Thursday, May 30, 2013

Teen takes coupons to extreme for higher good

May 27, 2013

At first glance, Nicholas Persky's bedroom in San Francisco looks like a typical teen's room, with Giants World Series memorabilia on the walls along with a movie poster or two.

At second glance, his room looks like an office supply/convenience store, with a table full of shampoo, hair dye, soda bottles, nail polish, room freshener, cat litter, deodorant, cereal and toothpaste.

Nearby are shelves of markers, glue, pens, computer fans, laptop covers and an out-of-place toaster.
On the ground is 650 pounds of printer paper - 65,000 sheets neatly bundled in 130 reams.

All of it, every piece of paper and tube of toothpaste, was free.

Nicholas, 17, is what some call an extreme couponer. He spends hours and hours researching sales, discounts, coupons and store rewards to not only get stuff for free, but also to make money in the process.

Last year, he said, he made about $2,000.

He started couponing two years ago.

Unlike a lot of coupon devotees and those shown on reality television, he doesn't do it to hoard household items - say, enough hand lotion to make it through the apocalypse.

Michael Macor, The Chronicle
Persky donates or gives friends items from his huge collection of goods acquired with coupons.
The Lick-Wilmerding High School junior loves the challenge. The money isn't bad, either.

"I don't really get excited over the shampoo itself," he said. "I'm not emotionally attached to the mouth rinse."
It's basically a hobby, he said, albeit one that takes a lot of time when he's not doing schoolwork or volunteering for the city's Youth Commission.

Started club for students

And if it sounds quirky or nerdy, think again. When he started an extreme couponing club at his school, 60 kids showed up for the first meeting and another 60 the second.

Nicholas tried to explain how the coupon concept works, but to the uninitiated, it's mind-bogglingly complicated. Every store or product can require a different strategy.

Generally, he studies sales ads up to two weeks before a trip to a store and combs through online coupons. He gets tips from couponing websites and communicates with fellow couponers.

Michael Macor, The Chronicle
High schooler Nicholas Persky shows the room full of items he's gotten for free through his extreme couponing venture.

He used to do it for fun to get free stuff, but these days he's moved into advanced couponing, where folks are "monetizing the rewards."

Free used to be the goal, he said.

"Not anymore," he said. "I don't have time for free anymore."

His mom, Anne McMullen, smiled and recounted an infuriating 11 p.m. run to a grocery store for cereal.
With coupons and two compatible rebates, he took home 100 boxes of cereal that night and yielded about $75 in pure profit. In other words, he said, the cereal company paid him 79 cents for each box of their breakfast food he brought home.

"It's a challenge - it's gaming the system in some ways for sure," Nicholas said, adding that it takes higher math skills and sometimes a graphing calculator to play the game.

Yet he wants or keeps little of what he acquires, usually just the chocolate and candy. He gives the rest away to friends, neighbors and good causes.

Crayons and nail polish went to Ethiopia. Several boxes of Rice Krispies cereal were converted by friends into treats and shipped to soldiers in Kuwait.

A $50 diabetes kit went to a needy friend.

But the paper was special.

Nearly every Friday for the past several months, he hopped on Muni and headed to an office supply store where he used his frequent customer rewards and coupons to get a discount on paper that was often "free after rebate." He had calculated to the penny, paying sales tax with gift cards finagled from other transactions.

School grateful for paper

Then he'd lug the 20-pound boxes home, where he was saving the paper to make a sizable donation to a public school that needed the supplies.

"He wants to do this," his mom said. "He knows about the total inequities in different parts of the city."
On Friday, with 130 reams in hand, or rather in the trunks of two cars, he donated the paper to Bret Harte Elementary School in the Bayview.

Principal Jeanne Dowd was stunned by the amount of paper - and more surprised that it came by way of coupons.

The school started the year with eight break-ins by vandals that destroyed art supplies and damaged property, she said. But it was ending with $700 in desperately needed paper.

"It means starting the next year in a place where the teachers have all the paper they need," she said as students stacked the paper in a hallway. "That will last us half a year."

