San Francisco Conservatory of Music/Infant Shelter Building

Conservatory of Music - Aug 2000

After close to fifty years at 19th Avenue and Ortega Street, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music announced in early 2000 that it plans to move to the International Center in the city's Civic Center area.

Reasons stated by conservatory President Colin Murdoch were the doubling of space (once renovations are completed), and the relocation of the institution to a "destination point."

The current facility at 1201 Ortega Street in the heart of the Sunset District has housed the conservatory since 1956, but had a very different original use as an orphanage. William Kostura and Robert Judson Clark have graciously granted us permission to excerpt from their report on the building:

"The Infant Shelter is significant as one of two surviving orphanage buildings in San Francisco, and as one of the last major buildings designed by architect Louis Christian Mullgardt. The building has rich ornamentation at the entrances and employs a variety of materials to create a brilliant display of colors. The Mission Revival gables dominate the ends of the facade, and a sculpted tower dominates the center, making the building a familiar landmark from 19th Avenue.

History of the Infant Shelter

"The Infant Shelter was planned in 1927 and constructed in 1928-1929 for use as an orphanage. The Infant Shelter traces its historical roots back to the 1870s and was part of a tradition in San Francisco that had its beginnings in the Gold Rush.

"The first important orphanage in San Francisco was the Protestant Orphan Asylum, which was organized in 1851. For many years (1854-1920) this institution was located on Haight Street, between Laguna and Buchanan. It was joined in later decades by the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum, the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum, and others that were founded by religious denominations. Other orphanages in San Francisco were secularly based. Among the latter were the Maria Kip Orphanage, the Florence Crittenden Home, and the Infant Shelter. A few other institutions in San Francisco were focused on helping older children who were not necessarily orphans but who had particular needs. The Presbyterian Mission Home for Chinese Girls, for example, was founded by Donaldina Cameron in the Victorian era to care for girls that had been sold into prostitution as slaves, but were later rescued. The Society for Helping Boys was founded by Rev. Joseph Worcester to house and instruct boys from broken homes and troubled backgrounds, and to prepare them to make a living. Whether religious or secular, broad-based or focused, numerous institutions for orphans and other children could once be found in San Francisco.

"The Infant Shelter was founded in 1874 by wives of prominent businessmen and was originally located South-of-Market, at 512 Minna Street. After the earthquake and fire of 1906 it relocated to 1025 Shotwell, in the Mission District. In each case the buildings were in working-class and immigrant neighborhoods, where the need was greatest. By the 1920s, however, the wood-framed building on Shotwell Street was considered to be shabby and a fire trap. After a fund-raising campaign, the Infant Shelter built an expansive new building at 1201 Ortega, in the middle-class Sunset District. The cost of the building was $125,000, and furnishings and equipment costing $40,000 were also said to be required. At this time all of the officers and directors of the organization were women, but they were assisted in fund-raising by prominent men such as William H. Crocker, Marshall Hale, Joseph D. Grant, Francis V. Keesling, and James D. Phelan. The Infant Shelter used their Sunset district building as an orphanage until the mid-1950s, when it was sold to the Conservatory of Music.

"Few orphanage or children's aid buildings are known to survive in San Francisco. Besides the Infant Shelter, they include the Presbyterian Mission Home for Chinese Girls (ca. 1908; 920 Sacramento Street), the Society for Helping Boys (1911; 2255 Mariposa Street), and the Protestant Orphanage Home, formerly S. F. Protestant Orphan Asylum (mid-1920s; 1801 Vicente). While all of these are in some way notable for their architecture, the Infant Shelter is the finest of the group.

The Conservatory of Music

"The Conservatory of Music was founded in 1917 by Ada Clement and Lillian Hodghead as the Ada Clement Piano School. For many years it occupied a Victorian house in the Pacific Heights neighborhood, gradually increasing its staff and expanding the scope of its programs. The school changed its name to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music some time before 1934. In the mid-1950s it moved to the Infant Shelter building on 19th Avenue, and after alterations to the interior opened there in January 1957. Its program was greatly expanded in the 1960s and 1970s under a new president, Milton Salkind, who served for twenty-four years. One of the purposes of this expansion was to allow the San Francisco Symphony, Opera, and Ballet orchestra members to teach at the Conservatory, so that Conservatory students might have an increased opportunity to join those orchestras. Admission requirements became more selective, and a performers-in-residence program was initiated, with visiting instructors such as Alfred Brendel. In 1975 the Conservatory added a south wing with two auditoriums, allowing for recitals that have been open to the general public."


Image: 1) San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 2001 (WNP photo).

Source: 1) "The Infant Shelter, 1201 Ortega Street", by William Kostura and Robert Judson Clark, September 2000.


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Page updated 6 Jan 2003