Aug 24, 2011

Creative ideas are needed to protect and improve the McKinley Monument

A few weeks ago, the AIDS Walk brought thousands of people to Golden Gate Park. By midday, thousands of people were on the hunt for a place to sit for a rest or to have a bite to eat. One convenient place is to settle down next to, or on, a statue or monument.
Picnicking in Golden Gate Park
In the Panhandle, the McKinley Monument is put to similar use on a daily basis. It's actually put to use in a lots of other ways- toddlers learning to climb, little kids kicking a ball with parents, neighbors meeting up with friends for a bike ride, reading a book, or getting some sun.  

But the monument is in disrepair. In June, when I saw a team of restoration experts hired by the city to remove graffiti, I asked about the job in front of them, and they said their current job would only be to remove some graffiti and apply a sealant. They pointed out the signs that water from rainfall is getting into the base upon which the bronze statue rests. They also pointed out how the gaps between the stones steps leading up to the monument are open and filled with weeds. I had already noticed that the bas-relief of McKinley was discolored from corrosion. But there is not a plan to fund maintenance or restoration of all of public artworks in San Francisco, and it appears that that the McKinley is lacking a benefactor. In the San Francisco Chronicle on July 16, 2011, a front page article by Stephanie Lee reported on the restoration of a large, 40-year old outdoor sculpture at the Hall of Justice that had just concluded at the cost of $35,000. The article reported that other artworks around San Francisco were in need of funding plan (public or private) "Robert Ingersoll Aitken's 1904 William McKinley statue in Golden Gate Park needs a heavy coat of protection over its bronze and stone that could cost as much as $165,000."

McKinley waiting for more than graffiti removal
Beyond repairing and restoring the monument itself, Alison Cumming of the SF Arts Commission told a committee in January about chronic, recurring vandalism of the monument, and said that her office would like to work with the Recreation and Parks department "to address solutions, including possible replanting of the area, up-lighting, and period-appropriate fencing" at the McKinley Monument.

Allow me a few comments on these possible changes:

1. Replanting of the area could really help. Right now, there is just weedy grass, and it's in poor shape, worsening in the dry season. This group has made efforts to remove debris and spread some healthy soil to allow new grass to sprout, but it would be so much better to have some nice plants. Throughout the east end of Golden Gate Park, statues and monuments typically have some decorative plantings (like the picture at top).

2. Uplighting the monument, if done in a comprehensive way, would be responsive to the concerns I have heard from neighbors about the darkness of the east end of the park. These neighbors have noted that the eastern end was underserved by the lighting that was installed throughout the rest of the park several years ago, and believe that the poor lighting contributes to more criminal activity, vandalism, and drinking/drugging. They are also concerned that along dark pathways, there's a greater risk of injuries due to bike-bike or bike-ped collisions. I would hope that lighting would not be limited to lights shining only onto the monument itself, but would be accompanied by lighting along the eastern perimeter of the park and at the beginnings of the north and south pathways.

3. Fencing the monument would be a big change, but there are ways to mitigate the negative impacts. It would be a loss to eliminate the positive, harmless ways people play on or around the monument, but a barrier may be necessary, given the ongoing problem with vandalism, and with other lesser ways that people degrade the area (for example, by using it as a place to smoke or drink, or to set up a charcoal grill). I don't expect everyone will agree that those problems merit a fence, but I believe they are all degrading to the monument and that they all result in excluding others from the area, thus denying access to most for the pleasures of a few. But, there are some drawbacks to a fence, such as taking away the monument's steps as a place to sit. The lack of seating is another comment I've heard from neighbors. So, if a fence is built, it's going to be extremely important to add some kind of seating in the immediate area.

Despite some major controversies in the past about public artworks, San Francisco is in a phase of experimentation in its public spaces, and some of those experiments are beginning to literally touch its public sculptures. The Pioneer Monument - a huge piece that had to be relocated and eventually found a home in the middle of Fulton Street across from the main library - was fenced in years ago. Now, in addition to the fence, there's a bed of soil and mulch home to dozens of plants, bordered by a meandering wattle to keep the soil in place. It's all encircled by a low, stone seating wall that gives people a place to rest and watch life (and traffic) go by. If ideas like this can be implemented down in the Civic Center, then I think we can come up with even more creative ideas to protect and improve the artwork in our neighborhood park.

Posted by Picasa

August work day wrap-up

Here's a belated report on what went down during our workday on Saturday, August 13. We had the opportunity to work with Dave, the gardener responsible for the western half of the Panhandle, and also Zack, a park supervisor. Several neighbors joined us, both routine volunteers and also some joining us for the first time. Our summer fog gave way early, and we ended up working in an awesome, sunny morning. 

The ornamental plantings around the playground have grown larger and more beautiful, and have become one of the highlights of the Panhandle, so we started our workday there, spreading some mulch. That will help retain moisture in the soil and protect the small plants. 

Next we moved on to the west, where we spread fresh soil around a big bare patch just off of the basketball courts. Dave said that after the soil is placed there, he would seed the area to re-establish the grass.  

New soil will help re-establish the turf by the basketball courts
We ended up with a final project for the day: cleaning up under the huge walnut tree (close to Oak & Clayton), one of the park's most beautiful trees. There are two benches and a trash can next to the tree, and there was a mess of grime, mud, and trash that had congealed in the area. Some holes had also been dug. We scooped it all up, and filled in some holes, resulting in an immediate improvement. We also talked about whether removing the trash can might actually reduce problems at that spot.

A few days later, the trash can was removed. Keep an eye on conditions there, and let us know what you think. With universal recycling & composting in San Francisco households, more use of reusable food and drink containers, and less wasteful packaging, maybe we don't need as many trash containers as before. Or, will fewer trash containers just lead to more trash in the park?

The benches below the giant walnut tree got some overdue attention
Posted by Picasa

Aug 9, 2011

August workday coming up this Saturday

Our second Saturday workday is approaching: this Saturday, August 13. Come join us in the park at 9 am for some exercise, some community building, and some park advocacy.

Meet at the bulletin board, outside the playground near Ashbury. Wear sturdy shoes. Tools and gloves are provided. Work continues until 11:30 or noon.

A few scenes from the park this summer.

The tire swing is back in action again and the rubber matting is patched.

Good dog. 

New this summer: We have dahlias. Planted by the park stewards this spring. 

Posted by Picasa