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Online Extra: SF panel advances bandshell project that includes Harvey Milk tribute

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An artist's rendering shows Illuminate's plan for incorporating a quote attributed to Harvey Milk on the bandstand in Golden Gate Park. Photo: Courtesy Illuminate
An artist's rendering shows Illuminate's plan for incorporating a quote attributed to Harvey Milk on the bandstand in Golden Gate Park. Photo: Courtesy Illuminate   

A project that would see the first tribute to an LGBT individual installed in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park outside of the National AIDS Memorial Grove advanced Thursday past its first public review.

As part of the city's plans to celebrate the green space's 150th anniversary this spring, a temporary light installation of the words "Hope will never be silent" would be installed along the top center of the Music Concourse Bandshell in a typeface inspired by historical inscriptions found on the nearby water fountains. The quote is widely attributed to the late gay Supervisor Harvey Milk, though it is unclear when he first said it.

Also known as the Spreckles Temple of Music, the bandshell structure is at the western edge of the Music Concourse, which sits above the underground parking garage that serves visitors to the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, and Japanese Tea Garden. It was built in 1900, survived the 1906 earthquake, has been renovated over the years, and is the official home to the Golden Gate Park Band, which performs on Sundays in the park during the summer months.

The bandshell is now slated to receive enhancements this year that include the installation of re-configured risers that will open space on the stage to make it more usable for dance performances and the temporary installation of lighting and a state-of-the-art speaker system. Leading the project is Illuminate, the arts nonprofit that installed the artistic lighting on the Bay Bridge and the facade of Golden Gate Park's Conservatory of Flowers.

It wants to install an LED light installation atop the facade of the 75 foot tall structure with the quote attributed to Milk that would span 40 feet in length. It would be in Caslon's Egyptian Bold typeface, which Rhonda Rubinstein, the creative director of the California Academy of Sciences, helped to pick out.

If approved, the art piece would be installed for two years and be illuminated during the evenings, though Ben Davis, Illuminate's founder and chief visionary officer, told the Bay Area Reporter last week that he hoped the public would embrace seeing it be a permanent addition to the bandshell.

In November 2017 Illuminate installed a similar lighted art piece with the same quote on the mantel of the commercial building overlooking the plaza that bears Milk's name above the Castro Muni station. It was part of the ceremonies that fall commemorating the 40th anniversary of Milk's historic 1977 election as the first out gay supervisor in San Francisco and the first openly LGBT elected official in California.

Tragically, a year after being elected to the Board of Supervisor's District 5 seat, which back then covered the Castro and the Haight, Milk was assassinated along with then-mayor George Moscone inside City Hall by disgruntled former supervisor Dan White the morning of November 27, 1978.

The operations committee of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission unanimously voted 3-0 to support the bandshell project at its meeting Thursday (February 6), at which no one spoke out against the proposal.

Lisa Bransten, deputy director of partnerships at the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, explained that the Milk quote was chosen because it "reflects the importance of breaking silence as will happen in the space when it is alive with performers."

Commissioner Gloria Bonilla said at the hearing she didn't see why the project would not be approved later this month. She told parks staff and Illuminate's Davis that she was "quite awestruck" by the proposal for the Music Concourse.

"Anytime I went there I always thought of all these venues I had to pay to go into and didn't have the resources," Bonilla said. "I always said I wish the bandshell was more accessible and available to the community."

Commissioner Kat Anderson also praised the project as "quite gorgeous."

The city's historic preservation commission will take up the proposal at its meeting February 19. Also that day the arts commission's visual arts committee will vote on whether to approve the Milk lighted art piece for the bandshell facade.

Should both oversight panels approve the project as expected, then the full Recreation and Park Commission will vote to approve it at its February 20 meeting.

The total cost for the bandshell project is $800,000 and it is being paid for by private funds. Davis told the B.A.R. last week that Illuminate has $150,000 yet to raise, which he noted was fitting in light of the park's anniversary year.

It is the nonprofit's intention to gift the new lighting and sound equipment to the city's parks department so local performance groups could continue to use it. Currently, groups need to truck in their own equipment if they wish to perform at the bandshell.

"We create nothing that requires paid admission," Davis said at Thursday's hearing.

Davis, a Glen Park resident, said he and his co-workers at Illuminate have a "deep" love for the city's parks and are excited to help activate the Music Concourse with music. Thus, working on the Spreckles Temple project "has been extremely exhilarating," he noted.

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