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Pythons, rhinestones, leather and skin: Party photos from a legendary San Francisco loft

As Ken Fulk puts his warehouse-turned-wonderland on the market, a look back at the motley crew who partied there.

A man in a velvet tuxedo holds a drink, surrounded by eccentric, colorful, and surreal imagery, including performers, costumes, and overlapping faces in vibrant hues.
Interior designer Ken Fulk is selling his Magic Factory, a 4-story warehouse in SoMa that served as his studio, residence and venue for some of the city’s most elaborate parties. | Source: Illustration by Clark Miller for The Standard; Photos courtesy Drew Altizer; Meg Messina; Ken Fulk

Welcome to The Looker, a new column about design and style from San Francisco Standard editor-at-large Erin Feher.

A white Burmese python. Identical twins who excel at the harp. A mechanical bull made of tufted pink velvet with rhinestone horns. These are but a small sample of the many elaborate requests made by Ken Fulk to his staff at the Magic Factory over the past 17 years. 

The interior designer’s Warhol-inspired live-work space in SoMa has played host to some of San Francisco’s most extravagant events, from a Capote-inspired ball that carried on well past the next morning’s commute, to a Rabelaisian carnival that shut down a section of Seventh Street. Signs of a successful night might include partially dressed drag queens sponging each other in the soaking tub or a puppy pile of attractive humans taking selfies in Fulk’s king-size, curtained bed. 

Two shirtless men wearing top hats hold trays with candles covered by glass domes in a dimly lit, eclectic room adorned with art and decorative items.
Shirtless cocktail servers set the tone at the All Fools Day party in 2014. | Source: Courtesy Drew Altizer Photography

A performer in lingerie with a snake around their body is illuminated by red light. Onlookers, including a woman in a fur coat and large glasses, watch from the side.
Socialite Joy Venturini Bianchi is greeted by a snake dancer and her Burmese python at Peepshow in 2011. | Source: Courtesy Aubrie Pick
A black and white image shows two people in elaborate costumes, one with a feathered headpiece. Blurry effects and multiple other figures are in the dimly lit background.
The Halestorm party, a masquerade ball honoring the society doyenne Denise Hale, was the debut event at the Magic Factory in 2010 and featured The Cockettes, a legendary musical drag troupe founded in 1965. | Source: Courtesy Meg Messina Photography

Now, as Fulk puts the building on the market for $7.7 million—more than double what he and his husband, Kurt Wootton, paid for it back in 2007—it’s time to look back at some of the Magic Factory’s most memorable happenings. 

For his debut event in 2010, Fulk threw a masked ball to celebrate the birthday of his friend Denise Hale that was inspired by Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball … but make it San Francisco. As guests in top hats and tails approached the entrance, they were flanked by a dozen sinewy men in leather pants and studded harnesses. Inside, a pair of black panther statuettes flanked a grand piano for a live performance. This was a compromise after Fulk’s team convinced the designer that bringing in live black panthers would be a mistake. “I knew a woman who had pet black panthers that I wanted to use, but my team reprimanded me, ‘They could kill someone!’” 

Quiet luxury or stealth wealth, it was not. But for the socialites, celebrities and tech billionaires who were increasingly drawn to Fulk’s flame, it was an opportunity to experience the kinky and creative side of San Francisco from within the cushy confines of an expertly curated Eden. Party guests, including Tom Cruise, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and John Waters, would turn up to hear private performances from Chaka Khan, Stevie Nicks or a slew of the city’s hottest DJs. 

A man in a black tuxedo with a white shirt stands between large red and black curtains, with part of the ground visible beneath them. The setting appears formal.
The ringleader himself, Ken Fulk, stands in front of his Magic Factory in 2011, just before his 700-person Peepshow party. | Source: Courtesy Aubrie Pick
A two-story brick building with tall arched windows and ornate stone trim. The ground floor has a garage with flowers and animal statues, and a black car parked outside.
Seen here in 2014, the former S&M leather warehouse on 7th St. in SoMA was bought by the rising designer Ken Fulk in 2007. | Source: Courtesy Ken Fulk
A woman poses playfully with a muscular bald figure in chains. She makes a fist and points at her head, while the figure appears expressionless and serious.
Author Amy Tan and sparring partner Christine Condition cavorted at the All Fool's Day cocktail party on April 1, 2014. | Source: Courtesy Drew Altizer Photography

“I just love bringing the worlds of San Francisco together—the doyennes and blue bloods and tech billionaires in with the downtown kids, leather daddies, drag queens, artists, designers and creatives of all stripes,” says Fulk. “That all of these disparate denizens somehow live in harmony in this place—to me that’s what San Francisco is about.”