Nicholas smiled shyly, appearing a bit overwhelmed by the principal's and students' gratitude.
He promised to return with more.

"I didn't know that office supplies could be that important," he said outside the school. "It's just paper."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Jason Collins paving way for sports' progress

For those who have long prepared - and pleaded - for the day when an active male pro athlete would say he's gay, the generally positive public reaction to NBA player Jason Collins' announcement this week has been reassuring.

Gay rights organizations and educators have worked for years, largely behind the scenes, to help smooth the way for Collins' disclosure. But now the harder work begins, say those who have been at the forefront of trying to eliminate homophobia in pro sports.

They want to capitalize on what Collins ignited and not allow his story to be just one man's story. If they succeed, the impact of their efforts will be felt at the professional level and trickle down to high schools, where few gay student athletes feel secure enough to be open about their sexual orientation.

"I still get chills - I've got chills right now just talking about (Collins)," said Helen Carroll, a Mountain View resident who coached a women's college basketball team to a national championship and who has trained hundreds of coaches and administrators for years about dealing with gay athletes through the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

But while the initial cultural impact of Collins' coming out is significant, Carroll said, because "men's pro sports are god in this country," nobody should expect a flood of athletes to follow him out of the closet. "Maybe just a trickle, at first," she said.

"A lot of people, I know, are waiting and watching what the reaction is over the next few months," said Carroll, who leads the Sports Project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The next step is focusing on leaders of professional sports leagues, says a year-old organization in San Francisco called the Last Closet, which is focused on eliminating homophobia in pro sports.

Even before Collins came out, the group had been trying to leverage public pressure to get commissioners of the major U.S. sports leagues not only to speak out against homophobia but to create a safety net for players - like Collins - who say they're gay.

So far, none of the commissioners has responded to the Last Closet's request for an on-camera testimonial about the subject. It has been organizing an online letter-writing campaign to league executives and team presidents, urging them to tackle the issue.

Preston Gannaway, Special To The Chronicle
Kevin Gogin says NBA player Jason Collins' coming out "is just the punctuation, the exclamation part on the sentence. It is up to us, as educators and a community, to write the rest of the story. To keep it going."

Leagues take action

Still, in recent months some pro leagues have started to take steps toward more openly addressing homophobia in their ranks. Last month, the National Hockey League announced a partnership with You Can Play, an activist organization that promotes equality for all athletes, regardless of their sexual orientation.

It is run by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, whose brother Brendan came out in 2009 and died a year later in a car crash. Their father is Brian Burke, a longtime NHL executive who won the Stanley Cup as general manager of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and has been an outspoken gay rights advocate.

NBA Commissioner David Stern was supportive in the wake of Collins' disclosure, saying "Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue."

Two years ago, Stern fined one of the league's marquee players, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, $100,000 for making an antigay slur on the court. This week, Bryant was one of the first players to support Collins publicly.

In the past, unspoken

That is another sign of progress to Carroll, 60, who came out 20 years ago. When she coached the University of North Carolina-Asheville to the 1984 NAIA women's basketball championship, she said, "I don't think I ever said the word, 'lesbian,' on campus." Her team knew she was gay and so did school administrators but the subject was largely unspoken.

Now, many educators hope Collins' example can help gay young people playing high school sports.
A nationwide survey of gay secondary school students found that 28 percent of them reported being "harassed or assaulted" while playing on a sports team because of their sexual orientation, according to the February survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, also known as GLSEN.

Since 2011, the advocacy organization has run a sports program called "Changing the Game," which offers educators resources for connecting with LGBT students.

Continuing the story

About a year ago, the San Francisco Unified School District held a nationally pioneering training session for some of its coaches and administrators based on GLSEN's program.

"We had been hearing from some of our students about the homophobia they were exposed to around athletics," said Kevin Gogin, a school district program manager who has been working on gay and lesbian issues in education for more than two decades.

Collins' story will be helpful, Gogin said, because the NBA player provides gay students with a real-life role model.

