In the latest boost to San Francisco’s central city neighborhoods, the Academy of Art University has opened a fashion school at the historic California Hall building at 625 Polk (at Turk) that formerly housed the California Culinary Academy. The school’s opening last week has already brought a new level of energy to a corner that has been virtually abandoned since the Culinary Academy’s departure. The school should be a boon to nearby restaurants on Polk, Eddy, and Larkin, and should join with the opening of the new SF PUC building next year in reviving the once successful restaurant row between Polk and Van Ness on Golden Gate Avenue.
The Academy of Art University (AAU) has long been rumored to be seeking a facility in the central city area, and has now moved in to one of San Francisco’s greatest architectural jewels, the former California Hall at Polk and Turk. Built in 1912 by the German Association when Polk Strasse was the main commercial street for San Francisco's many German immigrants, the structure is said to have been inspired
by a castle in Heidelburg, is San Francisco Landmark 174.
AAU is only the latest institution with many options that has chosen to invest in one of San Francisco’s central city neighborhoods. And news of each project increases confidence in the area’s future.
Less than a block from the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District, the fashion school will boost economic activity in all directions. In fact, the biggest downside of the move is that lines at Brenda’s French Soul Food
restaurant across the street will be even longer – though this should encourage the opening of quality dining spots nearby.
AAU’s fashion school opens as the nearby Phoenix Hotel has undergone a major upgrade, and two years after the construction of the Arnett Watson Apartments
(owned by Community Housing Partnership) greatly enhanced the street environment on Eddy between Larkin and Polk. The Mayfair Hotel across the street from the fashion school was also recently rehabilitated, and currently houses homeless families and low-income single adults (disclosure: the Mayfair is leased by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which I head and which publishes Beyond Chron).
The former Culinary Academy site is only one block from the new SF PUC building that opens in 2012. The combination of these two new facilities should help revive the distressed Golden Gate corridor between Polk and Van Ness.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Stars restaurant on this stretch of Golden Gate was among the city’s hottest restaurants. But since its closure and the failure of its successors, the strip has gotten so bad that even a low-budget Quiznos could not survive.
AAU has been trying to find a classroom site in or near the Tenderloin for years. AAU President Elisa Stephens has a fondness for historic buildings, which the central city has in large supply.
Reports of AAU’s interest in the former Culinary Academy site surface two years ago, but the school was reportedly also looking at sites on Mid-Market and at the long vacant 25 Taylor Street office building. But just as Twitter chose to move to the most architecturally distinguished building in Mid-Market (the Furniture Mart), AAU chose a building whose ornate, “Teutonic Baroque" design has made it a city favorite.
Rebecca Delgado, Vice-President of Community Relations, told me that there will be over 200 classes offered at the building each week, and that the school operates until 6:30 in the evening and on Saturdays. This will bring Saturday business to an area that lacks business from the nearby federal and state buildings on weekends.
Delgado said that AAU “is very excited to be in the neighborhood. The student and staff response has been great.” AAU’s fashion school is the only one in the country invited to the prestigious New York Fashion Week recently held in Bryant Square; this is the third year in a row that AAU’s fashion school received this honor.