‘We were in the basement and everything was red’

A child of Virginia, Fulk arrived in San Francisco in 1994 after devouring Armistead Maupin’s Tales of The City novels and set about building his own storybook life. Although he never had any formal design training, he immediately sought to raise the fabulousness factor in a town stylistically typecast as a staid puffy vest to Los Angeles’ glittery gown. 

Fulk said he wasn’t in the market to purchase the 100-year-old historic furniture factory-turned S&M leather warehouse that would become the Magic Factory. But as soon as he walked in, he knew it was supposed to be his. His accountant, who was with him at the time, felt differently. He was able to take out an SBA loan and turn the top floor into his residence, Fulk recounted. The rest of the building would serve as the studio for his design firm. 

But more than just a place to live and work, the building ended up being part calling card, part Times Square billboard, launching Fulk’s then-modest interior design business into the stratosphere. 

Seven people are cheerfully posing on a plush white bed, clad in eclectic outfits with vibrant expressions, framed by white drapery and a tufted black headboard.
A cuddle puddle of guests found their way into Fulk's bed at the the Gatsby-themed New Golden Age party in 2012. | Source: Courtesy Drew Altizer Photography
A woman in revealing attire poses in a brightly lit window, while another performer on stilts walks along a nighttime street with a red carpet, surrounded by people.
Burlesque artists dance in the windows ahead of the Peepshow party at Fulk’s Magic Factory in 2011. | Source: Courtesy Aubrie Pick
A woman in sparkly attire and a cowboy hat rides a pink upholstered mechanical bull with glittering horns, set in a dimly lit environment with purple tones.
Burlesque performer Dita Von Teese rides a mechanical bull at the Heaven and Hell party honoring French designer Jean Paul Gautier in 2012. | Source: Courtesy Drew Altizer Photography

During daylight hours, the 14,000-square-foot building is a workhorse. The middle two floors house Fulk’s design studio, a humming factory populated with creatives. The office space is outfitted with a fleet of vintage military campaign desks in spit-shined stainless steel. The ground floor is a gallery and boutique that stocks Fulkian wares, including sconces adorned with taxidermied squirrels and cufflinks made from vintage peep-show coins. 

Fulk’s private residence is the crowning jewel on top, an open-plan, 4,000-square loft with exposed-timber ceilings. Even sans guests, the space is packed with personality—a peephole into Fulk’s outsized imagination and fascination with antiques, art and taxidermy.

But like a werewolf with a killer sense of style, the Magic Factory would transform after dark. While other designers depended on a traditional portfolio to hook new clients, Fulk constructed elaborate dream worlds inside the building and invited people to spend evenings forgetting their daytime selves within them. 

Two women in lingerie prepare backstage; one stands adjusting her outfit while the other sits, doing her makeup. A mirror and storage shelves surround them in the room.
Performers getting prepped backstage at Peepshow in 2011. | Source: Courtesy Aubrie Pick
A man in a colorful, abstract-patterned suit and red shirt stands indoors, smiling with hands clasped. Several people are conversing in the dimly-lit background.
Filmmaker, artist and author John Waters was a frequent guest at the Magic Factory. | Source: Courtesy Drew Altizer Photography

To feté fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier when his 2012 exhibition opened at the de Young Museum, Fulk dreamed up a night of ecclesiastical exhibitionism called “Heaven and Hell.” Drag queen grande dame Juanita More remembers DJing that event from “Hell.” “We were in the basement, and everything was red. I was wearing all red. That whole weekend was a headspin. Ken’s party was just off the hook.”

As burlesque star Dita Von Teese straddled the hot pink mechanical bull and started taking off her clothes with society matriarch Dede Wilsey and the director of the de Young museum looking on, Fulk knew he was at a point of inflection. “Okay, this is either gonna go really well, or I’ll never work in this town again,” Fulk remembers.  

