The contentious redesign effort for Harvey Milk Plaza and the Castro Muni station, which now goes back a full two years, has yet another update that will get publicly debated and openly derided. In place of sloped amphitheater above the station entrance that the architects were told to nix, they now propose a pink latticed canopy structure that seems to serve no real purpose but decoration.
Representatives for the firm Perkins Eastman will be presenting the latest revision to the design at a public meeting on Sunday, May 19, as the Bay Area Reporter tells us. And it's no doubt going to get people talking!
Nothing about this project has gone particularly smoothly, after the SFMTA held a competition to select a designer back in the fall of 2017. The Perkins Eastman design was selected, and it centered on a sloped amphitheater — which originally sloped down toward Castro Street, in a nod to Milk's own use of the corner for political rallies, and its frequent use for that purpose to this day. That design was later flipped to keep the station entrance facing Castro, and then further public complaint arrived about the bleacher-style seating which now faced away from the street and toward Twin Peaks. As the BAR reported last October, multiple critics discussed how the amphitheater would be an eyesore, blocking views of the hills, and would likely be underused — Chronicle architecture critic John King also criticized the design because of windy that area can be, and there would be no protection from the elements if one were sitting there.
The latest design addresses that concern by jettisoning the seating and adding this pink thing — which one BAR commenter rightly points out looks like airport architecture.
The redesign still includes a grove of 11 gingko trees up near the Collingwood end of the plaza, representing the 11 months Harvey Milk spent in office, and there would be a below-ground exhibit about Milk's life and career, adjacent to the station turnstiles.
But many have challenged the need for this wholesale redesign of the 1970s-era station, in part because it was, itself, a space that Milk's contemporaries walked through — the station came online in 1980, and the plaza dedicated to Milk was renamed in 1985, seven years after his assassination.*
One local architect who wished to remain anonymous questioned whether the SFMTA's money might be better spent elsewhere, given that this project was born out of a simple need to make the station elevator ADA-compliant. "It is beyond perplexing why anyone would think it is a fitting memorial to Harvey Milk to spend $20m+ to destroy actual Castro history, ripping out a 1970's-era neighborhood transit plaza, designed by a local gay architect from Harvey's era, a place all of Harvey's contemporaries and subsequent generations of LGBTQ folks have not only used for daily and nightly transit, but have actually gathered here in this exact plaza, to protest and to celebrate on so many occasions over the 40 years since Harvey's death," the architect writes.
The plaza project is currently estimated to cost $11 million, and the original architect of the station, Howard Grant, has come out against the redesign.
"It should be treated as a sacred honor and space and not just be ripped out," says neighborhood resident of five decades Harry Breaux. He said in particular the steps into the station should not be removed because they are "sacred" due to how many people lost to the AIDS epidemic used them on their way to and from work.
Brian Springfield, a local architect who is a member of the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza group that is behind the redesign effort, tells the BAR that the current rendering is far from final, and the sculptural element could be made thinner.
"Perkins Eastman said to us the structure of this sculptural element might be over pronounced at this point," Springfield says.
Stay tuned for more drama!
* This post has been corrected to show that Milk himself did not live to see the station completed.