For more than 50 years, the modernist yellow and red building at 1950 Page St. just south of the Panhandle has housed the Ernest Ingold Boys and Girls Club. But late last year the building was sold to make way for the Fei Tian Academy of Arts California.
The school, which teaches traditional Chinese arts, was founded in 2010 by a group of Falun Gong practitioners, a spiritual movement that has been persecuted by the Chinese government for more than a decade.
The school plans to move from its Potrero Hill location into the Upper Haight neighborhood building some time in late 2014 after the Boys and Girls Club moves out.
The $6.9 million purchase, which was paid for through donations by mostly Falun Gong practitioners, was finalized in late 2013, said Xue Erong "Sherry" Zhong, the CEO of the school's nonprofit parent, the Institute for Arts and Culture.
While the school is funded and run by Falun Gong practitioners, Zhong said it's simply a middle and high school that teaches traditional Chinese arts as well as academics.
The school is in the process of becoming accredited, according to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and the roughly 40 students enrolled can transfer to universities.
The school, which had more than $800,000 in revenue in 2012 according to its taxes, is a nonreligious institution. Still, when the school opened it was difficult to recruit students, she said, because many Chinese were afraid they would be barred from return home if they sent their kids to a school associated with the Falun Gong.
A Chinese proverb, said Zhong, aptly describes the unfair characterization of the school and Falun Gong.
"Once you jump into the Yellow River you can never wash yourself clean."
Zhong believes that whoever spread the news about it being a "Falun Gong" school is wrong and may be linked to the People's Republic of China's campaign against the group.
Zhong left her native Guangdong province in the mid 1990s to study in Oregon, where she was introduced to Falun Gong. She has not returned home since, for fear of arrest, she said.
As recently as 2012, Zhong spoke on behalf of Falun Gong practitioners in San Francisco, complaining of harassment directed allegedly from the local Chinese consulate.
The Chinese Consulate did not return a call for comment.
According to a 2012 report by Amnesty International, "the authorities continued to pursue a systematic, nationwide, often violent campaign against the Falun Gong, a spiritual group banned since 1999 as a 'heretical cult'"