But Collins "is just the punctuation, the exclamation part on the sentence," Gogin said. "It is up to us, as educators and a community, to write the rest of the story. To keep it going."

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

AIM aims high for music education

Classmates Anya Middle (left) and Caroline Irons sway to the music by the Ka-Hon Ensemble at a performance for the students at Alvarado Elementary School in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, April 19, 2013. The San Francisco Symphony's Adventures In Music program brings musicians to the schools to teach children about the importance of rhythm and sound.

When a South American fusion band trained by the San Francisco Symphony started drumming onstage one recent morning, Stella Gould sat rapt. As the show ended, she clapped politely, smiled as her friend took a camera-phone picture, and rose to leave.

"I would give it 25 stars," said Stella, who said she has seen "many, many" Symphony concerts now. "The best by far. Cultural, rich, awesome-amazing."

That Stella Gould is 10 years old and that the concert was in the Alvarado Elementary School auditorium would have been a surprise in many quarters, but not in San Francisco.

For the past 25 years, first- through fifth-graders at every public school in San Francisco have gone through a comprehensive music curriculum, Adventures in Music (AIM), funded and run by the San Francisco Symphony.

The Symphony brings musicians to play Western classical, Latin American and Asian music in school auditoriums. Unique when it started in 1988, the curriculum - where 25,000 students attend eight performances at school and go on a field trip to Davies Symphony Hall - remains the only city-wide program of its kind and size in the United States.

Over carrots and dried seaweed snacks at recess, Cameron Sacks, a 9-year-old who makes music videos of himself drumming using Photo Booth, said that "usually we only get 30 minutes of music on Tuesday if we sign up with the teachers. Today was way, way hundred times better."

The AIM organizers and the band, Ka-Hon, stood around the simple plywood box drums (cajones, from Peru) that had been the morning lesson.

"It's hard to overstate how special this program is," said AIM co-founder Sammi Madison. "No other city in the U.S. has this. Very few programs this significant have ever, ever been brought to scale."

Back in the late '80s, music departments around the country were being cut - and San Francisco was hit hard. By 1988, the number of public school music teachers had fallen from 125 to 59 (an average of 867 students per teacher) - "the school system has bought no new instruments since the 1970s," The Chronicle reported in December of that year.

Paul Chinn, The Chronicle
Javier Cabanillas lets students beat on a cajon percussion instrument during a performance by the Ka-Hon Ensemble at Alvarado Elementary School in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, April 19, 2013. The San Francisco Symphony's Adventures In Music program brings musicians to the schools to teach children about the importance of rhythm and sound.

Yet the Symphony, thanks to private benefactors, was thriving.

"It got to the point where the Symphony just sat down with the school districts and said, listen, we have to do something," said Ronald Gallman, 56, the Symphony's director of education and youth orchestra. "Or there won't be a sophisticated, educated audience."

The Symphony's education department amounted to Gallman, then 31, and a small group of other young employees who worked out of the windowless basement of Davies.

Gallman called Sammi Madison, a writer and producer living in Oakland. He had an idea for an audience-centric music curriculum and needed someone to help write a proposal. Madison and a consultant, Mitchell Korn, trekked through dozens of schools, taking music classes across the city, interviewing over a hundred teachers and meeting with parents.

They realized that many students didn't have even a basic awareness of the elements of musical performance - and that the changing demographics of San Francisco meant a traditional western classical educational program could seem out of place.

"So we decided to build it exactly for San Francisco, for the students we were meeting," Madison said.

Paul Chinn, The Chronicle
Javier Cabanillas lets students beat on a cajon percussion instrument during a performance by the Ka-Hon Ensemble at Alvarado Elementary School in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, April 19, 2013. The San Francisco Symphony's Adventures In Music program brings musicians to the schools to teach children about the importance of rhythm and sound.

Their curriculum, which emphasizes the role of the audience as an active participant, brought in elements from Latin America and Asia, along with traditional western composers like Beethoven.

