Academy of Art University Buildings

Academy of Art University plans to double its student body and add an athletic program over the next 10 years, which means it will need to acquire up to 10 more San Francisco buildings. That’s on top of the 16 buildings the university has bought and adapted to new uses since 2000, a trend that is running into increasing resistance from San Francisco city government and some of the school’s neighbors. It’s expected to come to a head Dec. 6, when the planning commission holds a public hearing on an institutional master plan the university filed in November setting out its plans for continued expansion.”

“The art school has bought and renovated numerous existing buildings to handle that expansion. It has clustered them in three main areas of town: the Van Ness corridor, Downtown and South of Market. It owns 29 of its 32 academic, administrative and residential buildings, and is in contract to purchase the Flower Mart at 575 Sixth St.”

Editor’s Note: As some might recall, it was a little over a year ago that a discussion regarding four condos at 1081 Pine Street turned to the impact of the Academy of Art University as neighbors and solicited the following comment from a young “tipster”: “Wouldn’t that be a great business model. You start an ‘Art academy’ and buy a building for a dorm. Put in a basketball court, encourage the kids to talk on their cell phones, buy drugs, etc. Prices in the neighborhood drop like a rock and you buy up everything in sight. Then, move the dorm, sell the now appreciated properties and start the whole process all over. If only I had a hundred mil, my path to further riches would be clear.”

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Jamie

    They’re just trying to compete with Starbucks on the number of buildings/signs in the City. 🙂

  2. Posted by gh

    A tuition-fueled real estate company…just wait for the communists running this City to quash this organization.

  3. Posted by redseca2

    I have long held the view that the Academy of Art was a real estate investment company disguised as a for profit Art School that anyone can get into.
    As the precentage of SF property they control increases, they are beginning the follow J. P. Getty’s dictum in regards to SF: “If I owe the bank 100 dollarts it is my problem, If I owe the bank 100 million, it is their problem”.

  4. Posted by diamond

    Who would have thunk, the Lembi’s main competitors in bidding up residential properties is the Academy of Art. Kinda brilliant if you think about it.

  5. Posted by joe

    Anyone/thing who is successful comes under fire in san francisco. God help you if you arent trying to be poor living off the governments dime in this nannyfied little town.

  6. Posted by james

    this has been bothering me for quite some time. how sad is it that this vocational school is growing 10x per year as a dumping ground for our kids that can’t read or write, nor have any hope to ever learn.

  7. Posted by condoshopper

    my impression is that it’s a guaranteed student visa for rich foreigners (mainly asian) to send their kids here, as long as you pay the tuition. i only think that because they are always standing outside the door smoking and speaking anything but english.

  8. Posted by Renter

    Academy is a force in real estate, purchasing tons of prop and competing with the common folk.
    Admission is 100% at the Academy.
    Anybody worried about the gov’t cutting rates again and fixing ARMs?

  9. Posted by zzzzzzzz

    Academy of Art’s acquisition binge, along that Citiapartment’s, is the logical result of strict rent control. Navigating the rent control bureaucracy only makes economic sense for the big eyes.

  10. Posted by zzzzzz

    edit – “for the big guys”

  11. Posted by cat

    If there’s no AAU with their artists wannabes, SF would probably soon look like a senior center.
    If I can afford to buy up buildings, I’d do exactly the same thing AAU is doing.
    There are plenty other bogus private colleges in the city, AAU got picked on because they’re too successful in what they do.

  12. Posted by anon8mizer

    Academy of Art College is one of the few accredited colleges here that do not require the applicant to pass the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) before admission. That’s why one can get in as long as one pays the tuition. That’s why the place has so much money. It’s like a boarding school for rich foreign kids.
    A recession in Asia will stop the expansion…

  13. Posted by secki007

    Finally, a topic I can lend an insider’s advantage to! The Academy is set up as an “Art for Industry School” if you know anyone that has graduated from a top university in the arts and then went out into the world to find a job you will likely hear tales of woe, and more likely than not, an Academy Grad took the job they were applying for. This is why: You entire last semester at the Academy of art University is dedicated to you professional portfolio. A piece designed to get you hired.
    Elisa Stephens, President of the University – You will note, 3rd generation to head the school – meets annually with a Brain trust to formulate what industry is looking for. We are talking heads of Movie Studios, Pixar, and Advertising firms. They spare no expense and fly them in on the corporate jet.
    Its true that they own over 32 buildings in San Francisco, and that they are a profitable business. Shouldn’t they be? Investing in San Francisco has always been a good idea! There are a lot of International Students because they spend the money to go to Singapore, Japan, Korea, and China to let them know about the programs in person. They actively recruit. Plus like Community College, you just need to apply and finish High School and be able to pay to get in.
    Until someone can find a flaw in an education designed to get you access to a job in the field of study you choose to go to school for, nothing is going to stop the AAU’s expansion.

