Hunters Point derives its name from the Hunters family, who lived on the San Francisco Bay in the 1800s. In 1870, the area was established as a commercial shipyard and in 1941 was acquired by the Navy, days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is located on 638 acres of waterfront. In the 1950's the base employed 8,500 civilians. Prior to decommissioning in 1974, the shipyard was a Navy repair station.
In 1976, a private ship repair contractor leased the yard and began subletting buildings to civilians. Jacques Terzian, who fabricated found-object based furniture and wall installations, rented a large warehouse in the late 1970s on the Hunters Point Shipyard on Parcel G [map opens in new tab]. He began subletting some of the space in his warehouse to other artists. In 1982, Jacques realized the need for more artist work space and envisioned the abandoned buildings on Parcels A and B becoming artist studios. Jacques formed a management company called The Point, and he and a few other artist-managers began converting several of these buildings and renting out studios.
In 1985 the City and Navy announced plans to rebuild the base and home port the USS Missouri and other naval ships at Hunters Point, which almost certainly would have displaced the hundreds of artists and other small business tenants. When the Navy did not renew the leases in 1985, the artists and other civilian tenants formed an effective alliance to protect their flourishing shops and studios. On numerous occasions, busloads of artists and other Hunters Point tenants, garbed in bright orange t-shirts with the slogan “What’s the Point?," flooded city hall to show their opposition to the home porting. This group was joined by a broad coalition of community leaders and environmentalists.
The tide turned with the 1987 elections, which sent Nancy Pelosi to Congress and Art Agnos to City Hall. Our Congresswoman stalled Navy evictions and introduced legislation setting aside 50% of the property for civilian tenants.
Finally in late 1989, the Missouri home porting was canceled and the Shipyard was added to the base closure list. Existing tenants were allowed to stay. At base closure hearings, Mayor Agnos promoted the unique community of artists and small businesses, testifying "Take our Navy base - PLEASE!" The base was closed in 1991.
Over the years the community at the Hunter's Point Shipyard grew and now includes almost 300 visual artists, musicians and writers.
In recent years, the artists in Building 103 and The Point’s metal sculptors were evicted by the Navy due to extensive and necessary remediation work. The Point landlords found a suitable home for the metal artists two miles from the Shipyard: Islais Creek Studios. In the future, all the artists will again be reunited at the Hunters Point Shipyard site, but for now we are two sites connected: Hunters Point Shipyard and Islais Creek Studios, all “Hunters Point Shipyard Artists.”
Today, with a plan for conversion of the former naval base to civilian use and the transfer of the Shipyard to the city of San Francisco, work is still being done to insure Hunters Point Shipyard will become an even more vital part of the City's fine arts community. Groups such as Hunters Point Citizens Advisory Committee (C.A.C.), Shipyard Trust for the Arts (STAR), and Shipyard Artist Alliance (S.Y.A.A.) have worked hard to assure the survival of this fine community of arts professionals.
The Hunters Point Shipyard Artists acknowledge longtime Shipyard tenants Scott Madison and Linda Hope, whose hard work over the years has helped to assure that artists remain at the Shipyard.
Beth Shannon’s documentary Making the Point gives us a rare look at the largest art colony in the United States. The film tells the story of Jacques Terzian, the Point's visionary founder and how he kept the Point going in the face of political, financial and environmental obstacles.
More about the giant crane that dominates views of Hunters Point Shipyard:
“The story of the Hunters Point crane’s giant arch — and its nuclear secret” by Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 19, 2023