Project One (San Francisco)

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Project One was an intentional, community of place, sometimes described as a technological commune,[1] in San Francisco, California, U.S. Located in an abandoned candy factory warehouse, the community lasted from 1971 to 1980 and was the first "warehouse community" in San Francisco. Project One was an important part of the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s and housed dozens of artisans, sculptors, filmmakers, and technologists. The community had no formal organizational structure. Formal decisions were made through a voluntary weekly meeting of members who made decisions based on a consensus of those present.[1]

Project One was initiated by architect Ralph Scott, a former student of Buckminster Fuller, and rapidly became an interdisciplinary learning environment. Central to the concept was Symbas Alternative High School, founded by Scott and located in a large, high-ceiling space on the first floor, across the hall from Resource One. Many of these resident non-profit organizations and small businesses, served as resources for the students, who were also members of the larger community. Students found mentors who offered skills training and the opportunities to practice new skills.[clarification needed][2] One of these, Resource One, conceived as a people's computer center with a donated XDS-940 mainframe computer, became the first public computerized bulletin board system (bbs)[3] and home to Community Memory Project established in 1973 and created by Lee Felsenstein, Efrem Lipkin, Ken Colstad, Jude Milhon, and Mark Szpakowski, who played a central role in the development of the personal computer.[4]


When this abandoned warehouse was first leased in 1970 , all previous internal walls and structures had been removed. It was completely empty except for the structural supporting columns that held the four stories up. There was also a penthouse. The building was constructed with steel reinforced concrete and had a total floor space measuring 84,000 square feet. When it was first occupied, the people who lived and worked there designed and built all the walls, hallways, office and living spaces. As not all had previous skills in construction and remodeling there was a lot of on-the-job training, reflecting a strong do-it-yourself ethic which was common in the counterculture. Since there were a wide variety of skills available within the community it was rarely necessary to hire outside contractors.

Anchor Organizations[edit]


Principals: Larry Bensky, Barry Kearson (aka Barry Michaels) Alternative radio production

Apples Daycare[edit]

Principal: Rashid (née Ray) Patch served as front man for a gang of 4-year-olds. Operating from 6:00am till 7:30pm, Monday through Friday, Apples Daycare was situated on the fourth floor, at the south corner of the building. Six to a dozen of the 15-18 enrolled pre-schoolers came each day. Setting off on foot they explored San Francisco: riding buses, walking neighborhoods, watching parades, attending free concerts in the parks and free movies at the library, attending public presentations of spiritual leaders and teachers. The kids met a bunch of Buddhist abbots, rinpoches, lamas, roshis, Sikh gurus, Taoist priests, kung-fu masters, archbishops, swamis, Orthodox monks, friars, rabbis, and Sufi shaykhs; all of whom would find time to give the kids their blessings.

The parents were artists, exotic dancers, actors, rock&roll musicians, political activists, techies, nurses, social workers, a park ranger - all childcare early-adapters, most screened and referred by the San Francisco Childcare Switchboard.

Blossom Family Studios[edit]

Principals: David, Nancy, and Annie Blossom The Blossom Family had been the band for the touring production of Hair. Blossom Studios was a rehearsal space and recording studio used by the Blossoms and serving other musicians also.

db Associates[edit]

Principals: Peter de Blanc, Liz Barto, Dennis Rice, Steve Sultan, Jeff Nieman, Ray Patch, John Halpern

DB Associates, located in the basement of Project One, was the successor to Tomorrow, Inc., which had originally been incorporated in Chicago in 1968; most of the team had worked together since 1967. As Tomorrow, Inc., the crew had designed and built nightclubs and discothèques, high-tech light-shows, custom film and projection systems, special-effects lighting systems, recording studios, radio studios, and produced concerts and music festivals. DB Associates designed and built custom electronics, sound and lighting systems, amplifiers, mixers, specialized custom computer and communications equipment. A typical project was the Electric Symphony Orchestra, where a small 40-piece classical orchestra had pickups attached non-destructively to every instrument. All the sound signals from each instrument source were run through custom designed delay and phase shift circuitry, and then through a multi-channel mixer, so that the stereo signal for each single instrument was multiplied, and also separated in space. So, for example, one violin at a single location would be heard as 4, 6, or 8 violins, all with slightly different timbre, in different physical locations in an orchestral section.


Principals: Ralph Scott, Ray Krauss, Mya Shone, Mary Janowitz, Sherry Reson, Craig Mosher, Andy Bucchiere

Eric Dollard Labs[edit]

Principal: Eric Dollard

Located in the basement of Project One, electrical engineer Eric P. Dollard conducted research in ultra-high-voltage electrical and electronics devices. Dollard was systematically reconstructing some of the systems and techniques originally developed by Nikola Tesla and Phylo Farnsworth in the early 20th century. At Project One, Dollard had been able to repeatably produce stable "ball lightning" effects using high-voltage plasmas, and on several occasions had recorded "over/unity" energy production, though with lesser reliability. [5]

Imageworks Film Processing[edit]

Principal: Al Nieman

KPOO Community Radio[edit]

An alternative music and news radio station

Optic Nerve[edit]

