Friday, October 1, 2010

Curb appeal! A love affair from afar.

While we were waiting for middle school tours to begin, No. 1 and I began driving around the City checking out middle schools from the curb.  Yep, curb appeal!  When No. 1 exclaimed, “I love this one!” I found myself cautioning, “What if this beautiful lady is shallow?"  After all, what can we tell about love (and schools) from the outside?

Our blossoming love affair with exteriors reminded me of one of Kate’s earliest posts "School Crushes" (Jan 2008), where she waxes poetically about AFY and admits to driving out of her way to pass AFY on a weekly basis.  Déjà vu.  There we were, sitting in front of the school at sunset with the windows down and the music blasting, as we imagined life and love inside the school.  Who knew that we would stoop so low?  We were getting sucked into the vortex, going over to the Dark Side of the school enrollment process. 

 Is anyone else falling in love?



  1. Too funny, Donna. I'm kind of doing the same thing right now with high schools. As long as you keep cautioning yourself about not judging the book entirely by the cover, etc., you'll be alright. Plus, facilities and location are factors, if not the only or most important ones.

  2. I just went to visit a gorgeous private, and had this cute conversation with a parent who said, "I know, we've done all this renovating. It looks beautiful, but now I'm worried we'll be getting all these applicants who are just here for the beautiful buildings. We'd rather have parents who know what's going on *inside* the buildings."

  3. This post is classic and so so true! I've been sucked in many times! My kid is only in second grade and I'm lusting after certain middle schools! They say not to judge a book by its cover but it's hard not to!

  4. so curious which middle schools are inspiring curb appeal lust if they are public?

  5. If you want to get into architecture, check out Everett (Mediterranean-Moorish style, James Lick (Egyptian-style), Aptos (Spanish-style) and Presidio, all filled with beautiful tile, circa 1930s.

    So sorry, bland '50s-era Hoover and Giannini.

    I haven't been inside Roosevelt, which also looks promising.

  6. ^^^not sure what you are saying here with this "if they are public" distinction.

    I'm not naive--I know that a good percentage of the private schools have phenomenal facilities and all the bells and whistles thanks to the capital campaigns made possible by relative wealth of their parent base. [You know, you hear the rumors of five gyms, three libraries, and pools where the kids can swim with dolphins ;-)....I jest, sort of.]

    But for those of us, the majority of parents in the city by far, for whom private is not affordable (or not desirable for other reasons), we are looking for ways to distinguish the public schools--and facilities do vary.

    Several of our public middle schools are lovely examples of art deco architecture; several have been remodeled inside recently, and several are located next to public parks and/or libraries.

    And while I wouldn't expect to encounter any dolphin pools in our public middle schools (sorry!), there are some very nice touches in many of them. Auditoriums, libraries, gyms, band rooms, art studios.

    The public schools are in about the shape of my own house and place of work, as it happens. Not top-of-line design exactly, but not ugly. Comfortable. You can see love and care, even if the floors are a bit worn, because when we do add facilities like a new dance studio or computer lab, we know how precious it is. Labor of love, really. I think THAT is the curb appeal.

  7. FWIW:

    Aptos is in a nice neighborhood and is next to a park (with baseball diamond) that was remodeled a few years ago. Nice old art deco building that is almost done being remodeled, repainted, and rewired inside. The re-dedication of the beautiful tiled auditorium is scheduled for next month. There is a library with big windows, band room, art studio, several gymnasiums, teen center.

    Hoover is just starting a remodeling project. Nice library. I'm not in love with the 70's architecture but the location is a nice neighborhood.

    A.P. Giannini has similarly depressing 70's architecture (imo, ymmv) but has a nice location next to parks, fields, library. A.P. has dedicated chorus room plus band/orchestra and a courtyard where kids hang out during lunch. Nice big library.

    Presidio has a nice old building. No fields though. Very nice auditorium, the usual gymnasiums, library, art rooms.

    James Lick has a great old building, art deco like Aptos but Egyptian style instead of Italianate. Dedicated dance studio (new, with beautiful floor) and also art studio. Library with writing workshop space, computer lab. Like Presidio, no fields.

