Bayview Opera House Turns 125 and Inspires a Neighborhood

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Bayview Opera House/ Barbara Ockel

If you're like many San Franciscans, the first thing you think of when you hear "Bayview" likely isn't an image of arts and culture. But there is a burgeoning art scene, one that encourages city kids and neighbors to take part in, and the place that hosts this all has hit a very large milestone. Happy 125th birthday, Bayview Opera House.

One of the oldest entertainment venues in San Francisco, the opera house was built in 1888 by Free Masons for use as a community center and place of entertainment -- and it has stayed true to its original purpose.

"It's always going to be a place that provides arts and entertainment for its community," says Bayview Opera House executive director Barbara Ockel.

Several years ago Ockel founded the Dare To Dream ARTS Youth Enrichment program, which she says has had a huge impact on both the Bayview Opera House and the surrounding community.

"Kids need somewhere to go during the summer," Ockel says of the summer program. "Last summer, we had over 600 kids come in... it's exciting and they have something to do. They have a positive experience at the opera house and tell their parents about it, so their parents feel more comfortable about it and about Bayview as a whole."

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Bayview Opera House

With the increase of children coming to the area with their school groups to participate in the programs that the BVOH offers, Barbara hopes that the community of Bayview will be able to shed its current reputation entirely and fully become a place where families and other people can go to just hang out.

"My dream is that Bayview will become a bustling district with a cultural center and people will come because it's happening," she says. "There will be more restaurants around the BVOH as well as stores that serve community needs, like a flower shop or a coffee shop, stuff people need every day. My vision is people coming to the opera house, coming here in droves."

However, in working to provide the community and its children with free programs, the BVOH is struggling with financial issues.

"The building is 125 years old, things are breaking, the theater lights are broken," says Ockel. Regardless, the staff of the BVOH is still determined to pursue its mission. "I really encourage people from San Francisco and the entire Bay Area to check out Bayview, because it has a bad reputation, but it's a really amazing area."

She follows this with the fact it's one of the last affordable places in the city, and holds potential for young families who don't want to leave our amazing City.

"It's up and coming. There are lots of great artists and a great LGBTQ community, as well as one of the only places in San Francisco a young family can afford to buy a house."

In addition to acting as the hub for The Dare to Dream program, it also hosts community events, and free (or cheap) activities such as dance, yoga, and theater classes for everyone from kindergarteners to adults. Also included in the venue is a large theater, a full-sized movie screen with a projector, free WiFi, and both an indoor and an outdoor stage.

"It's always going to be a place that provides arts and entertainment for its community," says Barbara.

We'll be honest -- we're definitely those who've veered away from the Bayview in the past, switching our plans if an event we wanted to go to was in Bayview/Hunter's Point. But after researching the Bayview Opera House and talking to Barbara, we're thinking it's time to revisit and revise have to revise our opinions.

If you want to see for yourself, check out the Bayview Opera House's Third on Third event, which happens every third Thursday of the month. This month's event on February 20th from 5-8 will focus on food of the African diaspora and will be free to the public, with decorations, an amusement park ride, a marching band, and lots and lots of food. For more information visit their site or call (415) 824-0386.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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