"At the time it was absolutely revolutionary," said Madison. "The idea that students should be provided musical experiences from different cultural traditions, including their own traditions, that it should be fun but sophisticated enough that they could then go to the symphony and understand - it just hadn't been done before."

The Symphony's assistant conductor at the time, Leif Bjaland, had been working with the established youth concert series (which has put on classical shows for children since 1919) and stepped in to help.

"There were very few places that would ever embark on the AIM program - they'd say 'that's just not what orchestras do, orchestras play Beethoven, orchestras don't sponsor a mariachi group or an Asian group,' " said Bjaland, who at the time was living in Twin Peaks. "But San Francisco being the city it is, at the intersection of so many cultures, it was fertile ground."

The local response was almost universally enthusiastic - and in its second year, the AIM program received a $1 million dollar grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

"The Symphony 25 years ago had a choice - of saying 'they need to come to us' or 'we're going to go to them in any way we can,' " Bjaland said. "And to great credit, they chose the latter."

San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza, who began his career as a music teacher, said AIM dramatically expands the city's music instruction.

"It's one of our city's crowing jewels. Without AIM, there would be a hole in the musical experience of all our children in San Francisco," he said. "We have computers that can write and code. What sets the human species apart is that we have the ability to emotionalize what we see and what we hear."

Last year, the AIM program had a budget of over $1 million and included 24 concerts for kids at Davies. Each starts with a bright and upbeat opener, like Rossini's Overture to "The Barber of Seville," recognizable from Bugs Bunny. Students are often most excited about the building itself - with acoustic shields that hang above the stage, egg carton protrusions on the wall and heavy draperies.

"It's so good for them to be exposed to it, to realize it's not scary," Madison said. "And to have had classes before they visit."

Back at Alvarado Middle School, the fifth-graders jumped onstage to touch the drums. Several students asked the band questions in Spanish. A fusion band brought together by the Symphony, the Ka-Hon performers, led by Omar Ledezma, responded in Spanish.

Leaving the auditorium, the students were jumping and drumming the walls.

"We have clarinet every Tuesday for a little, but it gets kind of boring," said 11-year-old Xiarel Guillermo, who is teaching herself the music-mixing software GarageBand at home and was sharing her carrots at the wooden recess table. "This is totally different. It's a real concert."

Theo Gregoratos, 10, liked that "the drums were so loud. I bet it bothers the teachers' ears and only kids like it."

His older brother is teaching him to play the drums, and he said he wanted to learn how to play the Ka-Hon tracks.

Sitting next to him was 11-year-old Noah David who deemed the concert "different and festive. Very emotional."

Alvarado Principal Robert Broeker walked along the sunny hop-scotch area. He said he was grateful for the arts specialist Alvarado gets one day a week - "We're lucky enough to have that. Other schools are not so lucky. AIM is absolutely crucial for filling in the gaps for us and everyone else."

Madison, now director of education programs for the Symphony, sat in back of the auditorium, quietly flipping through the small textbooks each student receives from the Symphony. Updated every year, the booklet still has much of the curriculum she devised 25 years ago.

"The 25th anniversary isn't a Symphony celebration, it's a city celebration - because it's everywhere you look."

Friday, May 3, 2013

Duncan notes SF school improvements after funding

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee visited a middle school in the Mission District this morning to call attention to the improvements made in the wake of federal funding to the city's school district. 

Duncan, Lee and other top school officials held a roundtable discussion during a visit to Everett Middle School, one of nine schools in San Francisco that was awarded federal School Improvement Grants in 2011.
The historically low-performing schools in the city's Mission and Bayview districts were given $45 million over a three-year period that went toward professional development and coaching for school staff, among other improvements, according to school district officials.

Since 2008, those nine schools have had an 18.4 percent gain in English language arts proficiency and a 26.9 percent gain in math proficiency, district officials said.

Duncan said he was "absolutely inspired" by the improvements made at Everett.

He said during today's visit, he talked to an eighth-grader there who "said she was terrified to come to this school as a sixth grader, and now this school has a wait list."

