A Huge Expansion for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Pardon us while we go local for a moment: Last week saw the surprise announcement that the esteemed San Francisco Conservatory of Music, home to the top classical-guitar education program in Northern California (where we are based), unveiled plans to build a new 12-story addition close to its its downtown headquarters, thanks to a gift of $46.5 million from one of the SFCM’s former board members, venture capitalist/biotech investor Bill Bowes, who died in 2016. The gift is being touted as the largest ever given to an American music school to build a new structure; this one will ultimately cost $185 million. The Ute and William K. Bowes Jr. Center for the Performing Arts (or Bowes Center for short), which will break ground this summer and should be completed by 2020, will primarily be a student dormitory building that can house up to 420 people—quite a boon in a city where housing is, quite frankly, ridiculously expensive and hard to find. The building will also boast a small recital hall on the ground floor, a performance space in the penthouse overlooking nearby San Francisco City Hall, a recording studio, and apartments for visiting faculty. The guitar program is but one small part in the large and very successful conservatory, which has been operating since 1917 and attracts aspiring musicians (and faculty) from all over the world.

Now, if you’ve visited the SFCM, you know the space at 50 Oak Street they have occupied since 2006 is already fantastic—with the extraordinary beaux-arts-and-moderne Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, the smaller Sol Joseph Recital Hall, the Osher Salon and all sorts of other impressive spaces: a library, huge atrium, a terrace, and, let’s not forget, the Harris Collection of rare and valuable classical instruments (many of them used by guitar students at SFCM). All of that will remain, of course, but the new building, just a few blocks away, closer to Civic Center Plaza, directly across from beautiful Davies Symphony Hall, greatly expands the possibilities for students and faculty and will also allow the SFCM to engage with general public more in this more centralized location.


SFCM president David H. Stull noted in a release, “This project will fuel the unlimited potential of this institution and serve as a beacon for the innovative artists who will lead the next generation.” Added architect Mark Cavagnero: “The new building will provide a completely integrated environment where students will live, learn, rehearse, perform, socialize, and engage the larger community. There has been extraordinary attention paid to detail and the craft of building, to materiality and light, as these will inspire each student in different ways at different times. This building, this organism, will be alive 24 hours a day, filled with the sights and sounds of music and people, propelling the Conservatory forward for generations to come, in the very heart of the San Francisco Performing Arts District.”   —Blair Jackson

Artist sketch of roof terrace overlooking SF City Hall and Civic Center Plaza

And because we can’t resist including a video, here’s a wonderful version of part of Paolo Bellinati’s Jongo played by two students at SFCM, Chun Xie (China) and Nathania Isnandar (Indonesia):