The Grotto began in 1994, when Po Bronson, Ethan Watters and Ethan Canin rented a six room flat in a rundown Victorian on upper Market Street, to use exclusively as a workspace. It was, at the time, a unique proposition: an office for the creative, self-employed people who by definition don’t need to punch a clock. Early misconceptions were that the Grotto was a clubhouse or bohemian retreat. In fact, from its beginnings, it has been a place where artists welcome the discipline of structure in their work lives, and build a community of peers.
In the Grotto’s first incarnation, Po and “the two Ethans” were joined by filmmaker David Munro, monologist Josh Kornbluth and freelancer Tessa Souter. After two years, they moved to a larger space in the South of Market district, where the group grew to nine. An even greater expansion came three years later, when the group was evicted at the height of the dot-com boom.
“There wasn’t anything left in the city to rent,” Po recalls. “But we didn’t want to abandon the heart of the city.” The group took over the old Dog & Cat Hospital, above a parking garage near City Hall, scheduled to be demolished in two years to make way for a condominium tower. It was affordable only because doom was imminent: “To make it pay, we were going to have to put 22 writers and filmmakers in there, build the office walls and doors ourselves, put in skylights, rewire the electrical system — knowing with every hammer fall and screw turn that it would all be coming down in just two years.”
The new Grotto ended up outlasting the dot-com boom. The 22 inhabitants (or “Grottoites”) managed to stay in residence there for a full five years, while the cooling real estate market delayed the demolition. When the group did move, at the close of 2005, it was into quarters larger still. Today the Grotto occupies an entire floor of an office building at Second and Bryant streets, near South Park, with workspaces for 32 authors, journalists, fiction writers, filmmakers, poets, critics and other “narrative artists.” The original hypothesis–that community nurtures productivity–has proven abundantly true. In the past twelve years a steady stream of books, articles, feature films, television series, short stories, poems and essays have been born here.
For more, read the essay “Do Writers Need Community?” by Po Bronson.