From apartment building to full size gym: the evolution of Urban’s campus

Lena Bianchi, Head of Illustration

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In 1966, 22 students, ready to start their high school careers, entered a small building on Washington Street to mark the beginning of The Urban School. From its modest beginning, it expanded to a new location in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood 11 years later and has continued to expand its footprint to better serve its students and pursue its academic vision ever since.

While Page Street’s hallways and classrooms seamlessly tie together to create a cohesive school, the facade of The Urban School’s campus, comprised of multiple buildings, reflects its architectural development over time.

Urban’s campus has continued to evolve and develop through the years, from moving from its location on Washington Street to its newest addition on Oak Street, The Salkind Center. Each expansion had its own purpose for the constantly growing school. From the time of the school’s opening in 1966, Urban has responded to the demand for growth. Mark Salkind (‘70), Head of School, has lead Urban through many of its major changes and remodels.

“When it started in 1966 it had 22 students and by the time I graduated in 1970 it had 90 students and was still located on Washington Street. But it has continued to grow in enrollment so the impetus for adding space and buildings has been one of two things: either we want to have a larger enrollment or, more the case of the Salkind Center and the Oak Street building, we simply didn’t have enough classrooms to grow our programs smoothly so we needed more space. Urban has been very crowded for most of its history, not all of it, but for the last 15 to 20 years it’s been an overcrowded school,” said Salkind.

Urban’s first big transition was its move into the Gumption building in the summer of 1977. The tiles on the face of the building and California State seal placed in front represent the preexisting tile factory that came before. Salkind said that “when we moved here there was a very tiny private elementary school, and then we took it over to lease that space.” That marked the beginning of the growth and expansion on Page Street. Today, the Gumption building is home to Urban’s theater and music program, as well as several classrooms and offices.

“Then we leased the next building which used to be three separate Victorian flats. We started by renting out the top two flats and used the lower floor for offices. The only way to travel between buildings was by going out the front of the building or through the backyard. We had been leasing the Gumption building, we didn’t own it at the time, and the purpose was to buy it and connect the two flats internally,” said Salkind.

In the early 1990’s, a third building was incorporated to accommodate Urban’s intentional expansion to increase enrollment. Salkind said, “We were able to buy another set of flats next door. We took it down and built the building which has the curved roof on top and houses the current library. The library was critical for a school since we didn’t have one.” However, with each building resting on a 25 square foot lot, it limited classroom size and made it difficult to create more space.

The next big expansion was in 2005, with the purchase of two last buildings on Page Street. This addition allowed Urban to increase student population, create a student center, accessible entrance, build science labs, and create the unified backyard that continues to be a favorite spot on campus.

In 2016, with the building of the new Salkind Center, the campus gained a full size gym and the desperately needed new classes, as well as new parking availability. It was important to build a “two level parking garage and a gym that had classes wrapping around it. The most unique feature is that the athletics are brought together with academic spaces and how it opens up to each other,” said Salkind.

The Salkind Center uses many stylistic choices to connect the interior designs of the two buildings. While the front does not reflect the original style of Victorian houses, the “sheer long facade, replicated the rhythm of the 25 foot lots on the Page Street campus giving the feeling of the multiple buildings,” said Salkind.

So what’s in store for Urban’s next expansion?

After the Mark Salkind Center opened in the fall of 2016, the planning for Urban’s newest campus expansion was set in motion. Urban’s Performing Arts Center is planned to replace the St. Agnes Gym and include a theater with 300+ seating, a lobby, remodeled bathrooms, a green room, an AV booth, a new classroom, remodeled and expanded fitness room, as well as a widened passageway between Page Campus and Salkind Center.

Earlier this year, Urban’s Buildings and Grounds Committee met with five theater consultant firms to discuss the development of the Performing Arts Center (PAC). “The consulting firm we chose to help us design the Performing Arts Center is Auerbach Pollock Friedlander who is based here in San Francisco and best fit the needs of Urban’s varied offerings and maximize the space. There were a few things that we know we would like to see in this remodeled PAC,” said Gretchen Sandler, chair of the committee. The Performing Arts Center would not only create a new location for performance, it would “complete our campus. The theater would be heavily used for classes and rehearsals, large meetings and other large gatherings beyond the more obvious things like theater productions, performances and concerts. The PAC would also free up Gumption Theater for other things.”

“Our current plan is to open the doors of the Performing Arts Center in the fall of 2021 if all goes well.  We’ve already started raising money and it is our hope that, assuming fundraising goes as planned, construction will take place in 2020-2021,” said Sandler

The evolution of the Urban school has supported the growth of the school and its ability to serve more students and the expansion of its footprint has made that possible.