  14. Posted by Thefatkid

    As I commented on another site, the AAU’s success is a direct indication of SF local government’s failure. While our mayor(s) and fellow BOS posture and do the bureaucratic two-step, here you have a private institution doing what SF should have been doing all along, provide affordable housing in ‘anticipation’ of growth. Not slowly ‘react’ to growth!
    I’m all for a Bloomberg-type mayor who runs his local government like a corporation. It’s all about the bottom line. If you’re not going to perform or meet expectations, I’ll find someone that will.

  15. Posted by rg

    As a regular contributor to SS (sorry, I’ve changed my usual name to protect myself) AND an instructor at the Academy of Art (you guys didn’t know that!), I’m really disappointed in this criticism of the school. James – you should be ashamed of such cruel remarks about the students. I doubt that any of you even know a student or teacher or have even been inside one of these buildings.
    Yes, the school is run like a business and has been extremely profitable at it. I don’t see any reason to criticize them for this. Other than jealousy perhaps? How many developers have gobbled up huge portions of this city in the last decade? Those purchases were driven by pure profit and contributed ONE thing and one thing only to this city: incredibly unaffordable, bland designed and poorly built residential units. Not only has this family and their school been around since 1929, but they have renovated and maintained so many beautiful buildings along the way. Of course, it is common knowledge that they rack in a lot of money, and 100% admission probably helps, but they also provide the most amazing range of services for both students and staff. Btw, the AAU’s tuition per unit is lower than any other art school in the area.
    Secondly, to say that the students are “rich foreign kids” is a gross exaggeration! My current class includes only 1 student from China, (who speaks better English than I probably do) and 13 Americans. Most are between 21-25 years old, have previous undergraduate degrees in everything from English to Engineering, but discovered that they were not happy with their career choice so are now back in school – by their own volition and extremely committed to it. I also have a number of students that juggle day jobs as well, some in rather professional roles. Overall, the school teaches very practical, real world information that is SO much better than my fancy UC education, so I’m proud to work there and I think that the school is a great attribute to SF.

  16. Posted by rg

    Oops! well, I guess my comment reverted to my usual name, so I’m not anonymous above!
    Cudos to secki007 for also providing an insider view and thanks for expanding my reasoning for teaching there. My big arch. education left me with NO idea of what to do on my first day of work. I took a position at AAU, and all teachers seem to be there, to ensure that these students not only don’t suffer through that, but are the best in their fields.

  17. Posted by condoshopper

    “Btw, the AAU’s tuition per unit is lower than any other art school in the area.”
    i had been told by an acquaintance attending there that the amount of units required to graduate from their program, is about twice that of other schools.

  18. Posted by Lori

    rg — first off, thank you for being an educator. We need more teachers in this world.
    I still, however, stand by my comments from last year that the school needs to police the students in their dorms. Yes, I used the word police. A lot of vandalism in areas near AAU dorms are from the students, as well as garbage, cigarette butts, etc.
    I have no problem with the university contributing to the city as long as they are responsible for the students and their behavior (or lack thereof).

  19. Posted by S&S

    Academy of Art University is like a parasite, slowly devouring the city. I feel sorry for anyone who lives anywhere near any of its structures. Have you seen all the students hanging outside these buildings, all the smoking, noise, etc., etc.? It’s just not pretty.

  20. Posted by PMad

    I think the business model for AAU should be commended. As a product of a fancy UC education, I wish the lessons and materials being taught would better meet the needs of the professional world.
    What evidence is there that AAU is really just buying real estate for investment? As far as I can tell, all the building they have bought are being used for teaching art. I think you could make the same argument for any growing business. When a company is successful, it expands and therefore needs more space. I have read that McDonalds makes an obscene amount of money from its real estate portfolio as well. I think that just comes with the territory of a successful growing business.

  21. Posted by zzzzzzzz

    As a practical matter, I don’t see what the City can do to stop AAU’s residential expansion. SF may regulate rents and evictions in extreme ways, but there’s nothing they can do to stop the ownership change of a privately held building. Not that the activists won’t try, of course – AAU’s very success makes it an irresistable target for the Sue Hestors of the world who value only failure and poverty.

  22. Posted by dissent

    “It’s just not pretty.”
    I totally agree. If it’s not pretty, we need regulations and enforcement to put it out of sight.
    Prettiness rules!
    (P.S. I am very, very pretty.)

