San Francisco Tomorrow is devoted to preserving the livability of our City. It was started by leaders of the successful Freeway Revolt when Caltrans engineers wanted to circle the Northern waterfront, trench the Panhandle and slice off a corner of Golden Gate Park with freeways. Plans that seem incredible now, were thought inevitable in the mid 60's.
When I joined the Board the burning issue was uncontrolled office growth. A high-rise office building was proposed at 5th and Market, blocks from the office district. Shortly after we produced alternative sketches showing the site's retail potential, the developer convinced Nordstrom's to become the anchor tenant in a multi-store shopping center that reinforced the city's retail core.
Later we supported Proposition M which set yearly limits on office building growth. My election poster showed a curtain-wall guillotine threatening San Francisco's urban fabric.
SFT is not usually concerned with historic preservation, but several members asked the Board what were we doing about the Pioneer Monument? The monument, a Victorian assembly of allegorical figures was the last remnant of the city's original Civic Center. It had survived the '06 Earthquake and post fire street realignment.
It stood awkwardly on a neglected corner of Market Street, the block was the proposed site of the new Main Library. Rather than attempting to integrate the monument into their plan, the Library planned to erase history. The proposed Library faced the beaux arts civic center with anemic facades and at what they considered the back of their building, they offered a blank corner.
Columnist Herb Caen called the design "Courthouse front+ Jail House rear.'' This most public of all public buildings, turned a blank face to Market Street, San Francisco's most important street and its main transit artery, used by 60% of Library patrons.
SFT asked where was the Market Street entrance? The architects pointed to a recess part way up a side street. To find the entrance, the architects suggested they might hang out banners. I made a quick sketch showing a Market Street entry to the library from a plaza which preserved the Pioneer Monument in place. The sketch was included in the EIR, but the blank corner was built.
Our only "victory" was that instead of dismantling the Pioneer Monument, the Library moved the Monument one block North. But they never hung out the banners. Our highly regarded architectural critic Alan Temko blamed San Francisco's resistance to "modern" architecture for the building’s failure. I believe the Main Library validates the public's suspicion of "modern" architecture's inability to locate a front door.
I joined a group of designers giving form to the National Memorial for the victims of AIDS. The site in Golden Gate Park is a sunken meadow, ease of access was our priority.
I remembered that the City had a stockpile of granite curbs. Spaced down the hill to form risers, they created an elegant curved stair-ramp. A later sketch shows an entry feature we hope will invite the public into this quiet memorial garden.