This tower is a part of the San Francisco Arts Institute, located on the lower edge of the residential areas of Russian Hill and North Beach. I remember always walking by this school as a kid….
From wikipedia.org: Founded in 1871 by artists, writers, and community leaders who possessed a cultural vision for the West, the San Francisco Art Association (SFAA) became a locus for artists and thinkers. Three years later, SFAA launched The California School of Design, which was renamed California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) in 1916 and then the San Francisco Art Institute in 1961. During its first 60 years, influential artists associated with the school included Eadweard Muybridge, photographer and pioneer of motion graphics; Maynard Dixon, painter of San Francisco’s labor movement and of the landscape of the West; Henry Kiyama, whose Four Immigrants Manga was the first graphic novel published in the U.S.; Sargent Claude Johnson, one of the first African-American artists from California to achieve a national reputation; Louise Dahl-Wolfe, an innovative photographer whose work for Harper’s Bazaar in the 1930s defined a new American style of “environmental” fashion photography; John Gutzon Borglum, the creator of the large-scale public sculpture known as Mt. Rushmore; and numerous others. In 1930, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera arrived in San Francisco to paint a mural, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, at the school’s new campus on Chestnut Street.
The fire following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed both the mansion and the school. A year later, the school was rebuilt on the site of the old mansion and renamed the San Francisco Institute of Art. In 1916 the SFAA merged with the San Francisco Society of Artists and assumed directorship of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, then located in the Palace of Fine Arts, a relic of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The school was also renamed the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA). In 1926 the school moved to its present location at 800 Chestnut Street in San Francisco. After World War II, the school became a nucleus for Abstract Expressionism, with faculty including Clyfford Still, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Clay Spohn. Although painting and sculpture were the dominant mediums for many years, photography had also been among the course offerings. In 1946, Ansel Adams and Minor White established the first fine art photography department, with Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange among its instructors. In 1947, distinguished filmmaker Sydney Peterson began the first film courses at CSFA. In this spirit of advancement, in 1949 CSFA Director Douglas MacAgy organized an international conference, The Western Roundtable on Modern Art, which included Marcel Duchamp, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Gregory Bateson. The object of the roundtable was to expose “hidden assumptions” and to frame new questions about art.
By the early 1950s, San Francisco’s North Beach was the West Coast center of the Beat Movement, and music, poetry, and discourse were an intrinsic part of artists’ lives. Collage artist Jess Collins renounced a career as a plutonium developer and enrolled at SFAI as a painting student. In 1953 he and his partner, poet Robert Duncan, along with painter Harry Jacobus, started the King Ubu Gallery, an important alternative space for art, poetry, and music. A distinctly Californian modern art soon emerged that fused abstraction, figuration, narrative, and jazz. SFAI faculty David Park, Elmer Bischoff, James Weeks, Frank Lobdell, and Richard Diebenkorn were now the leaders of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, informed by their experience of seeing local museum exhibitions of work by Edvard Munch, Max Beckmann, Edgar Degas, and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Students at the school, including William T. Wiley, Robert Hudson, William Allan, Joan Brown, Manuel Neri, Carlos Villa, and Wally Hedrick, continued the investigation of new ideas and new materials, becoming the core of the Funk art Movement. In 1961 the school took its modern name, the San Francisco Art Institute.
Renamed the San Francisco Art Institute in 1961, SFAI refuted the distinction between fine and applied arts. SFAI was at the forefront of recognizing an expanded vocabulary of art making that was a hybrid of many practices including performance, conceptual art, new media, graphic arts, typography, and political and social documentary. Among the students in the early to mid 1960s were artists Ronald Davis, Robert Graham, Forrest Myers, Leo Valledor, Michael Heizer, Ronnie Landfield, Peter Reginato, Gary Stephan, and John Duff and in the late ’60s Annie Leibovitz, who would soon begin photographing for Rolling Stone magazine; Paul McCarthy, well known for his performance and sculpture works; and Charles Bigelow, who would be among the first typographers to design fonts for computers. Alumni Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones were documenting the early days of the Black Panther Party in northern California. Installation art, video, music, and social activism continued to inform much of the work of faculty and students in the 1970s and ’80s. The faculty during this period included George Kuchar, Gunvor Nelson, Howard Fried, Paul Kos, Angela Davis, Kathy Acker, Robert Colescott, and many other influential artists and writers. Among the students were a number of performance artists and musicians, including Karen Finley, whose performances challenged notions of femininity and political power, and Prairie Prince and Michael Cotten, who presented their first performance as the Tubes in the SFAI lecture hall, and became pioneers in the field of music video. The school became a hub for the Punk music scene, with bands such as the Mutants, the Avengers, and Romeo Void all started by SFAI students. Technology also became part of art practice: faculty Sharon Grace’s Send/Receive project used satellite communications to create an interactive transcontinental performance, while Survival Research Laboratory, founded by student Mark Pauline, began staging large-scale outdoor performances of ritualized interactions among machines, robots, and pyrotechnics.
Since the 1990s, the studio and classroom have become increasingly connected to the world via public art and community actions. As students at SFAI, Barry McGee, Aaron Noble, and Rigo 23, among others, were part of the movement known as the Mission School, taking their graffiti-inspired art to the streets and walls of the city. Faculty and students have created site-specific projects in locations from the San Francisco waterfront (Ann Chamberlain and Walter Hood’s monument to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade) to the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, Mexico (a sculpture by artist Pedro Reyes and SFAI students for the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies program). Organizations like Artists’ Television Access (ATA) and Root Division, founded by alumni, and SFAI’s City Studio program engage and educate local communities and cultivate a vital artistic ecosystem.
In 1969, a new addition to the building by Paffard Keatinge-Clay added 22,500 sq ft (2,090 m2) studio space, a large theater/lecture hall, outdoor amphitheater, galleries, and cafe.