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What would you pay for a piece of San Francisco art history?

An aerial view of the San Francisco Art Institute’s Russian Hill campus, circa 2023 | Courtesy Cushman & Wakefield

On the hunt for a stunning property with sweeping views of the bay, plenty of room and a priceless piece of San Francisco history? The San Francisco Art Institute’s legendary temple to creativity in Russian Hill is up for sale.

The San Francisco Art Institute on May 7, 2011 | Diana Cheng/Getty Images

The San Francisco Art Institute’s 97-year-old Russian Hill campus was put on the market Monday almost a year after the art school announced it would shutter the 1.75-acre campus. The closure followed an attempt by the Regents of the University of California to prevent the foreclosure of the Chestnut Street property in 2020 and the breakdown of a proposed merger deal with the University of San Francisco in 2022. In April, SFAI—believed to be the oldest institution of its kind west of the Mississippi at 152 years old—filed for bankruptcy, setting the stage to liquidate millions in assets, including a historic Diego Rivera mural

Diego Rivera's 1931 mural, "The Making of a Fresco, Showing the Building of a City," at San Francisco Art Institute's Russian Hill Campus | Courtesy Cushman & Wakefield

But where some may see a nail in the coffin of San Francisco’s art history, others may see opportunity for a bright future for arts education in the City by the Bay. The approximately 93,000-square-foot art campus, designed by City Hall architects Bakewell and Brown and built in 1926, boasts an iconic bell tower, interior courtyard, library,  terrace, a rooftop amphitheater, galleries, studios and beautiful bay views. Architect Paffard Keatinge-Clay, who studied under famed modernist architect Le Corbusier and apprenticed at Frank Lloyd Wright’s studios, designed an addition known as the Clay building. 

SFAI's campus rooftop, circa 2023 | Courtesy Cushman & Wakefield

The campus is also home to Rivera’s The Making of a Fresco, Showing the Building of a City, a city landmark valued at $50 million. The fresco is available for acquisition along with the property, which is also a city landmark, according to a press release. 

READ MORE: What’s To Become of SF Art Institute’s Treasure Trove of Bay Area History?

Artists like Bay Area expressionist Richard Diebenkorn, Obama portraitist Kehinde Wiley and Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow have all walked the art school’s storied halls. In February, a group of dedicated SFAI community members, archivists, artists, curators and arts advocates, came together to launch an independent nonprofit organization, The SFAI Legacy Foundation + Archive (SFAI LF+A), to raise $250,000 and house the art institute’s archives, which contains materials related to notable faculty and alumni. Real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, which has been hired to sell SFAI’s Russian Hill campus, said it has no knowledge on the status of the archives with regard to the property’s sale. Representatives for SFAI’s board and the SFAI LF+A did not immediately respond to The Standard’s request for comment. 

The San Francisco Art Institute's campus library, circa 2023 | Courtesy Cushman & Wakefield

READ MORE: What Will Happen to Bankrupt SFAI’s Works by Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol and Other Famed Artists?

As for who might be in the market for such a property, prospective owners would probably be in the education space.  

Roy Lichtenstein lectures at the Current Moment in Art Symposium in April 1966. | Courtesy SFAI Legacy Foundation + Archive Collection

“The ideal buyer would be someone who could use it as a school,” said Tom Christian, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield. 

The full price tag of the property remains unlisted and subject to negotiation, Christian said. The San Francisco Art Institute’s total assets are valued at a little under $65 million as of April, according to previous reporting

Sarah Holtz contributed additional reporting for this story.