New 826 Valencia Writing Lab Opens in Tenderloin

The crowd of 100 or so people at the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Leavenworth Street at around 2:30 p.m. today was not your typical gathering on Pill Hill in the Tenderloin, where murmurs of “Oxys,” “Roxies,” “Heroin,” and “Xanax” normally waft in the air like smoke from a crack pipe. This crowd included Mayor Ed Lee, District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, author and publisher Dave Eggers, and others, who came out to cut the ribbon on a new 826 Valencia Writing Center.

The new center, formerly a Big Boy Market on what Kim told the gathering was “one of the most problematic corners in the city,” will now be a safe spot where neighborhood kids can go and explore their creativity.

Founded in 2002 by Eggers and teacher Nínive Calegari, 826 Valencia offers under-resourced students free workshops, tutoring, and mentoring on writing and editorial projects of all kinds, from essays, research papers, literature, and journalism to cartooning and starting independent 'zines. The workshops are run by volunteers that include published authors, journalists, filmmakers, and teachers. The first lab was located at the center's namesake, 826 Valencia Street in the Mission District, and has expanded to spots in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Ann Arbor, and Washington, D.C.

[jump] When a real estate broker told Tenderloin landlord Paul Boschetti that a nonprofit was interested in leasing his 172 Golden Gate Avenue property, he told the San Francisco Chronicle Thursday, Boschetti said, “No way. I’ve had it up to here with nonprofits.” But the landlord had a change of heart when he visited the original 826 Valencia. “When I saw what they were doing for the young people of the neighborhood, how much fun the kids were having, I immediately changed my mind,” Boschetti told the Chron. “If I was a kid I would like this kind of stuff myself.”

The Examiner reported Thursday that the center got a sweet deal:

826 Valencia signed a below-market-rate, 15-year lease last week that includes more than a year of free rent at 172 Golden Gate Ave., said Santino DeRose, a principal at DeRose & Appelbaum, the commercial real estate firm representing landlord Paul Boschetti — who happens to be the man accused of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in the death of an 89-year-old pedestrian Dec. 31, 2013.

“He wants to bring a better presence to the corner, he wanted to improve the neighborhood and he wanted to see good things happen,” DeRose said of Boschetti, adding that “it was a corner that had a history of loitering and drug dealers, and that’s all going to be gone.”

For Mayor Lee, 826 Valencia's expansion to 172 Golden Gate works right into his plan to try and make Tenderloin streets just a little bit safer. But after the noise of the speeches, ribbon cutting, and applause died down, you could still hear the quiet murmur of “Oxys,” “Roxies,” “Heroin,” and “Xanax.”

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