    Horace Mann--also no fields, but a nice old building and one block from the library.

    I've seen the Marina building but don't know much about it, or the others.

  8. Hoover and Giannini are '50s, just to correct a technicality -- I researched their construction once. Hoover was deliberately built with no real visible entrance, because the neighbors were afraid that students would (horrors) congregate in the front of the school. So there's just kind of a vague walkway that heads into the school.

    Lakeshore was built around the same time, and is much more attractive, so I guess that was just luck.

    If you want to see '70s, look at SOTA (really late '60s, I guess, because I think the school, then McAteer, actually opened in 1970). But don't go inside and try to breathe. The architects of the era viewed windows that open as a bad thing and had some clever notion about ventilation that totally didn't work. They should be sentenced to live inside the school forever as punishment. That said, the art IN the school is fantastic!

  9. 12:32, I took the "if they are public" distinction to mean that they are looking at public schools and would like to hear about schools that fit the bill!

  10. Thanks, Caroline, for the correction. Either way, I prefer the architecture of Aptos, Lick, and Presidio to Hoover and A.P.--though the programs inside those two are fine and I love the dedicated chorus room at A.P.

    Re Aptos, is the art deco Spanish? I thought it was Italian-style. I'm looking foward to seeing how the auditorium turned out from the renovations. Lick's Egyptian style is fabulous of course. And the dance studio is amazing--I haven't seen another like it. Plus their art studio is so spacious.

  11. "12:32, I took the "if they are public" distinction to mean that they are looking at public schools and would like to hear about schools that fit the bill!"

    You may be right and I may be too quick to hear snark. Sorry. I'm just tired of hearing comments from people about our middle schools that take for granted they are shabby and falling apart with no arts, "Up the Down Staircase" scenario. All sight unseen of course--the speakers have not set foot inside an actual school let alone classroom at that level, or attended a sporting event or concert or art show or science fair.

  12. When we thought Starr King was feeding to Mann Middle School I created a blog about the school, which is still up at
    Lots of photos of the school, which is quite lovely.

  13. wow, sorry, I'm the original poster and guess I should have explained more. My child is already in middle school and I know the schools quite well and have never heard "curb appeal" used for the public schools so was intrigued and happy.

    All of the middle schools have gymnasiums as well as auditoriums,and all have libraries. Most have band rooms. Presidio and Lick have dance studios.

    Presidio, Lick and Aptos were all built in the 1930s one after another per year.

    There are amazing features about each school and I'm happy people notice.

  14. Roosevelt Middle School, which opened in 1930, was designed by Timothy L. Pfluegn ( Other notable buildings by this architect include the Castro Theater, the Paramount Theater (Oakland), and the San Francisco Stock Exchange. He also designed George Washington High School, Abraham Lincoln High School, and City College.

  15. For some really nice "curb appeal" photos of SF schools, check out the photoblogging on

    The site hasn't been posted on in awhile, but the photos are gorgeous. It's especially interesting to see the contrast in style between some of the 1930's schools, such as Aptos, and the most contemporary, such as Bessie Carmichael (a K-8 in the SOMA neigbhorhood). I like them both a lot, but they are different. The Bessie Carmichael looks like a private school, and the park next door is cool too.

  16. I was recently at Francis Scott Key Elementary for the first time (for their "film night on the playground") and I thought its Deco exterior was absolutely gorgeous.


    This is a picture of my new york city public high school pool. Not while I was there, unfortunately. But I think the point is that we have settled too much for the infrastructure that we have. Whatever the reasons, we have lost our vision of what should be attainable.

  18. ^^^
    I definitely agree, but Stuyvesant High School is hardly a run-of-mill public school....a school for academically gifted kids in one of the wealthiest cities in the country, even if public, is bound to have a ton of resources. It's an outlier, I think.

    But yeah, wouldn't it be great if all the public schools had resources like these and the Pentagon had to hold a bake sale, or run a silent auction, instead.