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The de Young’s Underappreciated Underground Attraction

High School senior Pearl de la Motte entertains parking garage guests. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick

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"Our building is an essential destination in San Francisco, a contemporary architectural landmark that offers sweeping views of the city from a dramatic tower observation level," reads the copy on the de Young Museum's website.

But, as Streetsblog discovered Monday afternoon in Golden Gate Park, the museum really should do more to highlight the equally impressive architecture under that tower. For beneath the tarmac and grass of Golden Gate Park, is a garage, completed in 2004 for $55 million by architect Richard Young, that is a Neo-Brutalist tribute.


First, the entrance (technically, there are two entrances, one on Fulton, and one that can be accessed from M.L.K.).

Located at 10th Avenue, the Fulton entrance is best accessed by bicycle, with a dedicated lane from J.F.K Drive. Head from J.F.K. to Fulton, make a quick U-turn, and glide down the gentle slope into the entrance. Well lit, with perfectly smoothed concrete, visitors are immediately soothed by classical music from violaist Pearl de la Motte (see lead image).


Enjoy the acceleration thoughtfully provided by the design of a gentle down slope, swoop back under J.F.K. drive, and enjoy one of the safest places to ride a bicycle in San Francisco. No cross traffic--in fact, basically there's no cars! The air seems fresh and cool, perhaps moderated by the fact that it's underground. The green pillars provide a soothing pallet, gently illuminated by soft overhead LEDs.

There are over 800 pristine parking spots in the garage. It's important to spend a moment at each one to appreciate the white lines and the polished, sealed concrete in all its hard perfection. The patterns of swirls in the concrete were definitely inspired by Pointillism, but seem to have created an artistic school all its own.


Everywhere one looks, empty spaces, with neatly marked white lines. Picassoesque blue boxes mark the parking spots directly across from the entrance to the de Young. "It's a really a clean, well lit place," architect Young told SFGate after its completion. His observation holds as true today as when he uttered it 17 years ago.


There were maybe 10 cars in the entire lot, so the parking garage seems perfectly suited for roller skating, bicycling, and seems to invite play amidst its white lines, green walls and pillars, and artistic concrete swirls. Streetsblog couldn't resist doing some loop-de-loops around the support columns.

And if it gets crowded, there's also a whole upper level full of more pristine, neatly arranged parking spots, with more than ample space for social distancing.


For visitors who wish to experience this architectural gem from the museum side, it has its own entrance.


Be sure not to miss this ongoing art display from the de Young. It's well worth the trip. The parking garage is easily accessible via the Muni 5 Fulton and the 44 O'Shaughnessy. Streetsblog strongly recommends biking or using the bus to reach the garage, since parking is limited.


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