Nourse Theater to be renamed after the woman credited with its revival

The San Francisco school board voted Tuesday to rename the Nourse Theater after Sydney Goldstein, who is credited with bringing life back to the theater after it lay dormant for decades.

“Sydney loved theaters, and she particularly loved the Nourse,” said Kary Schulman, director of San Francisco Grants for the Arts. “She had been thinking about the Nourse on and off for decades, speculating about what it could be.”

Goldstein, who died in September, founded the acclaimed interview series City Arts and Lectures in 1980, which she ran for 37 years before retiring in 2017. Produced in collaboration with KQED, the radio show of the same name can be heard on 130 public radio stations across the country.

When City Arts was forced to leave its home at the Herbst Theater in 2012 because the War Memorial Veterans Building was undergoing seismic upgrades, Goldstein thought the Nourse Auditorium at the former High School of Commerce at 275 Hayes St., which had been shuttered since 1952, would be an ideal new location.

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“By great luck we found a kind custodian who unlocked the theater (and) turned on the lights, revealing a scene of such decay and abandonment that it is almost impossible to exaggerate,” Schulman said. “I knew at once it was unsalvageable — and Sydney saw at once the potential of the space.

Goldstein was granted permission from the school district, raised the funds and oversaw the theater’s $2 million renovation.

“Earlier this year, the City and County of San Francisco passed an ordinance really urging a review of public spaces named for women,” said Board member Emily Murase. “So I’m very pleased to offer this resolution to add to a growing number of public spaces that are here to commemorate women leaders in our community.”

The Nourse Auditorium was named after Joseph Nourse, a former school teacher, principal and superintendent who worked for the district for more than 40 years. But at the school board meeting Tuesday, Alice Russell-Shapiro said it would not be disrespectful to Nourse to rename the theater after Goldstein.

“In case there are those who object on principle to this proposal: these days, permanent seems to no longer exist,” she said. “Now it’s Sydney’s turn.”

“Now we have the opportunity to honor someone who is still on our minds, and relevant and contributed in such incredible ways to our community,” said Board member Matt Haney, who last month was elected as supervisor for District 6.

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The theater is eventually expected to become part of a planned $150 million arts complex that will also house the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.

The board also voted to rename the library at George Washington Carver Elementary School after former principal Louise Cooks Jones, and to rename a conference room at Lowell High School after longtime Lowell Alumni Association President Lisa Clay.

The Nourse Theater is set to be renamed in honor of Sydney Goldstein. Goldstein, who died in September, founded the acclaimed interview series City Arts and Lectures in 1980, which she ran for 37 years before retiring in 2017. (Roslyn Banish/Courtesy of City Arts and Lectures)
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