826 Valencia: Breathing New Life into the Tenderloin

An address in San Francisco carries with it a certain prestige—a position at the latest startup, millions of dollars in venture capital funding, the highest rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the nation. Suffice to say, Bay Area locals have a mindset far removed from the rest of the nation. You aren’t considered wealthy until your net worth has topped $6 million, and no one raises an eyebrow over an $8 cup of drip coffee or office space that goes for $100 per square foot. City limits have been shaped both by the shallow estuary that comprises the Bay and the latest tech boom, which has brought with it both extraordinary growth and a challenging economic outlook.

Not all city-dwellers enjoy sweeping skylines replete with waterfront vistas. Between the Union Square shopping district to the northeast and the Civic Center office district to the southwest sits the Tenderloin. Arrigoni Wood's latest project is located in the flatlands on the southern slope of Nob Hill, the roughly 50 square blocks it encompasses.

A far cry from the scenic views of the wharf, Tenderloin residents often peer out of neglected residential hotels and gaze upon violence and squalor. Along with a strong police presence, the neighborhood is home to many families, and roughly 4,000 children who go to school in the area. Comprised of mostly immigrants struggling to make their way in the city, the presence of social services exists in abundance, but no programs focus on the essential skill of writing. Enter 826 Valencia.

A non-profit organization founded by author Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari, 826 Valencia is dedicated to helping children and young adults develop confidence through creative writing and presentation skills. 826 Valencia is the founding chapter of 826 National, a network of writing and tutoring centers in seven U.S. cities, serving 30,000 students, ages 6-18. 826 Valencia Tenderloin Center expanded from its flagship location on Valencia Street to offer a range of programs free of charge to the Tenderloin community.

The goal: connect caring adults to young people in need of individualized support and provide the tools and resources necessary for success in school—and beyond.

Each center has a unique and quirky theme, as well as a street-front retail store selling student-authored publications and a collection of unusual products like “pirate supplies.” Gensler, an integrated architecture, design, planning and consulting firm, contributed pro-bono design for this location and 826CHI in Chicago. The idea for these eclectic spaces? To break down barriers, ignite the imagination, and encourage new ways of thinking, learning and playing.

After a year of construction, the new space will bring tutoring, writing and publishing programs to thousands of kids in the neighborhood.

Arrigoni Woods and our partner Nor-cal Floor DesignAmi and Matt Vannoy, were proud to be a part of this community project. They were the driving force in making this happen! Time, manpower and enthusiasm helped bring this 5,000 square foot space to life.

*Photos courtesy of 826 Valencia Tenderloin Center. Image(s) © Matthew Millman.