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Counterpulse Previews its Future Home in the Tenderloin

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The Dollhouse at 80 Turk Street in San Francisco, soon to be Counterpulse's new home (Cy Musiker)

It’s not the sort of dancing the folks at Counterpulse normally program. But it’s a start.

Reporters soft-shoed around debris piles and skipped between the raw steel framing as artistic director Julie Phelps gave a hard hat tour of Counterpulse’s new home at 80 Turk Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood.

A future apartment for visiting artists at Counterpulse's new space
A future apartment for visiting artists at Counterpulse’s new space (Cy Musiker)

The dance presenter is planning to open its fall season there in October — the gods of construction permitting.

The building dates back to 1922, and most recently housed a porn theater named the Dollhouse.

Phelps said the two-story building with full basement would be an upgrade on Counterpulse’s old home on Mission Street. “Our offices won’t be in what should be the lobby,” Phelps said.


That’s not to mention the three rehearsal studios, state-of-the-art performance space with a 30 by 30 foot stage, new audio system donated by Meyer Sound of Berkeley, and sprung hardwood floor. The building also includes an apartment on the second floor that will house visiting artists working at Counterpulse and neighboring organizations like the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Silhouettes of exotic dancers, artifacts of 80 Turk Street's former life as a porn theater
Silhouettes of exotic dancers, artifacts of 80 Turk Street’s former life as a porn theater (Cy Musiker)

The new theater will feature 115 seats — 20 more than in Counterpulse’s old home. The number, Phelps said, is perfect for the kind of experimental work the company likes to present.

“We aren’t on the road to a 300 seat house,” Phelps said. “The intimacy and scale of our venue is key.”

The real news though, is that Counterpulse will own its new home here, despite San Francisco’s toxic real estate market. That’s the result of an intervention of sorts by the Northern California Community Loan Fund, the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), and the San Francisco Arts Commission.

CAST, an offshoot of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, negotiated and underwrote the purchase of 80 Turk on Counterpulse’s behalf. CAST Executive Director Moy Eng said the purchase is part of a project to find long term solutions to the loss of non-profit arts organizations in San Francisco.  “Not just a finger in the dike,” Eng said during the tour. “To create permanent space so arts and culture remains and endures.”

CAST Executive Director Moy Eng, with Counterpulse's Executive Director Tomas Riley, and Artistic Director Julie Phelps
CAST Executive Director Moy Eng, with Counterpulse’s Executive Director Tomas Riley, and Artistic Director Julie Phelps (Cy Musiker)

CAST is providing a similar service for mid-market’s Luggage Store Gallery, another non-profit arts presenter.

The purchase is not a gift. “It’s a fancy lease to own agreement,” Phelps said. Counterpulse has five years to pay off the $6 million loan, with no interest, and it’s already raised nearly half of that loan with help from Market Street neighbors Twitter and Zendesk.

One unusual aspect of the loan is that once Counterpulse pays it off, CAST will redistribute the money to another non-profit arts group in need of help finding a home.


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