The hard-fought battle to reclaim a once-imperiled neighborhood institution ended Wednesday as Mission District community leaders embraced and celebrated at the Centro Social Obrero building at Florida and 19th streets.
A consortium of neighborhood nonprofits banded together to purchase a portion of the building, which the Mission Language and Vocational School had nearly lost in a messy legal battle. As of Wednesday, the nearly 100-year-old structure is once again a fully-fledged nonprofit hub.
All told, the nonprofits — Jamestown Community Center, the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), Mission Neighborhood Centers (MNC), and the vocational school — purchased a third of the property for $4.75 million.
“This is a miracle,” said Roberto Hernandez, a prominent neighborhood activist. “It’s a historical day.”
And a day that some doubted would happen. In 2013, the vocational school leased a large portion of the building at 2929 19th St. to Huckleberry Friends, an organization that works with youth, and also an extension of the technology research company Otherlab.
The lease, however, included an option to buy the portion of the space Huckleberry Friends had been using. When Huckleberry attempted to make that purchase and split the property, community members pushed back in an effort to preserve the space as a center for neighborhood organizations.
Huckleberry Friends then sued the vocational school in 2016, alleging a breach of contract as the school resisted steps toward Huckleberry’s ownership. Years of “mediations and negotiations” with Huckleberry resulted in an agreement to sell the portion of the building to a third party — the 701 Alabama Consortium — composed of Jamestown, MNC and MEDA, according to Tracy Brown-Gallardo, a vocational school board member.
As part of the deal, the vocational school agreed to pay $700,000 to Huckleberry to settle the lawsuit, Brown-Gallardo said. “So it was a lot of work,” she added.
On Wednesday, the dozens gathered at the building made it clear the building is a priceless community asset. Brown-Gallardo said that, in 1983, she had her first high-school dance in the building. “Everyone that’s from the Mission has danced in this facility,” she said.
The structure was built in 1923, according to San Francisco Assessor records. The vocational school bought the building in 1971, three years after its founding by Abel Gonzalez, and run by Rosario Anaya and Union Local 261. The school taught vocational English and provided employment training to Spanish-speakers looking for work.
Nowadays, it’s home to Jamestown Community Center, Five Keys Charter School, the Roadmap to Peace Initiative, the Bay Area Community Resource Access Center, and the Mission Language and Vocational School.
During its effort to purchase a portion of the building, 701 Alabama consortium received $1 million in assistance from Mayor London Breed’s Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative, which is aimed at directing funding to nonprofits. It allowed the consortium to take out the $4.75 million loan from the Bank of San Francisco.
“This place represents so much — not only to this community, but to this city,” Breed said. “So it wasn’t even a question as to whether or not we needed to make sure that we provided the necessary money to help secure this facility.”