Local pianists Ada Clement and Lillian Hodghead founded the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1917, and opened as the Ada Clement Piano School. The school began with three pianos, four studios, two blackboards, and 40 students. Enrollment grew quickly and, recognizing the need for a music conservatory on the West Coast, the school incorporated in 1923 as the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. San Francisco Conservatory of Music is a private, coeducational institution in San Francisco, California.
Among the early students nurtured by the Conservatory were two of this era's greatest violin virtuosi, Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin. In 1924, the eminent composer Ernest Bloch was hired as director, beginning his tenure the following year. Bloch served as director for five years. Clement and Hodghead resumed the leadership of the growing institution when Bloch left the Conservatory in 1930 to compose full time. The first faculty chamber group, the California String Quartet, began in 1926.
Albert Elkus came out of retirement in 1951 to become the conservatory's director. One of his first priorities was to find the school a new home. In 1956, the conservatory moved to its current location at 1201 Ortega Street, a 1928 Mission-style building. Robin Laufer succeeded Elkus in 1957. In 1960, under Laufer's direction, the conservatory reached a major milestone, becoming the first music school on the west coast to receive accreditation from both the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the National Association of Schools of Music.
Appointed president in 1966, Milton Salkind guided the conservatory through its first great period of expansion. Salkind brought the professional music world to the conservatory with visits from such luminaries as Placido Domingo, Beverly Sills, Yehudi Menuhin, and Yo Yo Ma.
Colin Murdoch became the president in 1992. Under his leadership, the conservatory celebrated its 75th anniversary with a gala concert at Davies Symphony Hall.
In 2005, a major campaign was underway to move the conservatory to completely renovated state-of the-art facilities at 50 and 70 Oak Street in the Civic Center. Those expanded facilities would place the conservatory in the cultural heart of the city and mark the move of a unique world-class institution to the heart of downtown. The conservatory would join the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet, museums, and libraries in an already lively arts scene downtown.