded to 25,000 from 1,000, and continued to increase rapidly over the next several decades. That time period also saw the very land our building sits on go from being part of the bay, to part of the city.
This is a map from 1849. The original shoreline of San Francisco is largely intact. Access currently sits at the corner of Howard and Spear, marked by an X. You can see that in 1849 this intersection is in the bay. A little to the South there is a solitary first block of Spear Street at the tip of Rincon Point.
Over the next decade ships would drop anchor in the harbor only to be abandoned by their crews, who would run off in search of gold. The ships, along with the piers, would become the base of landfill that gradually extended the shoreline and created the land where Access now stands.
Here, you can see how the area north of Market Street has expanded greatly, while to the South little has changed. Once again Access is at the X. The contour lines indicate the water there is about 15 feet deep.
By 1859 the water has been filled in, although the street grid is not yet complete. The waterfront is at Steuart Street, one block west of its eventual permanent location. The stub of Spear Street does not appear on this map. Once again, Access’ location is marked with an X.
Two years later the street grid is complete and we can finally see where Access will eventually stand. The waterfront has been pushed a block farther out to East Street, which will be renamed the Embarcadero in 1909.
It took just over a decade for San Francisco to expand its boundaries far enough to accommodate the new South of Market neighborhood, although it would take until the 1880’s to fully expand the coastline north of Market Street. This map from 1887 shows the final, permanent shoreline.
Less than twenty years later, shortly after our building was constructed, the city would have to face rapid change again.
The Folger Coffee Company began operations in San Francisco in 1850. By 1905 they were expanding rapidly and needed new space. The company commissioned architect Henry A. Schulze to design a building that would serve as a factory, warehouse and office space. The resulting was our beautiful red brick building that is currently on the National Register of Historic Places.
One year later, a devastating 7.9 earthquake hit San Francisco. Large portions of the city, particularly areas built on landfill, were devastated. But the Folger building was built with brick on a steel frame and anchored with forty-foot wooden pilings driven into the mud. It survived. After the quake, fires burned huge areas, including most of the South of Market district and did more damage than the earthquake itself. But once again the Folger building survived. This map from 1908 shows the areas that burned shaded in. Note how close the fire came!
Over the next decade San Francisco transformed itself once more, undergoing extreme changes in a short period of time. Its citizens rebuilt and its businesses continued to thrive. The Folger Company left the building eventually, and in 1993 Access moved in. Along with all the firms in our industry we’ve faced a lot of changes and challenges in the last 15 years, but that’s okay. Our city has seen it before, and we’ve been ready for it every time.