Spoiler: He wasn’t canceled, but instead catapulted to the top of the tech economy’s It list. Clients with limitless budgets hired him for his limitless imagination. A truncated list includes Mark Pincus of Zynga; Instagram founder Kevin Systrom and his wife Nicole; Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp, and Napster’s Sean Parker and wife Alexandra Lenas, for whom Fulk masterminded a fantastical (and highly controversial) enchanted forest-themed wedding in Big Sur. 

A woman in black lace lingerie stands between two men wearing black harnesses. She has wavy dark hair and red lipstick, and they have metallic makeup.
Dita von Teese grabs hold of Avhi Ardath, left, and Casey Jones at 2012's Heaven and Hell party. | Source: Courtesy Drew Altizer Photography
A person with a black top hat and colorful, ribbon-like attire stands in front of a large, black-and-white skull image pinned on a wall.
DJ Tamara Radler performs in front of an oversized skull poster at Peepshow in 2011. | Source: Courtesy Aubrie Pick
A person in an orange vest and colorful scarf stands next to a framed painting of a bald man with a contemplative expression, set against a dark background.
Actor Alan Cumming took part in The Foundation for AIDS Research’s annual fundraiser, hosted by Fulk at the Magic Factory in 2012. | Source: Courtesy Drew Altizer Photography

He’s since collaborated with Pharrell Williams (the Goodtime Hotel) and Gigi Hadid, and most recently unveiled ZZs Club in New York’s Hudson Yards, and Casadonna in Miami, an already celeb-mobbed restaurant and bar inside a historic Mediterranean Revival building on Biscayne Bay. With each new project, he seems to blur the line between party and place further. 

Perhaps the most fantastical event at the Magic Factory was “Peepshow,” a fetish-tinged carnival staged to celebrate the opening of his ground-floor gallery of the same name. The party, held in September 2011, spilled out of the building onto the corner of Seventh and Folsom streets and featured a man in a bunny suit, scantily clad dancers gyrating in the keyhole framed windows, plenty of stilt walkers and a 5-and-a-half-foot Burmese python. That night, Fulk fully embodied his role as ringmaster and consummate host to nearly 700 guests. 

Fulk comes “from a world where performance and theatricality is in the blood,” says editorial director, Sarah Lynch, who has helped Fulk throw events for nearly 14 years, calling upon an ever-growing lineup of drag stars, Burners and performance artists to populate Fulkworld. “If we need to hire a marching band or a sexy acrobat troupe or impersonators or synchronized swimmers or a team of servers willing to dress in Rocky Horror costumes, those are our people,” she said.

According to Fulk, his team—which now approaches 100 people split between offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York—has outgrown the building, and it’s time for someone new to shepherd it into its next phase. The designer is well aware that not just anyone wants a former S&M leather factory-turned-urban palace. He actually put it on the market briefly back in 2022, but couldn’t find the right buyer. 

A person with bold makeup and black wig stands in a bathtub holding a large sponge. They wear lingerie, stockings, and a studded choker while another person sits nearby.
A masked member of the musical drag troupe The Cockettes ends the night in Fulk's tub at the Halestorm party in 2010. | Source: Courtesy Meg Messina Photography
A person in a large white rabbit costume with long ears is sitting on an antique couch in a dark, cozy room, with their arms crossed. There are lit display shelves behind them.
An impatient bunny waits for the Peepshow party to begin in 2011. | Source: Courtesy Aubrie Pick
In a lively, dimly-lit party scene, a shirtless man posed dramatically is the focal point, surrounded by casually-dressed guests socializing and holding drinks.
Guests and performers intermingle at the Heaven and Hell party honoring the designer Jean Paul Gaultier in 2012. | Source: Courtesy Drew Altizer Photography

If the Magic Factory does sell this time, Fulk and his team won’t be without other cushy places to land. He has a similar live-work loft in New York, an office in Los Angeles, a summer house in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and a main family residence near Twin Peaks. 

In 2018, he unveiled Saint Joseph’s Art Society, a former church on 10th and Howard streets that Fulk transformed into an art and design holy land. The arts nonprofit “celebrates arts and culture in all forms in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond,” and hosts performances, exhibitions, and of course … some damn good parties. 

Even if the Magic Factory is on the verge of its disappearing act, Fulk is emphatic that San Francisco is still his home base, and that a new headquarters will be turning heads in no time. “I came here and I literally got to make up a life,” he says about the city that made him. “To me, that’s what San Francisco is about. It is a place of intense beauty, but also a place of incredible opportunity.”

Erin Feher can be reached at