Lee said the federal funding has helped reduce barriers for low-income students and those who speak English as a second language.

"Once we get rid of those barriers, our kids who come from all over the world will compete on an international basis," he said.

Duncan said he is working to get more federal funding from Congress, but "they look at education as an expense instead of an investment."

He said in the meantime, San Francisco can come up with creative ways to maintain funding for the schools, noting that the mayor has sought help from the private and nonprofit sectors.

"People want to be part of a winner," Duncan said. "We've gotten something started and he's got a heck of a story to tell."

The federal School Improvement Grant funding ends this September.

The other schools in San Francisco that received the funding are Bryant Elementary, Cesar Chavez Elementary, George Washington Carver Elementary, Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8, John Muir Elementary, John O'Connell High, Mission High and Paul Revere K-8.

Middle school help starts to bear fruit

Mayor Ed Lee's "adoption" of San Francisco's middle schools is starting to bear fruit, with the mayor saying Thursday he had already raised $2.7 million from private donors to help improve education at what he has described as the steepest "drop-off point in our whole public education system in San Francisco."

Lee has been pretty tight-lipped about specifics on the program but earlier said he wanted to increase parent involvement, have professionals volunteer in schools and use private donations to fund wireless access and table computers for all of the city's middle schools.

"I've gone ahead and adopted all 12 middle schools in San Francisco as being the focus of my philanthropic fundraising so that ... the principals and the teachers are getting all the resources they need to be really successful," Lee said earlier.

Middle schools are where the city sees the most distinct erosion in public education, with kids starting to drop out and many parents becoming less engaged, Lee said.

Much of new money has come from donors, although it's still a fraction of the $40 million in now-drained federal grant funding that had flowed into nine of the city's lowest performing schools in the last three years.

Lee also wants to introduce something similar to the "coder dojo" he saw at Blackrock Castle Observatory on his March trip to Cork, Ireland, where youth were taught computer coding like a foreign language and quickly took to it.

"The kids were creating their own animations," Lee said after the trip. "I could see that 10 years down the road, you've got somebody who is going to be really great in robotics, someone who is going to do animation for Pixar."

- John Coté and Jill Tucker

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Education chief sees results of extra funds

May 3, 2013

San Francisco's mayor, the city's schools superintendent and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sat around a big table at Everett Middle School and enthusiastically agreed that a huge infusion of federal money made the previously unpopular, low-performing school much, much better.

Principals from other city schools that also got about $5 million in federal School Improvement Grants also cited improved student test scores, reduced suspensions, increased graduation rates and other successes they attributed to the cash.

"We thought this would work," Duncan said.

But along with the proud public officials, the elephant in the room was a question without a good answer: What happens now?

Everett was one of nine schools in the district that received federal grants lasting three years.

The extra money, which runs out this year, bought counselors, summer school, tutors, parent liaisons, literacy experts, teacher training, nurses, technology, after-school programs and more, the principals said.

District officials said they will find funding to keep what they felt was most effective, including classroom coaches to help teachers.

Still, a lot of the positions and programs funded by the federal grants will go away.

"The money does matter," said Christopher Rosenberg, John Muir Elementary principal.

Beck Diefenbach, Special To The Chronicle
Everett Middle School eighth-graders respond to Duncan's questions about their college hopes and ambitions.

Across the country, 1,300 low-performing schools received a piece of the more than $3 billion in grants, agreeing to adopt one of four reform strategies: replace most of the staff; replace the principal and revamp teaching methods; convert to a charter school; or close the school.

San Francisco schools that received the federal grants got an average of $4,000 more per student for three years.

Duncan said he and President Obama are pushing for more money to sustain the successful efforts seen in the schools receiving grants.

And if Congress says no?

"I don't hear anyone here (in San Francisco) making excuses," he said. "That work is not going to stop."
At Everett on Thursday, eighth-grade students told Duncan that when they started sixth grade, they were afraid to attend the Mission District school. There were a lot of fights and few families wanted to send their children there.

