Panel approves relocation of historic Milk plaza lampposts

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022
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This is one of the Path of Gold lighting fixtures approved for relocation as part of the renovation of Harvey Milk Plaza. Photo: Courtesy TreanorHL
This is one of the Path of Gold lighting fixtures approved for relocation as part of the renovation of Harvey Milk Plaza. Photo: Courtesy TreanorHL

Two lighting fixtures in Harvey Milk Plaza that are part of San Francisco's historic Path of Gold light standards along Market Street are set to be relocated as part of a reimagining of the site. They both would be reassembled closer to the roadway in order to facilitate a proposed remodel of the public parklet above the Castro Muni station.

While there is no construction start date for the proposed plaza remodel, work on a new four-stop elevator for the Castro Muni station is slated to begin "in late 2022," according to the website for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's Castro Accessibility Project. Estimated to cost between $15 and $30 million, the new elevator will be built into a portion of the plaza's sunken garden area by the subway station entrance and should be completed in 2025.

A spokesperson for the city's public works department, which is working with the SFMTA on the elevator project, has yet to respond to the Bay Area Reporter's questions on if there is an exact date for when ground will be broken.

At its November 16 meeting the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission approved 6-0 the relocation of the two historic light fixtures after postponing the item from last month. Several remarked about seeing all of the Castro neighborhood's major civic and political groups back their doing so.

"We are talking about relocating two light posts. This is absolutely acceptable. I see no reasons why we have to be in their way," said Commissioner Lydia So, who had reviewed an early design proposal for remodeling Milk plaza as a member of the city's arts commission.

Gay Commissioner Jason Wright said the new locations for the light standards "would better align" them with the other Path of Gold fixtures and would not impact their historic significance.

As explained in the staff report, the two street lamps need to be moved "as part of the larger redesign of the plaza, which includes accessibility upgrades to the Castro Muni Station, integrated memorial elements for Harvey Milk, and various landscape improvements."

"Moving these two historic light standards to better placement is smart," said Trey Allen, a gay man who co-chaired the task force the drafted the city's LGBTQ cultural strategy.

John Goldsmith, a gay man who opposes the renovation plans for Milk plaza, again requested that the lamppost item not be taken up Wednesday, as he did in October, and argued there was no reason to approve relocating them in a letter he sent to the commission.

"Please postpone a vote, collect data, and review your OWN guidelines in the process. CEQA must prevail, save Harvey Milk Plaza, its precious greenbelt and preserve/remain the Path of Gold. They should not be moved for so many reasons," wrote Goldsmith, a renter who lives nearby on Collingwood Street.

The group Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza has been working on a renovation plan for the plaza since 2017. The current redesign proposal calls for a new spiral podium feature to be built at the entrance of the plaza at the intersection of Castro and Market streets. A smaller stairway leading to the underground subway station would be constructed.

A rose-colored, transparent overhang above the escalator that goes to the Muni station would be used to protect it from rainwater. The color scheme is derived from that of the red-and-white bullhorn the plaza's namesake famously used to rally residents of the neighborhood and the city's larger LGBTQ community during protests held at the site and during marches that kicked off from it.

The late Supervisor Harvey Milk was the first gay person elected to public office in San Francisco and California. He was gunned down 11 months into his first term inside City Hall the morning of November 27, 1978 along with then-mayor George Moscone by disgruntled former supervisor Dan White.

City officials named the plaza in honor of Milk, a vocal public transit advocate during his lifetime, in 1985. Quotes of Milk's would be embedded throughout the plaza as part of the redesign.

A memorial grove with 11 trees, of different kinds, symbolizing Milk's 11 months in office would stand at the plaza's entrance from Collingwood Street. In the same area would be a "hope grove," symbolizing the candlelight vigil that took mourners from the Castro to City Hall after Milk and Moscone were slain.

Final approval for the proposal is still required by a number of city oversight bodies. Funding to pay for the work also still needs to be secured, with previous estimates calling for upward of $10 million to be raised to cover the costs.

Both of the lampposts currently stand in the way of the renovation plans. One is located in the walkway near the corner of Castro and Market streets and has the Castro street sign affixed to it, while the other is in the planter bed near the Collingwood end of the plaza.

The distinctive structures sport three lighted glass globes in a trident formation at the end of a slender pole painted blue with minor gold accents. Architect Willis Polk designed their look, with the first ones initially installed in 1916.

The ones at Harvey Milk Plaza are replicas that were installed in the mid-1980s, according to the staff report. All of the existing 327 light standards on Market Street from the Embarcadero to just beyond Castro Street are designated as historic resources due to being made city landmarks in 1991.

Approval for relocating the two Milk plaza lampposts closer to Market Street comes with a stipulation that only hand tools be used. It also requires that their individual components be wrapped in protective materials for temporary storage in a secure facility sheltered from weather.

The planning department recommended their relocation be approved after determining "that the historic character of the two Path of Gold light standards located in Harvey Milk Plaza will be retained and preserved and will not result in the removal of historic fabric."

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