Nourse Theater to be used by City Arts and Lectures



Alice Jones

City Arts and Lectures founder Sydney Goldstein confidently walks through rows of wooden theater seats in the upper deck of the neglected and closed Nourse Auditorium. With passion in her voice and hope in her eyes, Goldstein talks about the stunning architecture and tries to paint a picture of the restored venue.

Goldstein is readying the old auditorium as a temporary new home for City Arts and Lectures, her interview-based performance series of writers, critics, politicians and members of the arts community, while the War Memorial Veterans Building Herbst Theater undergoes a 5-year retrofit.

The upper balcony of the Nourse Theater overlooks the stage, which is level with the bottom balcony. City Arts and Lectures | with permission
The upper balcony of the Nourse Theater overlooks the stage, which is level with the bottom balcony. City Arts and Lectures | with permission

“After touring several theaters in Havana that were in terrible conditions, it gave me the idea that the Nourse was possible to fix,” said Goldstein of the Nourse Auditorium on Hayes Street near Van Ness Avenue, which she plans to re-open in mid-2013.

Goldstein is avoiding making structural changes in the auditorium that would involve city permits, which could raise costs and lengthen the restoration timeline. The project became feasible by only concentrating on small cosmetic touch-ups, “a face lift,” according to Goldstein, that will make the auditorium functional again.

City Arts and Lectures has made an impact on CSH’s English department, according to English department chair Karen Randall.

“There were authors, poets and politicians that we were studying, so we brought our students to the program to hear and question the authors they were learning about,” Randall, who has known Goldstein since they graduated Lowell High School in 1962, said. “She has always supported our school and our program by helping us attend events.”

The Nourse Auditorium was built in 1927 for the High School of Commerce. The school closed in 1952 and the auditorium was then used as a performance space through the 1960s.  A state civil court case dealing with asbestos exposure was held in the auditorium in 1985, then the auditorium was shutdown and used as storage space for the San Francisco Unified School District.


Goldstein says her biggest financial concern is the seating, the most expensive part of the renovations. The ground floor seating is estimated at $260,000, yet she has kept with the entire restoration budget under $1 million.

Goldstein has already raised over a quarter of the restoration funds of though donations from local art charities and long-time listeners of the program. City Arts and Lectures is broadcast over 170 radio stations across the country and locally on KQED, 88.5 FM.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
(Visited 712 times, 1 visits today)