Kinmon Gakuen launches capital campaign with $9.5 million infusion

Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei News

With an infusion of more than $9.5 million, Dean Ito Taylor knew the first thing the Kinmon Gakuen school building in San Francisco’s Japantown would need as part of its major renovation efforts during a cold and wet spring day.

“It’s pretty cold in here. You know that we’re going to spend the first dollars on new heating in here,” he said, joking to the 70 or so people in the school’s basement auditorium.

Leaders of the Golden Gate Institute, better known as Kinmon Gakuen, held a press conference and presentation March 1 at the nearly 100-year-old Mediterranean Revival-style school building to thank local San Francisco and state leaders who helped secure funds to jump start their capital campaign fundraising efforts entitled “Bringing History to Our Future.”

The project received a $4.5 million grant from the state of California, and an additional $5 million from the city and county of San Francisco, along with a $9,400 contribution from the Sansei Legacy Fund, organized by former members of the Committee Against Nihonmachi Eviction.

While the renovation and fundraising efforts started last December, the efforts to renovate the 1926 school building has been a long time coming. Shinichi Seino, president of the school’s board, said his predecessor, Kinko Sakamoto, proposed the renovation in 2016.

Initially estimated to cost $7 to $8 million, Ito Taylor told the Nichi Bei News that he estimates the project will now cost closer to $20 million, with the rising costs of construction, though an exact price tag has yet to be named.

Project leaders have contracted TreanorHL, an architectural firm specializing in historic properties, to design the project.

The school building is a landmark specifically associated with Japanese American history. The school served as home to the Golden Gate Institute, founded in 1911 and built for $48,118.50 and was a processing center for Japanese Americans during the World War II incarceration.

The school also hosted a 1960 visit by then-Japanese Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko and was a community center where Issei and Nisei watched samurai movies in the auditorium on weekends.

The March 1 capital campaign event highlighted the contributions of Assemblyman Phil Ting of the 19th Assembly District, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Connie Chan for their contributions to the school’s efforts.

Organizers honored Ting, who is terming out this year as a state assemblymember, for his work on the Assembly Budget Committee, where he secured some $15.5 million for Japantown alone in the past three years. The state has provided $5 million for the Buchanan Mall/Osaka Way renovation project, another $6 million to the Peace Plaza renovation project, and $4.5 million for Kinmon Gakuen.

“Now that we have been able to grow and live all around the Bay Area, all around the state, our community has blossomed and been in many, many places. But, having said this, this is still one of only three Japantowns in the entire state. And this, to me, is the center of not just Japanese America, this is the center of Asian America. This is so important for us to be able to preserve our culture, to get to come together as a community, but then also to make sure that we are holding each other accountable for how we are going to continue to grow the next generation. How we are going to build future leaders,” Ting said.

While associated with the Japanese American community as a language and culture school, the mayor meanwhile reflected on the building’s role as the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center from 1942 to 1952. While Japanese Americans were incarcerated in American concentration camps during World War II, the Japantown area became home to Black shipyard workers during the war and the center provided job opportunities to the new influx of African Americans in the neighborhood, and later Japanese Americans as well as they started returning.

While Breed presented the oversized check from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, the event also recognized Chan for her work on the API Equity Fund, which allocated the $5 million.

Dean Preston, District 5 supervisor, and Cally Wong, executive director of the citywide API Council, praised Chan for her leadership in advocating for the $118 million fund, which supports Asian-serving organizations in the city.

“Under her leadership, we have to-date, set over $30 million in the API Equity Fund. Those $30 million had officially funded six buildings throughout San Francisco. We have one in Chinatown, two in SOMA, one in the TL, this one in Japantown, and one in the Richmond. And again, Connie did this, I want to mention, before she became budget chair, so that in itself gets, I believe, a standing ovation, so thank you Connie for always looking out for our AAPI community in San Francisco,” Wong said.

Chan, in turn, noted that Ting had also spearheaded the initiative in the face of anti-Asian sentiments.

“I think that when we look back, five years from now, and we’re going to see many Asian communities thriving, and having this safe-space and community hub — almost every single one of them is because of Assemblymember Phil Ting and his contribution,” Chan said.

While Ito-Taylor, who sits on the steering committee of the API Council as the executive director of Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, joked that the nearly 100-year-old building could use a heating upgrade, he told the Nichi Bei News they would first see what seismic retrofitting they can do to the building with the money they have secured.

The renovation will ultimately rehabilitate the whole building, installing an elevator to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, updating its wiring and reactivating the basement auditorium space for community use.

To complete the full project, the school’s leaders have put together a capital campaign chaired by two alumni: Jeffery Matsuoka and Yasuko Fukuda, who accepted their first private donation from Boku Kodama of CANE, which started the Sansei Legacy Fund to encourage Sansei to “pay it forward.”

“So it’s the first installment, $9,400, that we’re giving over to the Kinmon Gakuen,” Kodama said. “So we’re hoping that this will spark more of the individuals in the community, especially among the Sansei whom we hope will follow their parents, the Nisei who gave so generously to the community. We hope that we will be able to do the same thing here.”

For more information about Kinmon Gakuen’s capital campaign fundraiser, visit

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