HOW A BUCNCH OF UPSTART CYBERWIZARDS TRANSFORMED A LOW-KEY SAN FRANCISCO COMMUNITY INTO THE HIGH-POWERED MULTIMEDIA GULCH

By Albert Kim
Updated April 21, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Nestled among the warehouses and machine shops of San Francisco’s SOMA district is a small, tree-lined park, quiet and unassuming. At the center of the oval-shaped lawn is an unadorned sign that reads simply, ”South Park.” For many visitors, the sign is anticlimactic. Because if you believe even some of the stories swirling around and about this area, you half expect to find a giant liquid crystal display mounted high above a gleaming supercomputer screaming: ”Welcome to the end of the rainbow. The future is here! Press enter” Yes, the future is here: Please enter. South Park is ground zero-the physical center of a vibrant high-tech community known as Multimedia Gulch. Throw a stone in any direction from the humble South Park sign and you’ll probably startle a somnambulant, sun-deprived software developer, or at least bean a developer wannabe. At last count, there were close to 100 multimedia- related businesses inside a two-mile radius of South Park. And that doesn’t include the scores of young, independent artists who have holed up in the area’s cheap loft spaces with a Macintosh and the fuzzy notion that, with a little inspiration and a lot of double espressos, they could crank out the next Myst. ”Multimedia is unlike any other art form,” says Minoo Saboori, 38, who, with a photographer friend, started a multimedia company called Eden Interactive three years ago in her one-bedroom apartment. ”No matter what your creative expression, it’s where you can find an outlet.” Accordingly, the Gulch has taken shape as the latest urban art haven, like some interactive Greenwich Village. Creative types who a decade ago might have sought their riches as graphic artists or musicians are now turning their attention to the Gulch. ”There’s this sense that Multimedia Gulch is one of these ideal art scenes, like Paris in the ’20s, or London in the ’60s,” says Jonathan E., 42, who keeps tabs on the area’s digerati in ”Gulch Gossip,” a column for the trade paper MicroTimes. ”A lot of talented people are here grinding along in poverty because they’re interested in this new medium of expression.” Of course, there’s also the lure of the quick buck. Ever since Robyn and Rand Miller, creators of the groundbreaking fantasy game Myst, proved that two guys could launch a mini- industry out of an interactive title fashioned in a garage, venture capital firms and deep-pocketed entertainment conglomerates have been trolling the Gulch, looking for the players of the future. Never mind that the Millers had extensive programming backgrounds and that their garage was in Spokane, Wash.; the word was out that anyone who’d ever digitized a photo or tweaked a graphic could land a development deal in the Gulch. ”Everybody and their mom wants to do a CD-ROM now,” says Joe Sparks, 30, a software developer. ”They think another Tetris is out there, a simple idea that could make millions. And they think they have to get in now. I imagine this is what the early days of Hollywood were like.”

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