  23. Posted by mow

    From what I understand, it’s not even fully accredited. It has too many part time instructors.

  24. Posted by S&S

    Well, the sarcasm is very pretty on you, dissent. And I don’t doubt that you are indeed very pretty as well.
    I’m not saying “we need regulations and enforcement to put it out of sight.” I’m just saying I’m glad I don’t live anywhere near it.

  25. Posted by etslee

    From an SFGATE article 9/30/07:
    Academy of Art University
    Founded: 1929
    Status: Private, for-profit
    Location: 33 buildings in San Francisco, mostly downtown and South of Market.
    Size: 11,000 students.
    Cost: $600 per unit; $700 per unit for graduate school.
    Financial aid: $1 million per year in scholarships, $11 million in interest-free payment plans.
    Housing: Guaranteed for all students in 16 buildings – 9 dormitories, 7 apartment buildings.
    Cost of housing: Ranges from $3,400 per semester for shared dorm room to $5,500 for a studio apartment.
    Departments/majors: 13
    Strengths: fashion, graphic design, animation (2D & 3D), industrial design (transportation, product, toys.)
    Faculty: 1,145 – 155 fulltime, 990 part-time, no tenure.
    Undergraduate admission requirement: High school graduation or equivalent, interview.
    Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) since June 2007.)

  26. Posted by Michael

    Thanks to you, RG, for such an intelligent and reasoned defense of the Academy of Art University. I have nothing to do with the University, but I support their expansion. Most of these assholes who have left comments denigrating the University, its mission or its practices, will complain about anything.
    If the University were not buying buildings to house their students, these students will still be in the city trying to find a place to live.

  27. Posted by Jimmy (Bitter Renter)

    I think its admirable that the Academy of Art goes to such lengths to protect its students from predatory landlords around the city.
    I’ve realized that when it comes to any type of successful business that operates in the city, there are people out there who will just complain and try and stymie their growth any way they can. There’s no logic or reason behind this — some people just harbor an irrational hatred of the idea of a successful business existing in their city!

  28. Posted by kaya

    Wow, some people have gotten really crusty in their old age. Granted I’ve never noticed a “student problem”, it should be taken care of it they do create any problems. But complaining about them smoking outside and spreaking foreign languages? Sounds like someone needs to head back to Kansas….
    I’ve heard from some of my architect colleagues that some of the programs are really quite good, while others are more in the “you pay you stay” specialty. It’s a great asset for those who use it, but you’ll never find me criticising my “fancy” UC education. Best damn investment still.

  29. Posted by fluj

    Anybody know anything about Art Academy of San Francisco soccer tryouts? I think I actually have one year eligibility left.
    Just kidding. But am I the only one who was struck by this: an athletic program for the Art Academy?

  30. Posted by cali

    ” Have you seen all the students hanging outside these buildings, all the smoking, noise, etc., etc.?”
    No fun allowed!
    I am actually hoping that AAU will buy and fix up more and more buildings in the loin. It’s the only way to clean it up.

  31. Posted by keller

    I have no opinion as to the quality of the education, but this article from 3 years ago should disabuse anyone’s notion of the Academy as some benevolent landlord, protecting its students from greedy SF landlords. Real estate is clearly a substantial profit center for this school.

  32. Posted by Bob

    Most San Franciscans are against anything that doesn’t put money in their own pocket and San Francisco is accepting of others in lore only. If you are going to move here, you better do and act as we tell you – and DEFINITELY don’t make any money !

  33. Posted by keller

    What did you snort before you posted Bob? If nobody made any money here why is housing priced as it is? Or is your point that only native San Franciscans are allowed to make money? I’m really working on decoding your point, but rants are more interesting when they have at least a few facts behind them.

  34. Posted by james

    so i didn’t know they were competing with usc’ film school. nicely done. i also didn’t know the school was attracting talent from around the country. great to hear these are not just kids that flunked out of our miserable public school system. i still have one concern. are all of these kids actually finding jobs? it still seems like a glorified vocational school and if they aren’t selling a dream of guaranteed employment, i would certainly respect them a lot more.

  35. Posted by S&S

    I guess if you call smoking, garbage and noise fun, then you’re right at home, aren’t you, cali?

  36. Posted by zoe

    I’ve heard that AAU has both fashion and acting majors as one of the best in the nation… is this true? because if there’s any other college in CA that holds both at a potential level, I’d like to know. I havent investigated much but I’m starting to. Are the ‘fancy’ UC schools good at this too?

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