A photo of the art wall from 2015. The police station is the brick building to the left.

Mission Neighborhood Centers has purchased a former police station on Valencia Street between 23rd and 24th Streets for $6.8 million.

Bruce Tomb, an artist and architect, bought the site at an auction in 1997 for $560,000, according to public records.

“It wasn’t easy, but it was fun,” said Sam Ruiz, the executive director of the nonprofit, who on Tuesday sat in his office on Capp Street with the purchase papers. 

Tomb said he and his wife owned the property with his brother and sister-in-law. “We always knew that the property would be our retirement, to some degree,” said Tomb who is 61 and now living and creating his artwork in Reno, Nevada.

At present, Mission Neighborhood Centers runs early childhood education programs for some 411 students. While this site will involve moving children from some of its other locations to 1240 Valencia St., plans for three other new sites will increase the nonprofit’s enrollment to 629 by sometime in 2022.

Ruiz called the purchase a “land-banking” play with plans to eventually develop as many as 61 affordable housing units at the site. With those plans in mind, he said, they plan to do a minimum of renovation on the Valencia site so that it can open sometime early in 2020. 

 The Valencia Street location sits opposite Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 and will have two pre-school classrooms and two classrooms for infants to toddlers – a category of early education that is much in demand, but difficult for providers to offer because of space and staffing requirements.

The two Headstart classrooms will have 20 students each, and the infant to 3-year-old classrooms will each take eight students for a total of 16. The 56 spots will run full-day and full-year schedules.

Ruiz said the funding to purchase the one-story building, formerly a live-work space for Tomb, came from a variety of sources, including the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the Community Vision Fund, and a $1 million grant from Kaiser for the acquisition of new spaces.

The nonprofit also took out a $3.5 million loan that it hopes to bring down to zero with new local and state grants.

Ruiz said the nonprofit had not purchased property for ten years and had to “get back into shape” for purchasing.  The process took several years.  He added that when the state begins handing out $260 million in infrastructure and site acquisition funds early next year, he plans to be in “Sacramento and in line.”  

Tomb said they talked to a number of buyers, many of whom dropped out for various reasons. “It is great in the end that it worked out for a local nonprofit,” he said.

The Valencia Street project is one of four planned sites that the Mission Neighborhood Centers will open. 

The other sites include leased ground-floor space at 1950 Mission St., a 157-unit affordable housing project that will open sometime in 2021; 1850 Bryant St, where it will also have a long-term lease and co-locate with the San Francisco’s Human Services Agency in 2021; and 2205 Mission St., a commercial acquisition that will also be on the site of 65 affordable housing units. 

It’s unclear what will happen to the art wall that has long dominated the front of the police station — a place where artists have randomly put up any variety of artwork. He said Mission Neighborhood Centers had not commissioned the current mural going up but were in conversations with the former owners. 

Tomb said that, like all of the work that appears on the art wall – he did not commission the piece and did not know anything about the new mural, which required scaffolding. “Will it last a week?” he asked. He did not know. The artwork on the wall can change daily.

The Mission Police Station opened at 17th and Treat Streets in 1902, but relocated to 1240 Valencia St. in 1950 and again in 1994 to its current location, at 630 Valencia St.

The most recent mural on the art wall. Photo by Lydia Chávez.
Pedestrians walking by the art wall in May 2015. Photo by Lydia Chávez.
Mission Police Station No Longer Photo by Kathleen Narruhn The original police station on 17th near Treat.

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I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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