City College of San Francisco May Get Huge Scale Model of City

The college is entertaining the possibility of bringing a Great Depression-era scale model of the city to campus.

A rendering shows a model of San Francisco in a room with the silhouette of a person.
A rendering of the San Francisco Scale Model on display in City College of San Francisco's Student Union building. | Courtesy City College of San Francisco

City College of San Francisco is exploring the possibility of exhibiting on campus a huge scale model of San Francisco the size of a small apartment.

Presently owned by University of California, Berkeley, the model was created in the 1930s as a project of the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal government program that stimulated the economy during the depths of the Great Depression by putting artists to work.

The college’s Participatory Governance Council — a body made of students, faculty and staff — heard a presentation about the proposal Thursday.

Leslie Simon, an instructor in the college’s Women’s and Gender Studies Department, is spearheading the effort. She described three critical components required for the model to be displayed on campus: approval from college leaders, UC Berkeley's transfer of ownership and the establishment of an endowment to fund the exhibit.

“We're a long ways away from this becoming a done deal,” Simon said. “This is just an early preliminary conversation of what I think is a very exciting initiative.”

The college tried to exhibit the model in the Smith Hall in 2020 but was thwarted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Simon said.

Simon said the Living New Deal, a program run out of UC Berkeley, would fund a study to see if the college would be a good fit for permanently keeping the model.

Considerations would include meetings with UC Berkeley over ownership, establishing student work group to guide the project, finding a location and more. Cost estimates for installation and ongoing operational needs like security, maintenance and programming would also be developed.

One potential location is the upper level of the Student Union building, after its current occupants move into the Student Success Center, which is under construction.

Two men work on a scale mode of San Francisco in a large room.
The San Francisco Scale Model while under construction in the 1930s. | Courtesy City College of San Francisco

The addition of the model could bring more visitors and possibly tourism. It would also aid in certain courses and educational disciplines having easier access to use it for research or projects like the college's Introduction to Museum Studies class, which uses it for one of their community engagement projects.

Several attendees expressed concern over its potential need for future funding to maintain its upkeep and staffing.

“We are completely unable to manage our facilities, at least from what I can tell, with the resources we have,” said Sheri Miraglia, president of the Academic Senate and an instructor in the Biological Sciences Department. “Now we're talking about fundraising for a full-time docent and maintenance of a 900-square-foot model?”

Others noted it would be another example of the college supporting white-centered art over art from diverse communities.

“What I'm hearing is an ask for the chance and for the opportunity to further look into this — and not a final decision — so I think that there is still time and space,” Student Trustee Heather Brandt said.

While the overall consensus was mixed, the council voted to continue the item.

“It would be very different than anything City College has done before — and it could raise positive attention to City College but there needs to be a lot more conversation,” Simon said. “There's no doubt about it with details, strong details.”

A section of the model has been in the neighborhood before, when Ingleside Branch Library displayed a portion representing Ingleside in 2019. It was part of a program to display sections at branch libraries across the city.

The college is already a repository of art from the period. Its most famous work being Pan American Unity, a fresco by Diego Rivera currently on display at SFMOMA.

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