James Porter: Managing a 1914 Edwardian in The Tenderloin

March 24th, 2017

Every day is different. James Porter’s job as a resident manager at 540 Leavenworth keeps him busy 24/7. Every day he walks the building and looks for anything out of place or not as it should be. His main priority is to make sure everything is okay with the building and his residents.

James’ background as a real estate broker and in flipping houses has helped him to become ingratiated with the residents in the building despite some renovations and construction inconveniences. The tenants describe James as extremely responsive, detail oriented, self-motivated, and professional. He prides himself on his nearly constant availability and responsiveness.

James Porter’s building: 540 Leavenworth

The building at 540 Leavenworth was built in 1914, and by all accounts, it was a spectacular structure—a five-story Edwardian with commanding views. By the 1920s, this part of town was known for theaters and nightlife, as well as gambling and speakeasies. After World War II, people started to flee downtown areas to the suburbs, leaving vacant housing. The low-cost, primarily single-room apartments attracted a wide cross-section of society. The building continued to fall into disrepair by the early-2000s.

In 2012, a three-alarm fire displaced 66 residents at the building and caused over $1,000,000 in damage. Major renovations were needed to return the building to its original glory. Every apartment in the building was gutted and remodeled—the effort involved completely new internal systems, interior design and external restoration. Every resident displaced by the fire was invited to move into another apartment by Greentree Property Management and afforded the opportunity to move back into 540 Leavenworth upon completion of the renovation. It was finished and re-opened in June of 2015 as the Element Apartments and the property was fully leased soon after opening.

The silver lining from this tragedy was that Greentree Property Management took this opportunity to add the latest technological advances, making this one of the premier properties in the area. A modern entry system enables residents to talk with and see their guests on their smartphones, and the periodic table-inspired design of the foyer is one of many modern/industrial design elements within the 100-year-old historic building. A 1,000-square foot rooftop deck was added, as was a dog run in the rear yard. Hardwood floors, exposed brick, and stainless steel appliances make the units feel more contemporary. Residents enjoy their in-building yoga space and media room.

James finishes the 2016 AIDS/LifeCycle Ride

People started moving in even before all the restoration was complete, so James had to juggle schedules and reassure people. He takes a lot of pride in making sure that all his tenants are given adequate notice and feel confident their belongings are safe when people are coming and going. “I had to make sure either I or the resident was present when a workman came into the building or their home. The key is communication.” He also wants to make sure the job is done right to avoid additional, unnecessary visits. “The work needs to get done properly the first time and with the least amount of inconvenience,” James emphasized.


Despite his round-the-clock responsibilities with the building, James has found time to give back to the community over the years. One of his causes has been the 7-day, 545-mile bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles known as AIDS/LifeCycle that raises money and awareness for the fight against AIDS. “My first ride was 18 years ago. Over the years I’ve raised approximately $15,000 and I’ve participated in eight AIDS Ride events,” said James.

James has participated in eight SF to LA cycling events

As a long-time resident of the Tenderloin, James has a strong attachment to the area. It’s one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and most here are proud of the character and diversity, though it hasn’t always been considered the safest. Problems and crime have decreased as new residents have moved in, attracted by the location, walkability, new restaurants, and new retail spaces.

James’ number one priority continues to be providing safety, comfort, and convenience for his residents. “The fabric of the neighborhood is changing. But the feedback that I hear is that the remodeling and changes have been appreciated, and people are noticing.” And every one of his residents notice the caring and passion James has for the people here, the Tenderloin, and 540 Leavenworth.

This year’s AIDS/LifeCycle takes place from June 4th to June 10th. If you’d like to participate in any way, visit their website at http://www.aidslifecycle.org/

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