Principals: Lynn Adler, Sherrie Rabinowitz, Jules Backus, Jim Mayer, Bill Bradbury, Ben Tarcher
Founded in 1970 as a photography collective focusing on social issues and American culture, in 1972 Optic Nerve began working in video as well as photography. Their first production was an hour documentary about Project One.[6]

Optic Nerve’s early video documentaries explored rodeos, beauty pageants and the world of owner operator truck drivers.. These were among the first independently produced video documentaries to be broadcast on Public Television. The Nerve, as it was often called, also collaborated with local artists groups such as Ant Farm

In 1973, the collective moved around the corner from Project One into an undeveloped loft space. The Optic Nerve studio became an important venue in San Francisco's alternative media community, hosting public video screenings, performances, video shoots, and some very good parties. In 1980, three past members formed Ideas In Motion as a for-profit partnership continuing the ideals of Optic Nerve within a sustainable financial structure.

Resource One[edit]

Initial concept and organizing: Pam Hardt. Principals: Pam Hardt, Lee Felsenstein, Efrem Lipkin, Jed Riffe, Steve Robinson, Sharon Altus, Paul Ward, Chris Macie, Fred Wright, Henry the Fiddler, Mike Chadwick, John Cooney, Ford Turping, Chris Neustrup, Bart Berger, Gary McCue, Bob Hemmer.
Envisioned as a people's computer center, Resource One featured an XDS-940 mainframe computer. It became the anchor of Community Memory the first public computerized bulletin board system.[7] One of Community Memory's founders Lee Felsenstein was an active member and went on to play a central role in the development of the personal computer[8]

Social Services Referral Directory[edit]

Prior to the publication and distribution of the Social Service Referral Directory, social workers and other staff in San Francisco's many agencies relied on personal rolodexes, pamphlets and lists in order to refer their clients for additional and appropriate services. Critical information within agencies changed frequently and successful referrals required up to date and complete information. The idea that a solution utilizing the Resource One computer was possible came from Charles Bolton.

A design, development and implementation team at Resource One (Mary Janowitz, Chris Macie, Sherry Reson, Mya Shone) utilized their donated SDS 940 mainframe computer, programmed by Chris Macie to handle information storage and retrieval. A standardized format and data collection process resulted in agency listings printed on three-hole punch paper. Loose-leaf binders were distributed to the participating agencies, who paid a nominal fee to be mailed a monthly packet including ten new listings and ten to twenty revised listings.

While some agency people sent in information as programs or capacities or locations changed, maintaining current information — and adding listings — depended on project staff making direct telephone contact with agency personnel. Listings were sorted alphabetically behind tabs and index pages provided an overview regarding neighborhoods, languages spoken, types of service and other critical criteria.

Joan Lefkowitz joined the team early in 1974, then Katerina Lanner-Cusin came on board. The following year, a conversation with The United Way of the Bay Area, and the heads of San Francisco Social Services and the Zellerbach Family Fund, resulted in the United Way assuming responsibility. In the summer of 1994, the United Way determined they were unable to maintain the service. The San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) took over and renamed it the San Francisco Community Services Directory aka Community Services Data Base. SFPL maintained it as an online database through spring of 2009. Sometime in the ‘90s the library decided it was duplicative of other, mainly web-based, resources and discontinued it. People in the social services world wish it still existed and Lefkowitz, then the Library's Web Service Manager, commented that the SSRD represented a "ground breaking use of technology."

The San Francisco School of Holography[edit]

Lloyd Cross, Jerry Pethick

San Francisco Switchboard[edit]

1971 Oil Spill Communications Collaboration[edit]

Ecology Center Press, Resource One, Symbas School combined forces with the San Francisco Switchboard to coordinate communications among volunteers and organizational responses to the clean-up effort.

San Francisco VVAW[edit]

Principals: Lee Thorn, Mike Oliver, Jack McCloskey, Jim O'Donnell, Bob Hansen, Paul Cox

In 1967, Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) was founded in New York City after six Vietnam vets marched together in a peace demonstration. The VVAW San Francisco Chapter was one of the early groups in Project One, organizing against the Vietnam war, and counseling and assisting their fellow veterans.

Symbas Alternative High School[edit]



  1. ^ a b "Pueblo in the City-Plumbers, computer freaks, architects and visionaries turn a vacant San Francisco candy factory into a technological commune". Mother Jones. May 1976.
  2. ^ "ONE: An Urban Community". The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science - NTL Institute.
  3. ^ "Community Memory: 1972 - 1974, Berkeley and San Francisco, California". The WELL: Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link.
  4. ^ Doub, Bo (23 February 2016). "Community Memory: Precedents in Social Media and Movements". Computer History Museum. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  5. ^ "Eric Dollard". Borderland Sciences Research Catalog.
  6. ^ "Project One (San Francisco) Documentary by Optic Nerve". Retrieved 24 May 2018 – via
  7. ^ Stewart Brand (December 7, 1972). "Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
  8. ^ Markoff, John (2014). What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Persona Computer Industry. New York: Penguin Books. p. 238. ISBN 9781101201084. OCLC 883344790.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°46′27″N 122°24′52″W / 37.7743°N 122.4144°W / 37.7743; -122.4144