Opera envisions expansion

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The San Francisco Opera company is in talks to build a new rehearsal facility next to its performance headquarters in the War Memorial Complex.

The opera company conducts performances in one of the three buildings that were constructed in the early 1930s to create the group of striking stone structures near City Hall.

But the company lacks sufficient space for its rehearsals, storage and costume preparation, and its facilities are spread out in the Presidio, Potrero Hill, SoMa and other neighborhoods.

An adjacent building within the complex — the Veterans Building, which contains the Herbst Theatre — is slated for a seismic retrofit by The City in 2013, at a cost of $130 million.

The original plan called for the addition of sheer concrete walls at the rear of the Veterans Building, according to City Architect Gary Hoy.

Instead, city and opera officials are investigating whether an annex could be built at the rear to provide 40,000 square feet of additional space while helping to protect the building and its historic features.

Two designs are being considered for the annex, “neither of which have been vetted by the historic preservation community,” Hoy said.

The annex would include flexible space for community group meetings, rehearsals and performances, according to opera spokesman Jon Finck.

“It’s a very exciting project that’s going to augment the whole War Memorial campus — not just for the opera company, but for the whole community,” Finck said.

In a recent newsletter, opera General Director David Gockley described the $60 million annex proposal as a “dream” and a “once-in-a-century opportunity.”

“The space and proximity are ideal,” Gockley wrote. “The hurdles it would take to get this done are mammoth.”

The company has yet to start a campaign to raise funds for the project.

The annex concept, while preliminary, already was endorsed by the War Memorial’s board of trustees, according to Beth Murray, the organization’s managing director.

As well as creating a new annex, the retrofit plans for the Veterans Building will enable more arts organizations to conduct performances in Herbst Theatre, according to Murray.

Warmup space will be provided for performers, and dressing rooms will be installed at stage level, she said.

 

Consolidating the arts

40,000: Square feet of proposed Veterans Building annex

7: San Francisco Opera facilities that would be consolidated into annex

$40 million: Estimated cost of maintaining spread-out facilities during past 30 years

$60 million: Cost of proposed Veterans Building annex

$130 million: Projected cost to retrofit Veterans Building

Sources: San Francisco Department of Public Works, San Francisco Opera

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