Redesign proposal inside Castro Street Muni station. Illustration by Perkins Eastman
$11M Transit Plaza Proposal Feels Off Track
Residents and merchants are having second thoughts about getting on board with the $11 million renovation to Castro Street Muni station. The reconstruction concept, which began two years ago, is back to the drawing board after an underwhelming design update.
Backed by local organization Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza, the construction project would reconfigure Harvey Milk Plaza’s sunken transit station entrance. Updated features would memorialize Harvey Milk, the LGBT-icon who was assassinated in 1978 at City Hall, one year after becoming the first openly gay supervisor both in San Francisco and California.
As Milk Plaza exists currently, a modest bronze plaque at the station entrance briefly tells Milk’s history, along with captioned photographs on the garden’s wrought iron fence. Over time, the plaza has been stripped of its benches.
Designed by long-time Castro resident Howard Grant and architecture firm Reid & Tarics Associates, the plaza was under construction when Milk was killed, and it was dedicated in his honor in 1985. The now-iconic rainbow flag was added 19 years later.
A campaign has been underway since 2017 to propose a complete redesign of Milk Plaza and the entrance to the Muni Metro station. Architecture firm Perkins Eastman has developed several design concepts, the most recent released in May 2019.
“It makes sense for Harvey Milk Plaza to have some kind of memorial honoring him, and some sign that you’ve arrived in the Castro,” District 5 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told the Chronicle late last year. That said, “I still think we’re in the early days (of any redesign). Honestly, it might be dramatically changed by the time there’s an actual project.”
This month, one local organization spoke out against the redesign.
GLBT Historical Society Executive Director Terry Beswick released a statement regarding the reconstruction proposal and the process that produced it.
Beswick puts the GLBT Historical Society, an internationally renowned LGBTQ public history museum in Castro, on record as advocating a restoration, renovation and limited adaptation of the existing historic design for Harvey Milk Plaza in place of the proposed demolition and complete replacement.
The latest redesign proposal from Perkins Eastman
“The GLBT Historical Society applauds the goal of more effectively honoring the memory of Harvey Milk and the LGBTQ history of the Castro at the Muni Metro station and historic plaza that bears Milk’s name,” stated Beswick. “We congratulate the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza and its supporters on their work to bring attention to the plaza.
“However, after careful consideration of the proposed demolition and complete redesign of the space under consideration by the City, the society instead favors preservation and restoration of the existing historic plaza with limited adaptation of the original design to ensure ADA compliance, to allow for appropriate arts and history installations and to address other functional considerations.”
The first redesign proposal, a sloped amphitheater, was a nod to Milk’s own use of the Market and Castro street corner for political rallies. After public complaints about the bleacher-style seating, which would have faced toward Twin Peaks and away from the bustling intersection, that design was later flipped to keep the station entrance facing Castro Street.
Last month, representatives from Perkins Eastman presented their latest revision of the design at a public meeting. In the newest concept, replacing the sloped amphitheater is a non-functional, pink, geometric structure; something like one would see suspended from the ceiling inside a terminal at SFO.
The latest redesign proposal still includes a grove of 11 gingko trees near the Collingwood end of the plaza, representing the 11 months Milk spent in office, and there would be a below-ground exhibit about Milk’s life and career, adjacent to the station turnstiles, SFist reported.
One local architect, who wished to remain anonymous, told SFist that they questioned whether SFMTA’s money might be better spent elsewhere, given that this project was born out of a simple need to make the station elevator ADA-compliant.
“It is beyond perplexing why anyone would think it is a fitting memorial to Harvey Milk to spend $20m+ to destroy actual Castro history, ripping out a 1970’s-era neighborhood transit plaza, designed by a local gay architect from Harvey’s era, a place all of Harvey’s contemporaries and subsequent generations of LGBTQ folks have not only used for daily and nightly transit, but have actually gathered here in this exact plaza, to protest and to celebrate on so many occasions over the 40 years since Harvey’s death,” the architect writes.
In his statement from GLBT Historical
Society, Beswick added, “We strongly encourage the City to refocus funding and to organize efforts to restore, refresh and make accessible the original design of Harvey Milk Plaza and the surrounding area with the utmost respect for the spirit of Harvey Milk and the history of the Castro neighborhood.”
It’s still unclear exactly when any construction to Harvey Milk Plaza will begin, but by the looks of things, this train isn’t taking off anytime soon.
Previous Perkins Eastman amphitheater proposal
Public Defender Jeff Adachi died in February
A Crisis of Leadership
When asked, ten people will probably have ten different answers on what constitutes leadership. In many cases, leadership has been exhibited by elected officials under times of conflict, tragedy, or turmoil.
I am a journalist and have a strong opinion on the recent mishandling of the events following the SFPD leaked report on the details regarding Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s passing. I believe in fact checking, decency, and abhor the sensational publications that line our checkout stands in the supermarket. While I do not condone the leaking of the SFPD report, the right of the freelance journalist who received it to report it, or market it is protected by law, under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the “Shield Law” of the California Constitution.
The SFPD obtained a search warrant, sledge-hammered the door to the freelance reporter’s apartment, handcuffed him for six hours, and confiscated his notes, computers, and materials.
Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of the free press being treated as “enemies of the people” as we have heard from some of those in Washington, the Philippines and other places.
Mayor Breed backed her police chief, failing to condemn the raid, basically saying that she is not a legal expert, but if a judge issued a warrant, it must be OK. Police Chief Bill Scott also supported the raid as a tool to get to the truth about where the leaked report came from. Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer stated that the journalist broke the law by receiving an illegally leaked report (incorrect), and that since he is selling the information the raid is somehow justified.
Now, several weeks later, Chief Scott admits the raid was a mistake and that the SFPD must do better due diligence in its’ investigations. Are we really expected to believe that he was not involved at the very highest levels when the SFPD applied for a search warrant and conducted the raid, violating the California Constitution and the reporter’s civil rights? What about the Superior Court judges who signed off on the search warrants? Surely, they have heard of the Shield Law.
The Mayor started waffling in her responses almost immediately, but has never condemned the actions of the SFPD in the raid. Supervisor Fewer continues to “blame” the journalist for making money on the story and also claims she is not a legal expert.
The Shield Law exists for the protection of journalists and the integrity of the free press, one of the cornerstones of democracy. Anyone who is old enough to remember Watergate; “Deep Throat” and the Washington Post knows that leaked confidential information is protected by law.
This is a crisis of leadership. All of our elected officials are sworn to protect the laws of the United States and California. The actions of the SFPD were clearly against the law, and the actions of our elected officials condoning these illegal actions is shameful.
Supervisors Peskin, Haney, Ronen, Brown and Stefani condemned the raid, as did District Attorney George Gascon. Even worse, ten days after the raid we have “no response” from several supervisors, including the President of the Board, Supervisor Norman Yee of District 7. No outrage, no concern for SFPD overreach? No comment on the trampling of free speech or civil rights? Nope, just crickets… still waiting for a comment.
On May 20, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman spoke to the Bay Area Reporter and stated, “I come down troubled and concerned but have not reached a final conclusion yet about whether police complied with the law”, continuing, “If they did, we need additional protections in place.”
This is not a “We made a mistake moment,” or “My Bad.” It is a violation of the California Constitution and a blatant attack on the press. All because someone in the SFPD (apparently) wanted to smear the memory and legacy of Jeff Adachi and the Public Defender’s Office.
The “duck and cover” mentality of those at the top is unacceptable. “I am not a legal expert” is a terrible excuse for violating the law. A clear lack of integrity and leadership is evident.
All citizens and voters within San Francisco should remember this when the next election for Supervisor, Mayor and Superior Court occur. I sure will.
The Westside Observer
SFGMC’s Queen is a “love letter to the future”
This was a banner year for the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, as they celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2018, but 2019 is proving to be just as momentous for the organization. Along with SFGMC’s many performances, including their annual contribution to the festivities around Pride, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is to open the nation’s first LGBTQ arts center at 170 Valencia Street. During this most auspicious Pride season, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, SFGMC will be presenting Queens, to honor the lives of LGBTQ activists, then and now. The star-studded affair, featuring beloved community icons like Donna Sachet and Heklina, happens at The Sydney Goldstein Theater in Hayes Valley, on June 21st and 22nd. Executive Director, Chris Verdugo, spoke with the Courier about Queens, and about what’s being planned for the National LGBTQ Center for the Arts.
Wendy: This year for Pride, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is presenting Queens, which is a retrospective and tribute to LGBTQ activism, dating back to even before Stonewall, 50 years ago. Knowing the Gay Men’s Chorus, it’s likely to be uplifting, yet tell a dramatic story.
Chris: It’s really fantastic that we have celebrities like Heklina, and Donna Sachet, and the Sisters [of Perpetual Indulgence], as well as the Imperial Court, and Ducal Council, and that we get to honor them for the work that they have done here in the community. It ties back all the way to the Compton Cafeteria Riots, where it was drag queens and our transgender brothers and sisters who were really taking a stand. This concert is a huge celebration of where we’ve come in 50+ years, and it’s also a love letter to who we want to be in the future, and to what’s possible.
Wendy: Speaking of looking toward the future, this year marks a big milestone for you in that regard, because SFGMC is opening, within your newly acquired building at 170 Valencia Street, the National LGBTQ Center for the Arts. It’s the first LGBTQ Arts Center, which seems fitting, as SFGMC was the first gay chorus. You’ll be offering a multitude of programs there for the community, as well as having your own dedicated space.
Chris: Absolutely. It’s been a big year for us. We’re celebrating what we are able to create in this great city of San Francisco, through the generosity of our donors, by being able to launch what is the country’s first LGBTQ Center for the Arts, which will be able to house LGBTQ artists, and arts organizations, to provide the space for rehearsals, and space to incubate new works, and space that’s affordable, as well as a space to present LGBTQ artists as they develop new works. It’s also space for us to grow and expand our youth outreach programs, like RHYTHM, which is Reaching Youth Through Music. We’ve just wrapped up our second year of outreach in San Francisco, middle and high school. Our new national program, the It Gets Better tour, which we launched earlier this year, travels across the country to various communities, where some [of them] have seen teen suicides. We bring a message of hope, and acceptance, and love, and we act as a catalyst for that community and really try to support them in the time that we’re there. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is on the precipice of greater greatness as we look toward the future, and [toward] what we’re able to provide to our San Francisco community, and now to a national community, through the new arts center.
