Mere steps from Oakland's MacArthur BART station, a collection of stacked shipping containers is transforming the corner of 40th and Martin Luther King Jr. Way into a haven for creatives, makers, and fans of pizza and beer.
Sustainably built and solar-powered, MacArthur Annex features 33 shipping containers transformed into three stories of mixed-use space that now houses everything from a husband-and-wife-owned vintage record shop to an apothecary stocked with handmade and organic products to office space for a self-described "part Tarot and Palms reader, part renegade floral artist, and part inky illustrator."
While affordable rents (starting around $850/month) and the proximity to BART drew many of the small business owners, Matt Baran—whose Oakland-based Baran Studio Architecture was behind the project—believes the appeal goes beyond that.
"I think people tend to discount the impact that the architecture can have when you're doing something a little unique. When you do something kind of run of the mill, it's like vanilla, because it appeals to a greater pool of people," he says. "But the people who are really excited about [MacArthur Annex] are attracted to unique opportunities. It's about interesting people doing interesting things, and those interesting people bring in more interesting people. That's how the buzz is generated."
One of the biggest buzz generators was Catherine Macken, who owns Subrosa Coffee just a few blocks away on 40th Street and will be opening a café adjacent to MacArthur Annex this summer. She recognized the potential for the Annex while it was still under construction, and reached out to her network of creatives to encourage them to grab a space in the building.
"I live in the neighborhood and had my eye on the property as an ideal location to create a community meeting point," she says. "I saw it as a great opportunity for a hub of makers and shops to come together and create something unique and special."
Foggy NotionCourtesy of Alissa Anderson
One of those makers was Alissa Anderson, who was among the first tenants at MacArthur Annex when she opened an Oakland location for her Inner Richmond shop, Foggy Notion. Accustomed to a tiny space, Anderson quickly transformed her container into a welcoming retreat, showcasing organic apothecary products on custom shelving designed by Sergio Traverso of Fourquarter Design, and sprinkling the space with rugs, plants, and plenty of wood to make it "feel less like the white box it started out as," she says. "Walking in off the street is like taking a deep breath and knowing you're in a more relaxed and comforting environment."
Like her San Francisco location, the Oakland outpost showcases designers and artists from the Bay Area and beyond who create handmade, organic, and environmentally conscious products such as bags, wallets, jewelry, art, skincare, and home goods. Although Anderson hadn't planned on opening a second location, when Macken reached out, she recognized an opportunity to join a collection of small businesses in a great location, and to serve the surrounding community.
"There is definitely a cooperative vibe to it, not just with the retail shops but with the other artists and businesses in the rear courtyard," she says. "Many people who live nearby have come in and said they were so happy that there is finally a convenient and interesting space they can get gifts, beer, food, and coffee on the west side of the freeway and BART. There's a great mix of businesses complementing each other." // 644 40th St. #102 (Oakland), foggy-notion.com
La Loba joined Foggy Notion as one of the bottom-floor, street-facing businesses that first opened in the Annex in November. Co-owned by jewelry and wall artist Beth Naumann of Hellbent and clothing designer Gina Di Girolamo, the boutique—whose name means "the wolf"—features soft linens and light gray walls to complement Girolamo's well-crafted drapey staples in neutral tones and the clean, graphic lines and shapes of Hellbent's golden jewelry and wall hangings. // 644 40th St. #103 (Oakland), shoplaloba.com
This mostly used vintage record store rounded out the trio of early entrants to the Annex in November, and since then has been plying a well-curated selection of tunes from lesser-known artists and hitmakers alike in its ground-floor shipping container. The husband-and-wife owners often organize visiting artists to play the Annex's second Sunday events, when other local creatives join the business owners of the complex for a mini block party. // 644 40th St. #104 (Oakland), facebook.com/contactrecordshop
Shelves filled with sandals by Stace Fulwiler.Courtesy of Amy Morell
Watersandstone and Stace Fulwiler
In addition to the stores and boutiques on the ground floor, a number of small business owners transformed the interior and upper-level containers into offices and by-appointment studios. One of those spaces is the container shared by jewelry designer Amy Morell and shoe designer Stace Fulwiler. For her self-described "super-small business," Watersandstone, Morrell fashions mostly brass jewelry, designed and crafted in her studio—originally her bedroom. She worked with Macken to brainstorm ways to draw other creatives to the project.
"I was immediately excited by the idea of a building where there would be lots of other artistic people doing what they love," says Morell. "With the cost of living becoming less affordable, it's been a challenge for artists and creative folks to find space to congregate and work in. I think the building provides an interesting answer to that problem."
Fulwiler, one of the few makers at the Annex, crafts leather sandals in the container, often in full view of the courtyard below. She also offers one-day workshops, during which she teaches a small group how to make their own pair of sandals as an antidote to days spent working on the computer.
