A push to make venerable Mission High School into a civic landmark is making headway in City Hall, but despite $31.5 million in bond money for improvements to the building, the school district can’t get funding to replace the torn curtains in its classic auditorium.
The San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board voted unanimously June 7 to adopt a resolution to make Mission High School a landmark — a step that board members said at the time should have been taken years ago, according to Principal Kevin Truitt. On Thursday, the designation will go before the full planning commission, which will then vote on whether to send it to the Board of Supervisors, who are expected to vote to approve landmark status before the mayor finally signs off.
But some of the very characteristics that make Mission High worthy of landmark status, such as the twin towers, the tile work and the auditorium with its cantilevered balcony, carved plaster ceiling and chandeliers, are falling out of repair.
The main Mission High School buildings were erected between 1923 and 1927, and designed by John Reid Jr. in the Spanish Baroque style. The school’s twin towers feature domes adorned with statues and chevrons, reminiscent of those on the ceiling of the Mission Dolores. It also boasts a 1,600-capacity auditorium with professional catwalks and space for a pipe organ.
"Having a building that’s as old as this one is both a blessingand a curse," Truitt said. "It makes me proud that the building has landmark status, but it reminds me how in need we are of essential upgrades."
The school was included in a 2003 bond measure that earmarked funds for physical upgrades, but most of that money must go to improving the campus’ fire and safety measures and disability access.
In 2004, The City settled a federal lawsuit calling for schools citywide to be brought up to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That suit steered the funding priorities for the district, spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.
Conferring landmark status on a building that is owned by a private entity, unlike a public school, would normally mean that the owner would be given tax incentives in order to preserve the building’s historical features, planner Tim Frye said Friday.
Once the school becomes a landmark, the landmarks board won’t have any authority over the state, which owns the school, but Frye said the board has a good relationship with state architects and hopes to be able to weigh in on any future improvement work.
During the upcoming construction project, Architect Chris Duncan, of Gelfand Architects said his firm will work to preserve the character of the building while bringing it as close to code as possible by installing new elevators, wheelchair lifts, stairwell coverings and more.
But such improvements as new floorboards on the stage of the classic auditorium, new curtains, a sound board and stage lights won’t be included in the current bond. Nor will lockers, of which the 900-student school only has 300.
"Mission has a huge number of critical needs that need to be prioritized. There are not sufficient funds to do everything we would like to do," Blythe wrote in an e-mail.