Spaced is a brand new series where we’ll be featuring interesting Dribbbler office spaces. Your space fit the bill? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered for a future article. As Susanna is based in Salem, and not wherever your cool space is, she’ll need some research leads if you want to be considered.
22-26 Front Street
Salem, Massachusetts, USA
The early-19th-century Pickman Building sits along Front Street in Salem’s historic Derby Square. Once a spot where unruly Colonists went to the stocks for timeout, the square is now home to Salem’s bustling Farmers’ Market and summertime jazz concerts. The building boasts a number of Federal-style components: Flemish-bond brickwork, arched windows and doorways, a gable-end fanlight, and a basketball.
In the corner of the fanlight, inasmuch as a fan-shaped window can have a corner, is a basketball. Not a medicine ball, or whatever the hell Ye Olde Celtics used to sling before Spalding. A basketball. More than the nameplate in the nondescript mini-lobby, this detail marks the building Dribbble’s home.
Dribbble occupies portions of the Pickman’s second and third floors. The upstairs, heart of Dribbble HQ, meets the requirements of a 21st-century web startup: cool visuals, brew-stocked fridge, IKEA furniture, Ping-Pong court/conference table, wide-screen TV, skylights illuminating three desks in various states of disarray, over-the-door basketball hoop, and, directly above Community Manager Samuel Fine's desk, a handsome, gable-end, Federal-style fanlight.
An upstairs eating nook and lounge looks over the downstairs, which features the aforementioned arched windows, a seating area, a quiet and lovely corner fireplace, and Dribbble’s order-fulfillment department, whose bagged t-shirts and logo-stamped swag creep along two walls. The overlook inflates the sense of space both up and down. It also provides Dribbble minor leaguers Jack Cederholm and Wes Thornett, both 7, opportunities for multi-level, historic-window-threatening dodgeball.
Before Dribbble moved in, the office had a fantastical, impractical, winding iron staircase. Dan and Rich admired it on multiple visits to the space. Or the one time they toured the space. Because they needed a new office. Or they didn’t want a new office but liked the space. Or knew a guy. Or, you know, forget the narrative, here’s what they said:
Dan: We were running out of space.
Rich: Not really. We walked over here and we loved it. Why did we come over?
Dan: I think the guy down the hall told us about it. Did we just walk over?
Rich: I feel like we had a tour.
Dan: The first floor had a big glass wall dividing off a conference space.
Rich: It did?
Whatever the origin story, they loved the space. The landlord wanted them installed in the office, which had become an albatross in a building full of more traditional square footage. After some months spent ogling from The Old Office across the street, the guys signed on and move to 16 Front Street.
Sadly, the landlord demolished the helix-icious staircase to create a more functional, if slightly less funky, office. No matter, Dribbble has made much use of all of the space, inviting in a new resident employee (Sam) and visiting remote employee (Tristan), hosting two Dribbble meet-ups, family movie nights (Hotel Transylvania, popcorn, Tenley Cederholm and Annalise Thornett smushed and giggling on a giant pink beanbag), Ping-Pong battles, a National Poetry Month meet-up, and a round of Dungeons and Dragons.
(Wizard Franklin Turbosteel and halfing Gresql would turn pinker than their logo if this writer shared their role-playing exploits, so she won’t. She will note that, before he ODed on geek, Gresql told her his halfling name comes from PostgreSQL, the popular open-source database on which Dribbble runs. Swilling from a thick stein of nerd, Mr. Turbosteel added that, when times get desperate in the ancient wood, the team throws Gresql, transforming him from fellow traveler to weaponry.)
A regional office of South Carolina’s History Press occupied the cavernous space before Dribbble; the entire second and third floors have been devoted to office space since the 1970s when a local architect renovated the entire block.
Photo: Bill Conti
Before the 1970s … mystery.
In a town you can’t walk around without tripping on fragments of history; in a city that markets itself as bowl full of the past, the lack of knowledge is notable but not worth dwelling on except to list the parties who knew nothing: the Salem Redevelopment Authority, the local historian, the historic preservation society, the research librarians and their history books. All were exceedingly helpful, interested, and flummoxed. The most informative subject proved Salem architect David Hart.
"In the early 70’s I toured the upper buildings on Front Street … . I recall that the space was empty at that time. I recall that it did not look finished. I also recall that [another architect] remarked, ‘let us carefully and quietly leave this space as the structural system is in terrible shape and the roof and floor is totally inadequately supported.’ So indeed it could have been storage space."
The storage speculation fits neatly with the street’s history. While Dribbble’s building currently faces a yarn shop and a women’s boutique, Front Street once faced the water. Known commonly as Wharf Street and sometimes Water Street, the thoroughfare fronted the South River. Traders in ships pulled up to Front Street like so many Colonial cabbies, dumping their wares for storage in one of the several warehouses that lined the street.
From “Salem in the Eighteenth Century”:
Hogsheads of molasses, casks of indigo, barrels of sugar, and casks of rum and wine would be seen moving from ships to warehouses already piled with bales of English goods lately received, or barrels of salted beef and piles of dry salt codfish ready to ship. Cargoes were coming ashore to the noise of hand-turned windlasses and capstans, while lumber and barrel staves, hickory barrel hoops, firkins, buckets, and all sorts of woodenware went aboard. Cheese, barrels of pork and beef, and boxes of Yankee notions helped in a small way to make up the cargoes.
Pixels got nothing on a boatload of firkins.
Once the South River became Salem via one of several landfill projects expanding Salem’s land mass, Front Street became a street proper and the Pickman Building joined the bustle. A string of businesses moved in and out of building’s first floor: tobbacconists, lunch counters, liquor stores, billiard parlors, grocers and purveyors of everything from poultry supplies to bananas. Salem Hardware occupied a chunk of the first floor for much of the mid-20th century.
Photo: Bill Conti
After the building’s renovation in the 1970s, the ground floor remained retail. Currently, Dan, Rich and Sam sit above a candy store, a clothing store, and a coffee shop. They share the second and third floors with respectable professional types such as lawyers and accountants, who tolerate their shenanigans, perhaps out of fear of flying halflings.
While Dribbble’s geographical forefather’s might cry “witchcraft” at the sight of a laptop, they might well feel a kinship to Dribbble’s mission: finding, housing, and sharing items of value. In the 21st century, the products are born not of physical labor but creative endeavor, and the wares are stored in ether.