"It can be a refreshing reset to spend a day working with your hands, making something both beautiful and utilitarian," she says. Like Morell, she was lured to the space by Macken, and agrees that the feel of MacArthur Annex sets it apart from other mixed-use venues in the Bay due to the mix of tenants.
"I get the feeling that many of us are not all about commerce and capitalism—these are our passion projects and we are so happy to have spaces of our own," she says. "It's been fun having a platform to support our friends and bring some fresh energy to the neighborhood." // 644 40th St. (Oakland), watersandstone.com, stacefulwiler.com
Sweeney Kaye and Small Works
Morell and Fulwiler aren't the only businesses sharing a space, although sometimes one artist combines two ventures under one roof—or in one container. In another upper-level container, Andrew Berg Sweeney's Sweeney Kaye gallery showcases art in a sparse, modern space. Through both, Sweeney aims to promote emerging and mid-career artists who do not have gallery representation, featuring an all-female artist lineup in 2017. His design studio and wood workshop, Small Works, focuses on custom frames and conservation framing. // 644 40th St #108 (Oakland), sweeneykayegallery.com, smallworkssf.com
The first tenant at MacArthur Annex didn't even need Macken's encouragement to nab a space in the project. Christy Swenson lives down the street, and saw the Annex while it was under construction. She assumed the spaces were all rented, but walked by on a whim and planted a seashell and a wish under the construction. Immediately afterwards, she ran into the owner and got a place for her business, Aloeswood Beauty, which opened here in October.
"I knew it was a gold mine for some reason. The overall feel is definitely community," says Swenson. "We all care about each other's businesses. We are a group of people who appreciate the chance we have been given to have a business in a great city."
A 20-year veteran of the spa industry, Swenson specializes in high-end organic facials using a mix of local wild-crafted and organic products sans harmful chemicals. Her third-story space includes a vintage mini fridge for her home-brewed cold adaptogen tea and flowers from The Hanged Man Co., another tenant.
"I want people to feel like its a mini refuge from life, a place to reset, and a place to love being in," she says. "I sit there and can't believe one of my dreams came to fruition." // 644 40th St. #301, (Oakland), aloeswoodbeauty.com
One of the newest entrants to MacArthur Annex and co-owned by a group of seven artists, makers, and friends, Unity Mart serves as the shop for not just a band and publishing press, but also Jeffrey Cheung's Unity Skateboards. The hand-painted skateboard decks are emblazoned with nude figures in various states of embrace, which can often be seen lined up outside the second-floor container. The same-sex or gender-ambiguous figures in a range of ethnicities are intended to celebrate queer culture in a sport that often doesn't champion sexual diversity. // 644 40th St. #108 (Oakland), instagram.com/unitymart
The Hanged Man Co.
On the second floor of the Annex, a peek into one of the windows reveals what appears to be a living container, filled with plants, lush greenery, and hidden trinkets and magical objects. Matthew Drewery Baker's The Hanged Man Co. is part floral atelier, part tarot den, and part retail space, and is meant to transport you to "a space not borne of this world or time," where "medieval sorcerers' lairs, Victorian fairy nests, and the spirit of 1960s San Francisco all come to mind," he says. Stop by for a romantic and whimsical floral arrangement, private tarot reading, full palm reading, or extensive divination—the thorough and intensive session uses several different techniques to "part the mist and gain insight about both the past and approaching situations." // 644 40th St #109 (Oakland), thehangedmanco.bigcartel.com
Arthur Mac's Tap & SnackCourtesy of Farm League Design and Management Group
Arthur Mac's Tap & Snack
A new restaurant is steadily bringing foot traffic and families to the Annex with a combination of affordable eats, local drinks, and a kid-friendly atmosphere. Arthur Mac's Tap & Snack, which opened in April, offers pizza by the slice, a rotating selection of craft brews, and plentiful seating in an outdoor beer garden setting—including a small play area for little ones. From the same team behind Drake's Dealership, East Bay Spice Company, and Tigerlily, the airy restaurant features al fresco communal picnic benches and smaller tables covered by a retractable awning, in addition to three recessed booths housed in hollowed shipping containers that feature "living" walls of faux clover. Other fun touches include an array of unexpected pizza condiments (think herbed honey and a tikka masala dipping sauce), a house-kegged vermouth spritzer, and complimentary mini waffle cones filled with vanilla malt soft serve at last call. So far, the relaxed vibe and all-ages atmosphere—not to mention the packed outdoor beer garden on weekend afternoons—has resonated with the surrounding neighborhood.
"Our vision for this design was to create a fun and affordable outdoor venue that was unique enough to attract customers from all over the Bay Area, while still staying approachable and affordable for the current demographic of our neighborhood," says Joel DiGiorgio, the co-owner and designer for Farm League Design and Management Group, which is behind the restaurant and also has office space at the Annex. "It's becoming increasingly tough to live here financially, especially for young families, so we created a parent-friendly concept that's fun for kids, but at the quality standards of adults." // 644 40th St. (Oakland), macarthurannex.com