Castro Advocates Plan Makeover for Harvey Milk Plaza

The open house and presentation on Harvey Milk Plaza. Photo: Streetsblog
The open house and presentation on Harvey Milk Plaza. Photo: Streetsblog

Last night, some 50 people attended an open house at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center to discuss an upgrade and redesign of Harvey Milk Plaza adjacent to the Castro Muni Station. “For years and years people have asked ‘can’t you do something better with Harvey Milk plaza,'” explained Andrea Aiello, Executive Director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District.

As Streetsblog readers who are familiar with the plaza already know, the current memorial to Harvey Milk is underwhelming. As shown in the photo below, it’s dimly lit, and consists of a few placards attached to a fence. It is easy to miss as commuters navigate the awkwardly angled entry stairs on their way to the train station mezzanine.

The current memorial to Harvey Milk at Castro station. Photo: Streetsblog
The current memorial to Harvey Milk at Castro station. Photo: Streetsblog

Local advocates formed the group Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza to work to make it a more inviting space. Then, in the spring of last year, SFMTA announced it would do a major overhaul of the station to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That will necessitate adding a second elevator. “They invited us to work with them,” explained Aiello. The idea was for the Friends to help come up with a community-inspired design to upgrade the plaza in conjunction with the SFMTA’s required work. “[Then-Supervisor] Scott Wiener pulled some of us together on how to get moving on this idea of making the plaza fitting to the memory of the man it commemorates,” said Aiello.

“We’ll take community input and put together design briefs,” explained Stacy Williams, Deputy Director at American Institute of Architects, San Francisco. “In April we’ll narrow it down to three designs and bring it back to the community for feedback. We’ll work with SFMTA and the Arts Commission to realize the design.”

Of course, there’s one big hurdle–the group estimates it still needs to raise $8 million to see it to fruition. However, Jennifer Jones, Executive Director at the American Institute of Architects, San Francisco said whatever design they come up with will allow them to phase construction as funding becomes available.

A table model of the current station helped community members reflect on what they'd like to see for the new plaza. Photo: Streetsblog
A table model of the current station helped community members reflect on what they’d like to see for the new plaza. Photo: Streetsblog

Jones, who lead the main presentation, explained how citizen comments would be processed from the previous meeting (held last week) and this one. “We generated a word cloud from the Postit wall,” she explained, pointing to a slide which showed the words that were most prominent: “Space, steps, Harvey Milk, history, amphitheater…make it a public space that recognizes Harvey and his contributions to the city,” is what people want taken into consideration, she explained. She added that architectural firms would put forth designs based on their interpretation of what Castro residents want to see. Then the committee formed of the Friends and other officials will narrow it down to three leading designs. More meetings will be convened, probably in the Spring, to vote on the favorite.

After the main presentation on the background and timeline of the project, the group was divided into breakout sessions, to dig deeper into people’s suggestions and take more feedback. Additionally, “we will spend time in the plaza and speak with people as they are commuting through,” explained Jones.

One of three breakout groups that discussed different aspects of the potential designs. Photo: Streetsblog
One of three breakout groups that discussed different aspects of the potential designs. Photo: Streetsblog

From Streetsblog’s perspective, Harvey Milk represents the antithesis of Trump–if Milk were alive today, it’s no mystery where he would stand on current events. That’s why it’s essential that the Bay Area gets its infrastructure in tip-top condition and concurrently hold up its history of fighting for individual rights as high as possible. Milk’s legacy and inspiration should be emblazoned and celebrated. Let’s hope foundations, politicians and volunteers will get the funds in place.

Do you have a vision for Harvey Milk Plaza and Castro Station? What are the most important elements to making this a more memorable and enjoyable public space? Comment below.

  • voltairesmistress

    Too much f*cking feedback. Just give the project to a good architect and run the trains on time.

  • Sanchez Resident

    Does a second street level elevator need to be installed at the Church Street station?

  • Yeah, I have a vision. Keep the station and adjacent plaza clean. That would make the experience more memorable and enjoyable. Remove the homeless and street vermin who like to camp out and harass Muni riders. Maybe if SF had more beat cops…

  • Howard Grant

    I was the architect for the Castro St. station and plaza. We
    originally convinced MUNI to add a plaza at Castro in order to bring
    sunlight, greenery, and views down to mezzanine level in order to not
    only make the transit experience more enjoyable, but also to forge a
    strong connection between the station and the neighborhood above. For
    40 years this plaza has been a community asset enjoyed widely. The Friends have focused solely on their desire to honor Harvey Milk with little regard for the thousands of MUNI patrons who use the station daily.

    artwork and memorial to Harvey Milk can be added to the plaza (and
    perhaps the station itself) without destroying it. Perhaps the station
    could be renamed Castro/Harvey Milk as was done at Civic Center/UN Plaza
    (another one of my designs, along with Van Ness, Church St. and West
    Portal). Actually, an even more dramatic possibility has recently
    emerged: the SF Board of Supervisors voted to rename Justin Herman
    plaza. If dedicated to Harvey Milk, this would provide even more
    opportunities to present his history and contributions.

  • Richard

    Howard Grant did a fine job with the design of the station. About all that is needed is to remove the plywood panels and allow the sunshine to return to the train level!


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