Beck Diefenbach, Special To The Chronicle
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (in white shirt) engages with S.F. principals, parents and officials at Everett Middle School.

Now there's a waiting list for the incoming sixth-grade class and kids want to be there, the students said.
"That's a huge change - a huge change," Duncan said, smiling.

Time will tell whether the money bought long-lasting change.

In the grant schools, there are specially trained teachers, sparkling libraries and new computer labs. There are consistent procedures in place in terms of student discipline and identifying academically struggling students.

And the grants allowed schools to have enough financial freedom to see what kinds of programs or staff would make the most difference for their students, city education officials said.

That means going forward, they can get the most return on local, state or federal investment of taxpayer dollars, Duncan said.

"Resources matter," Duncan said. "But what matters as much if not more is courage."

While some educators might dispute that, those in San Francisco acknowledged that they don't have much of a choice.

"We had kids coming to our school before SIG and kids coming to our school after SIG," Rosenberg said, referring to the grant.

Duncan urged the two dozen San Francisco principals, teachers and administrators to share their success stories to persuade Congress to keep the money flowing.

"There are people who want to cut funding, who don't believe you can turn around schools," Duncan said. "Think about how you can tell these kinds of stories. They are not miracles."

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Nourse auditorium reborn as theater

Nourse auditorium reborn as theater

April 30, 2013

Nourse Auditorium at the High School of Commerce is the largest - and was the emptiest - public school performance space in San Francisco.

It went dark when Commerce went out of business in 1952, and it pretty much stayed dark until the day Sydney Goldstein knew she needed it. That was the day she learned that Herbst Theatre, where she has produced City Arts & Lectures for 32 years, would close for two years as part of a major overhaul of the War Memorial Veterans Building.

The prudent course would have been for City Arts to vagabond from rented theater to rented theater until it could return to the Herbst in 2015. But Goldstein wasn't interested in the prudent course, and that is why City Arts & Lectures has a red awning, newly christened by graffiti, outside the auditorium. It's the first time in history that City Arts has had its name on its own theater.

"I am unduly proud of this place," Goldstein says, while trying out a newly upholstered chair - row F, seat 13, which she considers the best seat in the house that Sydney built.

Tonight, after a performance by Garrison Keillor and Calvin Trillin, accompanied by Peter Duchin on piano, the Herbst will close. Goldstein is calling it the Last Foxtrot, a reference to the "The Last Waltz" at Winterland in 1976, which she left early, to her lasting regret.

But she won't be leaving the Last Foxtrot early. After the show she'll roll the City Arts set - two chairs, a table, a rug and a vase of tulips - two blocks down Franklin and across Hayes Street.

Nourse Theater


Wednesday night, Goldstein debuts the Nourse Theater, named after Joseph P. Nourse, a former school superintendent. Writer Michael Lewis is the opener, and he'd better have something riveting to say if he is going to steal the thunder from the hall itself, which is nearly twice the size of Herbst and nearly twice as intimate.

The sound and carpeting are new, as are most of the lights and 1,600 seats. Everything else is old school - 1926 to be exact, making it six years older than the War Memorial complex that includes the Opera House and Herbst. Designed by prominent architect John Reid Jr., Commerce is a city landmark and the only example of the exuberant Spanish Colonial Revival style in the Civic Center.

Goldstein had the option to rename the Nourse, and did upgrade it from auditorium to theater. But she wouldn't fool with Nourse. She is so respectful of history that even the stuff that had to be replaced, like the wall sconces and the 500 25-watt bulbs in the chandeliers, looks original.

Russell Yip, The Chronicle
The Nourse Theater which was formerly the Commerce High School auditorium is seen on Thursday, April 4, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. City Arts and Lectures will be using the space while its current venue, the Herbst Theater, is closed for seismic upgrades. 

"I have loved the Herbst so much that you wouldn't believe it," she says. "It is my sanctuary, and I was very upset about its closing. But I now have done so much work on this place that I'm getting attached to it."

