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Window overlooking Capp Street | © Dreamyshade/Wikimedia Commons
Window overlooking Capp Street | © Dreamyshade/Wikimedia Commons
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What Is San Francisco's Secret Alley?

Picture of Courtney Holcomb
Updated: 1 September 2016
Tucked away in a corner of the Mission district sits an unobtrusive building that, unbeknownst to many San Franciscans walking by on a daily basis, serves a collaborative space for artists, filmmakers, musicians and other creatives to work and socialize. This magical wonderland of creative brainpower is known as The Secret Alley.

Went to my first #socialsketch! #sanfrancisco #communityfirst #thesecretalley #sketch

A photo posted by Sara Diamond (@sara_diamond) on

#thesecretalley trees need their leaved taken down and cleaned from time to time.

A photo posted by Cosmic Amanda (@itsquonky) on

The Secret Alley was founded in the winter of 2005 by Ariel Dovas, Cody Frost, Matt Lightner, and Noel Von Joo, all high school friends from Santa Cruz. The four friends rented out the second story of a building on Capp Street with the intention to renovate it to their hearts’ content. Capp Street is a side street littered with cigarette butts and known for its homeless population, inspiring the likes of Capp Street Crap, a ‘news source’ posting the random things found on Capp Street in addition to news articles about the surrounding neighborhood.

Waiting. #thesecretalley

A photo posted by Ariel Dovas (@eviloars) on

Despite this less-than-enticing location, the friends saw in the empty space a potential for something that would eventually become vibrant and wonderful. All of them were earning relatively low wages from working at the likes of nonprofits and cafes, so they pooled their money to build quite a community in this second-story walk-up, featuring brick walls, graffiti, and even grassy hills and ceiling-high trees. They also incorporated a common eating area filled with classic diner decor.

Sometimes you show up to go to #thesecretalley and the lobby has been turned into a seedy massage parlor movie set.

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Live now: Sounds in the Dark on @bffdotfm #thesecretalley

A photo posted by Ariel Dovas (@eviloars) on

Over time, the space has expanded to incorporate a number of other creatives. There are five different offices in the space, all of them decorated to suit the needs of a variety of renters., a San Francisco community radio station, has made its home inside the Alley, renting out two of its offices. Two more offices are rented by filmmakers, and the last office is shared between a drone photographer and Doctor Popular, a game designer, musician, cartoonist and photographer. The offices look like what Thrillist describes as ‘the inside of a submarine’ and ‘a sort of film noir detective agency, where the production studio controls will be hidden in a wall safe behind a thrift store painting.’ The rest of the space is filled with a cornucopia of unique facades: an old movie theater design, a shipwreck protruding through the wall, a skate park ramp, fake trees molded from the castings of real trees, a stage that frequently hosts live music, and a porch that looks like it belongs to a grandmother. What is this tumultuous spaced used for, you ask? Anything and everything: The Secret Alley has hosted wedding showers, dance troops, a TV pilot and commercial shootings, private concerts, and lots of Berlin-style ping pong.

Hanging lightsabers. #thesecretalley @bffdotfm

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My office. #vibrantfilms #thesecretalley #officeplayground #sf #berlinstylepingpong

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Downstairs, you’ll find the Alley’s co-op gallery space, The Galallery, which opened in 2010. The gallery hosts a variety of mixed exhibits by San Francisco artists, and it’s especially known for its transformative Halloween art shows. Stop by The Galallery during its opening hours from 1PM to 5PM on Saturdays and Sundays, and maybe you can convince someone to let you in upstairs to check out the rest of The Secret Alley.