Letters to the editor

  • by BAR staff
  • Wednesday October 13, 2021
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Letters to the editor

Responding to letter about Milk plaza

This is in response to Brian Springfield's letter to the editor [October 7], regarding the historical resource evaluation for Harvey Milk Plaza. Few of your readers have probably read the report prepared by preservation planners in the San Francisco Planning Department, so it would not be obvious just how selective and misleading Springfield's references were in defense of demolishing and replacing everything we now know as Harvey Milk Plaza.

If the preservation planners had intended to only identify the sidewalk assembly area fronting Castro Street as eligible for listing in the State Registry of Historical Resources, they would have done so. Instead, they described a two-level plaza in detail and attached four photos of the plaza at Castro station level. They reported that the plaza was eligible for listing due to its having retained its integrity for 45 years. Integrity included materials, design, and feeling. The only changes were the steel fence installed by Muni and the removal of cedar benches at the serpentine walls.

Springfield points out that the report lists three "defining features" of the plaza: location at the southwest corner of Market and Castro Streets; a large plaza at street level; and the serpentine retaining wall along Market Street. He claims that as long as they are retained, the plaza would be considered unchanged. Overlooked is the fact that the plans his organization has put forward eliminate the serpentine wall along with all other plaza elements. The entire block from Castro to Collingwood is to be bulldozed and paved with gray concrete.

This project is subject to an environmental impact review. State rules go further than obvious impacts on the environment caused by demolition and sending tons of concrete and steel to landfill plus inconvenience to the Muni Metro patrons, neighbors, and businesses. "Substantial Adverse Change" includes alterations not only to the historical resource but to its "surroundings." This is in obvious reference to the "feelings" generated by the resource.

The historical resource report recognized that "Harvey Milk Plaza also appears eligible as a contributor to the Eureka Valley/Castro Street Commercial Historic District for its cultural association with the LGBTQ rights movement in San Francisco." This would include all the community memorials and assemblies that have taken place there from 1985 to the present.

The lower level of the plaza was dedicated to Milk in 1985 by then-mayor Dianne Feinstein and then-supervisors Harry Britt and John Molinari and features a bronze plaque, Milk's name in bronze on the bridge above, and the panels of photographs donated by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in 2006. These contribute to the feelings of being connected to our LGBTQ history. Although the large rallies, memorials, and protest marches have originated at the Castro/Market corner, it is noteworthy that Springfield's Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza has held numerous community celebrations in Milk's name down in the plaza rather than up at street level.

Springfield concluded his letter to the editor by claiming, "Nobody has proposed tearing down something that is 'historically significant' or 'worthy of preservation,' nor would we advocate for doing so." His organization has advocated demolishing and replacing Harvey Milk Plaza as we know it ever since it held an international competition to "reimagine" the plaza in 2018. The Advocates for Harvey Milk Plaza group (https://www.saveharveymilkplaza.org/) conducted polls of the Castro community at that time and found that over 50% considered the plaza and memorial to be "worthy of preservation" and favored improvement over demolition and replacement. The group recently published a plan that demonstrates how the existing (improved) plaza and memorial could fit within the designer SWA's plans while retaining all its major features.

Howard Grant, AIA

Oakland, California

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