She has all but moved into the Green Room at stage left, furnishing it with an antique chaise, a white rotary-dial phone, a vintage radio and an Art Deco bar. Six weeks before the opener, she is here to discuss equipment needed for front-of-house staff. With her are City Arts associate producers Holly Mulder-Wollan and daughter Kate Goldstein-Breyer; granddaughter Annabel, age 4 months; and Annabel's nanny, Patricia Moreno.

Goldstein grew up in San Francisco and went to Lowell High School, which links her to the school where she now sits. "Everything is linked," she says.

Commerce (originally called Commercial High School) opened in 1883 as the business department of Boys High School, which eventually became Lowell. Commerce then split off from Lowell to a campus on Nob Hill. It relocated twice more before settling on Market Street just in time to go up in flames in 1906.

It was resurrected on a lot at Grove and Larkin streets where city architect Newton Thwarp designed a school framed in steel and clad in brick. It was built to last, and it did, just not in that location. To make way for the Civic Auditorium, Commerce was put on wheels and rolled three blocks to the southwest corner of Franklin and Fell streets, where it finally came to rest in 1913, under the loftier title High School of Commerce.

On the block


The original brick school was then surrounded by Reid's addition, which filled in the block. On the Franklin Street side, you can see pictures in the clerestory windows to reference the new SFJazz Center across the street. On the Van Ness side is the main entrance to the administrative offices for the San Francisco Unified School District. Inside the door is a glass case holding a blue letter sweater and other mementos of the Commerce Bulldogs, who won the city varsity football championship in 1950.

©Roslyn Banish, City Arts And Lectures
  All of the 1,600 seats in the theater are new, except in the balcony, where rows of the original wooden seats remain.   

At the end of the 1951 school year, Commerce was closed, though the auditorium was still used for special events, like the Christmas pageant for the Town School for Boys. Goldstein has a vague recollection of being in high school at Lowell and seeing a Pete Seeger concert here. She has a much clearer memory of coming through here when it had been converted to a courtroom for a two-year asbestos trial that began in 1985.
She saw a picture of the trial proceedings in Time or Newsweek and came by for a look. To squeeze in 100 lawyers and their piles and piles of discovery, the seating on the ground floor had been ripped out, and the floor leveled, and that is how the lawyers left it at trial's end.

The district put a lock on the Nourse, and there she sat.

When the time came for Goldstein to find a new venue for City Arts, she visited the Nourse, accompanied by an expensive contractor with a top construction firm. She asked him what it would take to get the Nourse working again.

His number was $22 million, not counting lighting and sound.

Her number was $1 million, arrived at after touring Cuba a few years prior and watching performances in theaters in far worse shape than the Nourse.

"Nobody believed that we could do it so cheaply," she says proudly, and that included a majority of her own board members who didn't want to throw money into this fire. Goldstein wouldn't cave, so her board did, provided she could show them the money in six months.

Raising the money took a little longer than that, but Goldstein ended up exceeding her goal of $1 million by $53,000. She hasn't been loose with even $1 of it.

She's been her own project manager, interior designer and bucket brigade, mopping up after the roof leaked. She's been here at dawn with a coat over her bathrobe to unlock the door for electricians.
"Ask me how much anything costs," she says, as a challenge. Well, what about these new custom chairs in the orchestra seating?

"Three hundred sixty thousand for 818 seats," she says, breaking it down to $440.09 apiece, "and another $90,000 for the four rows of the loge."

The rows of original wooden chairs will remain in the balcony above the loge. It's the place to sit if you are carrying a hat. There is a wire rack to tuck it in, on the underside of each chair.

Goldstein's group is the master lease holder of the Nourse, on a three-year deal with the school district, and three-year options after that. Word is out, and other groups are starting to rent from her. The Merola Opera Program will test the acoustics in June. Later that month, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus is premiering "I Am Harvey Milk" at the Nourse. The San Francisco Ballet has reserved it for lectures, and San Francisco Performances has booked six shows.

Goldstein can see a future here.

"Now I'm a landlord," she says, liking the sound of that enough to try it out again. "Yeah. I'm a landlord."

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