Milk plaza redesign reverts to old entrance
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New proposals for the redesign of Harvey Milk Plaza have put the entrance back at Castro Street, like it currently is, eliminating one of the most frequent criticisms of the project.
Earlier, the design by Perkins Eastman, which won an online vote last year, had the entrance facing Collingwood Street. Critics pointed out that the proposed entrance was close to residences and meant people using Muni would have to walk an extra block to reach the train station.
Around 75 people met in the basement of Most Holy Redeemer Church April 7 to offer feedback on what will ultimately become the final design for the new Harvey Milk Plaza. The redesigned plaza is to be built at the entrance to the Castro Muni station.
Also in attendance were Justin Skoda and McCall Wood of Perkins Eastman, the architecture and design firm that will be creating the plaza's final design. Skoda and Wood brought four potential designs to the meeting.
Wood said that the final design would include parts of each proposal. All four proposals eliminated the idea of having the entrance to the plaza and train station facing Collingwood Street, the residential side street a block over from Castro Street.
Each of the proposals was projected onto a screen as Skoda and Wood described them to the audience. Attendees, divided into groups of seven to 10, were seated at tables.
Gay District 8 supervisor candidate Rafael Mandelman was in attendance.
"This is one of the most important spaces in the Castro," he said. "In a neighborhood that has national and international significance it's so exciting to see so many people participating, not just in one meeting, but in a whole series of meetings."
Mandelman was referring to the fact that this was the latest of several meetings regarding the redesign of Harvey Milk Plaza.
"This is a good example of community input and a process that is engaging the neighbors," he added.
The first design, titled "Harvey's Journey, Your Journey," features a wood canopy over the entrance stairwell into the plaza. The word "Castro" is prominently displayed on top of the canopy. A small park with trees, and a small flight of stairs leading up to the trees, stood to the right of the entrance. A colorful portrait of Milk graced a wall inside the concourse ticketing level below. There are also trees enclosed in glass at the concourse level.
A narrative timeline of Milk's life and a historic photograph would be included in this design.
Milk, of course, was the first openly gay person elected to office in San Francisco and California when he won a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 1977. Tragically, he and then-mayor George Moscone were assassinated by disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White in November 1978.
The second design is called "Castro's Living Room." It features a wide stairway leading down to the concourse level. A sign proclaiming "Welcome Home" would greet visitors and Muni riders. The concourse would be open-air, enabling Market Street pedestrians to look down into the concourse. The concourse would include interactive exhibit walls and historic narrative walls.
The third idea, titled "A Soapbox For Many," would include space on Market Street where vigils and demonstrations could be held. There would also be a narrative timeline and a permanent candlelight vigil.
Finally, the fourth design approach, "Castro's Perch," would feature a flight of stairs leading up to the top of the canopy at the station entrance. Visitors would be able to take photos or just gaze upon the neighborhood. There would be permanent lighting elements, made to resemble a candlelight vigil, plus sound and a timeline.
Throughout the presentation Skoda and Wood emphasized that the final design would honor the struggle for LGBTQ rights.
All four designs aim to provide more accessibility to the Castro Muni station, to provide elevator access to the plaza level, to widen the sidewalk along the Market Street plaza edge, and to provide security and enclosure of the Castro station at night.
After the presentation, printouts of the designs were handed out to each table along with comment cards where people could offer their feedback.
Several people noted that they found it strange that none of the designs clearly identified Castro station as a memorial to Milk at the entrance.
"The Harvey Milk Plaza sign is a detail that will come later," Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District and president of the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza, told the Bay Area Reporter. "The level of participation among the attendees is exciting. People are very engaged and thoughtful. I'm looking forward to using all these comments to develop a final design scheme."
But not everyone was happy. Duboce Triangle resident Peter Gudd said that the designs were all "bells and whistles."
"The biggest problem are all these stairs and steps, which will be taken over by the homeless," Gudd said.
Longtime activist and community member Ken Jones, who knew Milk, was one of those concerned that none of the signage identified the station as Harvey Milk Plaza. But overall, Jones was pleased with the results of the meeting.
"I am so encouraged to see five-dozen men and women of all ages gathered on a sunny, beautiful afternoon at Most Holy Redeemer meeting space to share their visions and their hearts for the Harvey Milk Plaza rebuilding project," he said. "I am so pleased to see and witness the care, concern, and love people have for the Harvey Milk legacy that has touched everyone in a special and unique way."
Aiello said that all four designs, plus the comments received, can be viewed online. Visit www.friendsofharveymilkplaza.org for more details.
Organizers said that the fourth and final meeting in this series will be held Tuesday, May 15, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Sanchez Elementary School, 325 Sanchez Street.