At the western end of San Francisco's California Street, a splendidly refurbished staircase designed by tile artist Aileen Barr now marks the entryway to 100 acres of public park. On May 28, neighbors, city representatives and more than a few plaid-clad girls from next-door's Katherine Delmar Burke School celebrated a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Lincoln Park Steps.
The event marked the culmination of eight years of planning, organizing and fundraising by Friends of Lincoln Park, led by Anna Yatroussis and Meg Autry.
"I would walk to school down these steps when I was a child," Yatroussis said at the ceremony, "and much later I would walk my children down these steps. But by then, unfortunately, we were stepping over broken glass and broken steps, graffiti and garbage."
Today the steps are covered in sparkling new tile, with a cascading design of jewel-toned botanical and beaux-arts motifs on the step risers, benches and short pillars.
"The first thing that came to my mind was faded grandeur," Barr told the crowd. "My vision was to capture a sense of splendor." (Barr's colorful tile work graces a number of locations around San Francisco, including the Sunset's 16th Avenue steps.)
The tiles, stamped periodically with the names of the project's donors and sponsors, came from Fireclay Tile in San Jose and San Francisco's Heath Ceramics.
"This is a lot of tile!" said Steve Schweigerdt of the San Francisco Parks Alliance, as he gestured to the 52 very wide steps. "How many of you have done a tile project in your house?"
Friends of Lincoln Park led the project through city approvals, grant applications, private fundraising, contract negotiations and construction delays before the prototypically gray and windy day of the ribbon cutting.
"It's such a great blend of art with community," said Supervisor Eric Mar, likening the steps to San Francisco's WPA murals as the crowd murmured in agreement.
San Francisco Recreation and Parks General Manager Phil Ginsberg applauded the steps as a gateway to Lincoln Park's precious open space. "We are welcoming more and more and more people to this city, which is a wonderful thing," he said, "but our parks really matter now."
At the ceremony's close, a pair of novelty-sized golden scissors emerged from behind a Recreation and Parks banner. Turns out those aren't truly functional. A small army of Burke's students wielding more conventionally-sized scissors counted down from ten to one and quickly snipped the ceremonial ribbon to bits. The stairs are open!