Wendy: SFGMC has been rehearsing in the building for many years, right?
Chris: We have. About two years ago the [prior owners] put the building on the market, and when they did, the realtors said to them, “We would like you to terminate all of your lease agreements, because we wanna have the building vacant,” for the potential buyers. We understood that. We wandered in the wilderness, so to speak, rehearsing in various locations throughout the city, but for us, this was the perfect location. The realtor called me 17 months ago and said [that they] had been looking at the building again through a different lens and [called to talk to SFGMC] about the possibility of purchasing it, and how we could all make that possible. We embarked on those conversations, and we embarked on conversations with donors to the organization who are very generous, and here we are 17 months later, about to have conversations with architects, and create something that doesn’t exist in our country. It’s so exciting, from an organizational standpoint, from a personal standpoint for Tim [Artistic Director Tim Seelig] and I, and we feel very blessed and grateful to birth this into existence, and provide opportunity for other LGBTQ artists and arts organizations. We’ve been around 42 years; Tim has been in the LGBTQ choral movement for about 30 years; I have been in it, on and off, for about 15 years, and we know what it’s like for smaller arts organizations, the lack of resources, and the lack of space. To be in a position, and I say this over and over again, because of the generosity of our donors, to be in a position to be able to provide this space to our community, it’s humbling and it is not lost on us. We know the responsibility.
Wendy: What sorts of programs do you imagine for the space, and when do you foresee them happening?
Chris: In general terms, we will be doing educational programming, here in the arts center, by expanding RHYTHM, so that RHYTHM becomes something that we do, not just in the Bay Area in middle and high schools, but becomes something that we are able to produce here in our own [center for the arts]. We will also start community sing-ins once a month. We’re really excited about that, to be able to bring the community in - no auditions, you just get to come and sing with members of the chorus and our artistic team. We’ll also bring in our educational program, It Gets Better, and will be presenting it here at some point in the fall. We will start having master classes and a lecture series, either in the fall or right at the beginning of 2020, with Broadway composers, with folk artists, with really significant members of our LGBTQ artistic community. At a later point, probably in a year or so, we’ll start a more robust presenting series, bringing in different musical acts, whether they be a string quartet, or whether it be a dance performance. What we know is immediate, and what we’ll be open for, is bringing in other LGBTQ arts organizations and artists, to start using the space, and that will happen over the summer. We encourage any LGBTQ arts organizations looking for rehearsal space, and any kind of support, to reach out to us. We’re having those kinds of conversations now so we can start scheduling the space and opening it to those organizations and artists that need it.
Wendy: At this point in time in San Francisco, it’s just so necessary to have ways by which to keep artists here. Something like this can make all the difference, in terms of whether or not an artist feels like they can do their art here.
Chris: Absolutely. And we want to keep them here! We want to be that mecca. We want to be what this city’s always been, which is this fertile ground of creativity, and rawness, and pushing the envelope, and edgy. We wanna keep all of that alive! We’re fortunate that we get to be a space for that sort of synergy and chemistry.
Wendy: You were the first organization of your kind in the world, let alone in the country, so it makes sense that you are the first to found the National LGBTQ Center for the Arts, but it’s also lovely that you have. Some, when they reach a certain status, forget about where they came from, but clearly you are not doing that.
Chris: No, that is not an option for us. When we turned 40, we recommitted to who we are as an arts organization, and who we are as a leader in our field. We doubled down and we are excited and ready to be able to continue to transform, shift perceptions, and create a space of compassion and community.
Wendy: You’ve been on a long path within music, and joined your first gay chorus as a teen in South Florida. That led you to a multitude of positions within the worlds of music, entertainment, and philanthropy, bringing you next to Los Angeles, where you were CEO and Executive Director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, prior to arriving here in San Francisco. What brought you to San Francisco?
Chris: Oh, that’s easy. This chorus. I wanted to be a part of a great arts organization that was creating and commissioning new works, who was at the the top of their game, and the ability to work alongside the artistic director, Tim Seelig. It was a no-brainer. I think at the time I thought that this would be the last thing I do before I have a career change in my life, and of course then the building happened and the center happened! Life has its own agenda. As much as I think I know what I’m doing, I’m also really open to the universe going, “Hey, what about doing this now and having this impact?” I’m where I am because music saved my life when I was in high school. If I had not had chorus, and if I had not my small ensemble; if I had not had piano, and teachers, and group of like-minded people who would support me, and love me, I wouldn’t be here. That’s dramatic, but that’s life, that ‘s an honest statement. But, I am here, so I feel a certain responsibility to take that thing which kept me alive, and I know firsthand the power of it and what’s possible, and be able to share that with others, and create possibilities and create futures that might not necessarily have existed without access to music, and access to empowerment, and access to authenticity, and access to representation.
Photo courtesy SFGMC
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