There used to be a double-decker freeway that ran like a gash through San Fracisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood. For decades, it was where the crack dealers, streetwalkers, murderers and other human mold would hang out.
One of the happier byproducts of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was that it weakened and destroyed three astonishingly ugly double-decker freeways, one in Oakland, one along San Francisco's Embarcadero, and this extension of 101 that ran at a 45 degree angle through the Hayes Valley. Since nothing gets changed very quickly or easily in San Francisco, most of the land where the freeway once stood in the Hayes Valley is still being used as makeshift parking lots for opera employees, SF school district employees, and so on. Finally, a plan for our horrifyingly car-centric culture was finally settled upon which involved building a large, surface boulevard on Octavia Street, ending at Hayes Street in a block-long park.
Well, it's just opened for business, and the park is graced by one of the most wonderful pieces of public art I've ever seen, a beautiful and mysterious pagoda created by the artist David Best and a small army of volunteers out of scrap wood. They were paid by the Burning Man group called the Black Rock Arts Foundation and if they do nothing more than sponsor this piece, they've done their job.
What's most extraordinary, however, is that there are benches to sit on that will shelter you from the sun, allow you to contemplate the Buddha in your brain, or just sit and eat some food. Just about every public space in San Francisco lately has been designed to be as uncomfortable as possible to make sure that the homeless don't have a place to sit or sleep. Take Civic Center, for instance, where all the benches have been removed and the deep window sills of Superior Court have metal spikes on them so nobody will sit or sleep on them. But The Pagoda Has Benches!
It was designed to be a temporary structure without any enameled finishes, and it will stand for about three months. Do check it out before it disappears, at the corner of Octavia and Hayes right across from Marlena's gay bar and Flipper's restaurant. In fact, I'm hoping Marlena and her coterie of drag queens manage to put on a special show (I'm thinking "Turandot") before the end of the pagoda's run.