Kink dreams

Peter Acworth's fetish porn empire takes over the San Francisco Armory to create a new kind of dot-com
Peter Acworth and Princess Donna
Photo by Pat Mazzera

When it comes to BDSM porn peddlers, apparently size does matter. At least, that's how it seems now that the steamy studio has purchased the 200,000-square-foot San Francisco Armory. Suddenly, everyone wants to know: What's the carnal concern going to do with all that space?

The answers are more diverse and ambitious than one might expect — ranging from creating a racy reality show to starting a perfectly PG-13 public community center. And thanks to the lascivious and lucrative imagination of founder Peter Acworth, it might all be possible.


Though has been producing independent niche fetish sites like,, and for the Folsom Street Fair crowd for more than 10 years — first from Acworth's rented Marina District apartment and then from the Porn Palace on Fifth and Mission streets — it wasn't until Acworth purchased the historical landmark in the Mission District, and was met with opposition, that the provocative porn empire really made it onto the public's radar screen.

The armory, which was a training ground for the National Guard prior to its decommissioning 30 years ago, has been the center of controversy before. But that was mostly in-fighting between potential developers. Stringent zoning requirements and necessary but cost-prohibitive renovations discouraged buyers, leaving the Moorish behemoth on 14th and Mission streets vacant and outside public scrutiny.

But everything changed when Acworth got involved. His intended commercial use, for shooting scenes for all of Kink's Web sites, complied with planning codes. And he didn't need to do expensive renovations before he could start using, and profiting from, the building: what could be more perfect for bondage shoots or movies about women fucking machines than dungeons in disrepair? The only thing more ideal than the structure itself, according to Acworth, was its location in the heart of America's most fetish-friendly city. "You couldn't have dreamt up a more perfect place than a castle in the middle of San Francisco," says Acworth, who purchased the armory for $14.5 million in 2007 and started operations in January of this year. "It's like divine intervention."

Acworth had to contend with a different kind of intervention — from a neighborhood group called the Mission Armory Community Collective, which opposed as a potential neighbor. Though careful not to condemn porn per se, the group said it feared that the company's presence in an already troubled neighborhood would introduce more problems. Even the Mayor's Office, potentially bending to pressure, issued the following statement: "While not wanting to be prudish, the fact that will be located in the proximity to a number of schools give [sic] us pause."

But the sale quietly went through, and even as protesters stood outside, Kink was already filming new scenes for its subscription sites. Since then, the protests have largely died down. As the company removed graffiti from the brick facade of the armory, fixed windows, and generally improved the appearance of its stretch of Mission Street, neighbors began stopping by to congratulate Acworth — or to ask for a tour. (Incidentally, the public is invited to tour the armory on second Fridays. E-mail for an appointment.)

On a September afternoon, the building — mostly nondescript from the sidewalk except for the castlelike rooftop — seems quiet and innocuous. Three boys skateboard on the steps outside, stopping to talk to a woman walking her dog. The only people entering the doors, which are always locked and manned by a security guard, look as though they could've been going to the grocery store or the gym, wearing shorts, T-shirts, and sandals.

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