San Francisco State University

San Francisco State, like many city institutions, kept moving west. The school's origins date back to the State Normal School, a teaching college opened by Dr. Frederic Burk in 1899, with an initial graduating class of 36 young women. The school operated out of a rented Powell Street building on the east side of Nob Hill, which had held a series of San Francisco public schools. The earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed the building and the Normal School needed a new home.

A series of important public schools occupied building with double stairway (originally Dr. Boring's Church) at lower left on Powell near Clay. In 1856 to 1858 it was Union Grammar School, 1858-1860 San Francisco High School. Remodeled in 1860, it became Boys High School (later Lowell High School) when the sexes were separated and Girls High School was established at Stockton & Bush. In 1875, Boys High School moved to Sutter near Gough. The building housed Normal Schools (teachers colleges) which later became CSU San Francisco and CSU San Jose until its destruction in 1906. Central Market on corner. Globe Hotel, Continental Hotel, Telegraph Hill in distance.[San Francisco] , circa 1875 - Photographer Unknown (Marilyn Blaisdell Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector)

Dr. Burk moved the school to the corner of Haight and Buchanan Streets near the current United States Mint, and where for many decades the University of California Extension operated. There, the Normal School grew out of its humble teacher-training roots. In 1924, it was granted the right to confer A.B. degrees, and in 1935, its name was changed to San Francisco State College. A wider curriculum was developed, creating a true liberal arts college.

With a growing student body approaching 1,000 students, land for a new campus on the shoreline of Lake Merced was acquired from the Spring Valley Water Company in 1937. World War II and land use discussions delayed any construction until the late 1940s.

View west across campus quad past old library building., circa 1955 - San Francisco State College In Its Second Half-Century

From San Francisco State College...In its Second Half-Century," a commemorative booklet published circa 1955:

"During the years 1948-9, Mayor Elmer Robinson, the Board of Supervisors, delegates to the Legislature, the Chamber of Commerce, the San Francisco press, and Dr. Roy Simpson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, united to develop a master plan for nine buildings on the new campus."

The Administration Building was completed in 1953, and that year, under the leadership of President J. Paul Leonard, San Francisco State State opened on 94 acres to become a western neighborhoods landmark.

Read more San Francisco State University history in Frank Dunnigan's Streetwise column.


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