Attention on San Francisco’s languishing Downtown is enough to warrant a New York Times deep dive on the topic, but perhaps the best distillation of the still-eerie emptiness was a recent TikTok post from user @heybrandonwakeup.
In the video—which has more than 1.8 million views—Brandon Muso filmed the experience of cleaning out his employer’s old Downtown office. The office is being cleared out as the company’s lease expired.
The hollowed-out rows of desks are now familiar to many who have had to conduct a similar purge. But Muso’s experience is symbolic of the larger challenge faced by San Francisco as leases end, vacancy rises, property values decline and a financial hole dug by the pandemic continues to deepen.
@heybrandonwakeup What do you think should become of all the office space? #downtownsf #sanfrancisco #bayarea #covidaftermath #remotework ♬ American Beauty - Thomas Newman
One of the most striking parts of the video was a look at his colleagues’ 2020 calendars (with projections of reopening dates that came and went) and other artifacts of the pre-pandemic era seemingly frozen in time. Most of his old coworkers have left the company or moved out of the Bay Area altogether, he said.
“In my mind, there was this vision of a sweeped out office,” Muso said. “I was so shocked that everything was exactly the way we had left it, like this far into it. It just really was very surprising and so sad.”
Although he ferried what he could to a donation center, much of the personal memorabilia had to be trashed, including photos of a bygone era collecting dust alongside water bottles, business cards, mints, moldy peanut butter and stale crackers.
Muso said the emotional toll of visiting his old office after almost three years was hard to describe, but “sort of similar to going back to your old high school.”
In Muso’s case, he was able to score a bottle of gin that he left behind, but the visit also functioned as a look back on a life that no longer existed. In the intervening two-plus years, Muso got engaged, then got married, transitioned to a freelance role and built up his following as a travel influencer.
The video also surveyed the scene in the surrounding neighborhood and took stock of the closures, like the overpriced salad spot he would frequent for lunch and the Starbucks that would help power him through the workday.
Muso ends his video by saying: “I don’t really know what’s going to happen to Downtown San Francisco or what’s going to happen next.”
The response to the video has been overwhelming, and not always in the most positive sense. His post was flooded with the typical San Francisco-bashing that has become nearly a sport among some corners of the internet.
Muso still lives in the Mission, but when traveling he is often faced with questions about whether San Francisco is as bad as they’ve heard.
“That's the impression everybody has of the city, but I stand by the video because it is embarrassing and we should be embarrassed. I’m not a politician, but there are ways to get out of this,” he said.
“It needs to be more mixed-use and take advantage of the fact that it’s close to the Embarcadero and so close to so many landmarks, you could really turn it into a great neighborhood.”
Kevin Truong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org