"We found this new kid wandering around backstage, and I hope you like him," local comedian Will Durst recalls joking to the audience at one annual Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park. Then, as he recounts to the Chronicle Robin Williams would take the stage, and the audience would go wild.
Williams wasn't just a fixture of Comedy Day. He was, according to Durst, its "anonymous angel." Williams "gave money, but he wanted it under an assumed name. So he became ‘the Eagle.’ If someone said, ‘The Eagle has landed,’ that was the signal that Robin’s money had shown up.” Debi Durst, who like her husband is also a comedian and a producer of the free showcase, recalls that one year, Williams' contribution was the entire budget.
Williams's suicide in 2014 was a tragedy to his many fans, and here in the Bay Area, his longtime home, he's been remembered with at least one landmark: the Waldo Tunnel in Marin, with its eye-catching rainbow paint job became the Robin Williams Tunnel in March.
Now Debi and Will Durst want to remember Williams's contributions in San Francisco by naming the meadow where Comedy Day is habitually held after him. That space, near Hippie Hill, is usually called Sharon Meadow: William Sharon, a banker elected Senator from Nevada in 1874, donated funds to the park in order that a building might bear his name. Now one does, the sandstone Sharon building, today used for art classes. By extension, the Sharon building has lent its name to the meadow it overlooks, but that open space — Sharon Meadow, as it's mostly known — hasn't *technically* had a formal name.
Nonetheless, the Dursts needed Rec and Parks' approval for the change, which they've reportedly secured, along with the blessing of Williams's family. None of this will come free, however. "We need to raise funds in order to change all the signage in Golden Gate Park,” Debi Durst told the Chronicle. “And all the literature available to the public will have to be reprinted as well." That could cost around $100,000, for which the Dursts have begun raising funds and accepting donations.
Williams Meadow: It does sounds nice, and it's not unprecedented. Hellman Hollow, for example, is named for Warren Hellman, the longtime — but not indefinite! — benefactor of another beloved free park tradition, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, to be held this weekend.