When San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk took his bullhorn and rallied crowds at the intersection of Market and Castro Streets, he inspired a generation and helped forge the LGBT civil rights movement. And when Milk was assassinated as one of the nation’s first openly gay politicians, it was in this same place that thousands mourned, and many more still come to this day to remember.
Now steps are underway to finally make this hallowed ground a fitting tribute to both Milk and the gay rights movement. A major re-imagining of Harvey Milk Plaza is underway, with an international design competition to create the space.
This competition’s aim is to redesign this space at the historic heart of San Francisco’s LGBT community to honor the significant contributions of Harvey Milk as well as to recognize his role in the ongoing struggle for LGBT civil rights.
The Harvey Milk Plaza Competition is a partnership of the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza, the American Institute of Architects San Francisco (AIASF),San Francisco Public Works, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), and the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC). The Center for Architecture + Design (The Center), is a 501(c)3 charitable organization serving as the fiscal sponsor of the Harvey Milk Plaza Competition.
Initial funding in the amount of $500K USD to support the design competition and subsequent plaza development has been provided by an anonymous donor via the Horizon's Foundation. Additional fundraising efforts are underway to secure the additional $10 million USD required for the full funding of the design, construction, and maintenance of the plaza. Those interested in supporting the plaza with a financial gift may visit friendsofharveymilkplaza.org to donate or receive more information on the competition.
Harvey Milk Plaza, Today
Harvey Milk Plaza lies in the heart of the Castro neighborhood at the intersection of Castro and Market Streets, and serves as a public gathering space, landmark, and transit hub.
A large rainbow flag, the symbol of gay pride born in the Castro, flies over top of Harvey Milk Plaza and the entrance to the Castro Muni Station. From the plaza, the neighborhood’s main retail district extends along Market and Castro Streets.
The historic streetcar line, the underground light rail system, and multiple bus lines connect at Harvey Milk Plaza. As a transit center and a tourist destination, the plaza is always a flurry of activity as people converge and diverge.
On special occasions, protests, memorial marches, and public celebrations come together in this place. The annual Harvey Milk Candlelight March started here when thousands marched down Market Street to City Hall in solemn tribute to Harvey in the days following his assassination.
A Community's Vision
In January 2017, the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza held two meetings to collect the community’s vision for a new plaza. Attendees shared ideas on how best to honor Harvey Milk’s contributions in a memorial/art installation, create a public space, and design a safe space that is accessible by all.
During the community meetings, feedback was solicited in three areas:
- How can design recognize the contributions of Harvey Milk to LGBT civil rights as public art in the plaza?
- How can design enhance the plaza as a gateway to the Castro and public gathering space?
- How can design serve to make the plaza safe and accessible to all users?
Castro neighborhood residents and users of the plaza in attendance expressed the desire for inspirational art that stirs emotions and encourages people to learn more about the plaza’s namesake, Harvey Milk. The community hopes submissions will shape the space into one that may be used for public gatherings in time of celebration, mourning, or protest, while remaining safe and secure in the early morning hours and evenings.
Design teams should look to the past to inspire and inform the future, presenting art that inspires the next generation of citizen advocates, LGBT leaders and allies to any marginalized minorities.
Harvey Milk addresses voters in San Francisco’s Castro District atop a soapbox in support of his first campaign for San Francisco Supervisor in 1973. Milk ultimately lost the effort, and lost again in 1975. The third time was the charm in 1977, and when Milk was sworn in he became the first non-incumbent openly gay man in the United States to win an election for public office. © Crawford Barton Papers, Courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society.
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