SAN FRANCISCO — Guitars screeched from the rooftops and street corners across the city in protest Saturday as somber musicians inside the Downtown Rehearsal building packed up their guitars and gear, eviction notices in hand.
Scores of musicians, from struggling bands to those as successful as Chris Isaak, got their walking papers from the city’s largest practice space last month after a sale agreement was reached with JMA Properties, a real estate firm from the heart of Silicon Valley.
“It is a dot-com squeeze out, man. The rents are ridiculous,” Mike Kimball, a guitarist for the local hard rock band Broken, said as he coiled up amplifier cords in his rehearsal room. “I’m thinking about moving to L.A.”
Kimball blamed technology industry newcomers to San Francisco for gobbling up once-affordable space for their high-tech offices.
The turnover of warehouse space, like Downtown Rehearsal’s, and rising prices elsewhere have signaled the beginning of what many say is a mass exodus of local music from the city that Carlos Santana, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead called home.
“It’s turning into a yuppified city,” Kimball said.
It’s also becoming a lucrative market for selling real estate.
When Teryl Koch bought the Downtown Rehearsal building last year, he paid $6 million; Cupertino-based JMA Properties bought it from him for a reported $16 million.
Calls to JMA Properties’ attorney were not immediately returned and it wasn’t immediately clear what JMA planned to do with the rehearsal space.
Koch’s son, Greg, who has run Downtown Rehearsal since 1992, wouldn’t confirm the selling price, but he said his father turned down offers as high as $10 million as recently as December. He defended the sale and said he gave musicians more than he ever took away.
“I went in there and I took a huge risk,” Greg Koch said. “I saw that San Francisco had musical rehearsal studios, but most of them, quite frankly, were dumps.”
He built 155 rooms that housed more than 270 bands splitting monthly rents of about $500, at least $100 less than competing rehearsal spots in the city.
To soften the blow, the Kochs have offered $500,000 for a fund to find alternative practice space for the displaced musicians, provided they all move out on time – a requirement for completion of the sale.
Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, who has also rented space at Downtown Rehearsal, have offered to hold fund-raiser concerts to create new practice space, said Gavin Newsom, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors who heads a committee fighting development in the city.
Saturday afternoon, frustrated musicians took to the street in protest. From the warehouse district to Haight Street, bands like Staci Twigg, The Cubby Creatures and Jaded Internet Veterans played from rooftops and street corners and handed out fliers describing their plight.
It isn’t just Downtown Rehearsal, said Joel Perez, 28, of The Cubby Creatures. His band shares rehearsal space with five others at Secret Studios, where management informed tenants last week it would be increasing the rent as much as 40 percent.
Coast Recorders, a premier recording studio where Isaak has cut tracks in the South of Market district, is also closing at the end of the month. That warehouse district now has at least 500 Internet-related companies, rents exceeding $60 per square foot, and a vacancy rate at less than 1 percent.
“The Jaded Internet Veterans, we may be partly responsible for it, but we don’t like it,” lead singer Brick Thornton said from a second story rooftop where his band played to a crowd of about 50 in the street below. The bands’ members are all dot-com employees.