San Francisco Space Inspires, Educates Under-resourced Students

The Build-out

Each retail store has a unique theme to appeal to the kids they serve and offers student-published books for sale, as well as an array of unusual products.

Each retail store has a unique theme to appeal to the kids they serve and offers student-published books for sale, as well as an array of unusual products.

Structural deficiencies and many unexpected conditions were uncovered during demolition. For example, it was discovered that the building was without a foundation. New footings were poured and structural posts and beams were installed to support the unreinforced masonry structure.

Previously, the ground-floor space had been rented as three separate units, which all contained a number of small rooms and partitions. With the removal of walls and drop ceilings, the new layout creates a contiguous, open plan and 18-foot exposed ceilings in the writing center.

On the exterior, BCCI tore out plywood finishes; built an entirely new storefront; and installed new doors, windows, metal panels and two new roll-up doors for security. The building also received a fresh coat of paint and the addition of a sea creature mural with a giant octopus.

The retrofit team took advantage of the extraordinary salvage opportunities available in the Bay Area, incorporating reclaimed doors, wood, mirrors, windows, sheet metal and a fireplace.

Although the non-profit did not target green-building certification, the project had to meet LEED-CI Silver equivalency as part of San Francisco’s Green Building Code. To help minimize electrical costs during the life of the lease, the project was designed to exceed California’s Title 24 energy-efficiency standards. Modern materials assisted with these strategies. For example, window film was installed to minimize thermal loads on the space while also redirecting light for glare control and providing protection against breakage.

The interactive wall of doors is the gateway to the student writing lab, providing various options as points of entry.

The interactive wall of doors is the gateway to the student writing lab, providing various options as points of entry.


As with all 826 Valencia locations, the new space includes a themed retail storefront, King Carl’s Emporium, which students traverse before entering the writing lab. The retail concept was originally born out of need. When the founders discovered their first writing center in San Francisco’s Mission District was zoned for retail, they had to come up with something to sell and, ultimately, became a pirate supply store. Since then the retail stores have become an essential component to each location. Not only do the stores create community awareness and raise funds to support the non-profit’s educational programs, each store has a unique theme to appeal to the kids they serve and offers student-published books for sale, as well as an array of unusual products (visit here for details).

With eclectic design elements, such as a fog bank, rope shelving, a trapdoor, portholes and a wall of doors, the Tenderloin center store reinforces a theme of exploration. The interactive wall of doors is the gateway to the student writing lab, providing various options as points of entry: through a standard door, bunny door and even a hidden passageway in the fireplace.

Once inside the writing lab, a treehouse is perched high above the room with treasures tucked in cubbyholes below. Two different floor levels in the writing lab—an existing condition revealed during demolition—turned out to be a benefit, supporting multifunctional use for tutoring and presentations. Beyond the writing lab is a conference room and 826 Valencia’s new administrative office to support the nonprofit’s operations.

One of the gems found during demolition was vintage, hand-painted wallpaper that included the image of a map. The map, which is located in a conference room in the main learning center, now symbolizes the places students, as explorers, can travel by opening their world to education and expression.

About the Author

Cynthia Gage

Cynthia Gage is director of Marketing for BCCI Construction Co., San Francisco, which donated its labor and fees to support 826 Valencia Tenderloin Center. The center is the newest location for a national nonprofit that offers writing, publishing and tutoring opportunities for under-resourced students.

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