Stroll down JFK Promenade in Golden Gate Park on any given day and you will be joined by joggers, walkers, bikers, skaters, and roller-bladers, all making good use of the 1.5 miles of car-free road. The promenade was closed off to drivers two years ago and was made permanently car-free in April. However, a proposition on next month’s ballot has the power to reverse that decision, reintroducing cars to the road.
If Proposition J is successful, it will uphold the “recreational use” of JFK drive, while if Proposition I is successful, it will reintroduce vehicles on JFK Drive and the Great Highway.
This month, local artists began painting 10 murals on the road as part of the “Golden Mile Project” to showcase the value of a permanently car-free promenade. Working on a six-month permit from the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department and San Francisco Metro Transit Authority, art nonprofits Illuminate and Paint the Void joined forces to bring the promenade to life.
Illuminate is responsible for many of San Francisco’s most recognizable art installations. The “Bay Lights” on the San Francisco Bay Bridge, the colorful projected lights on the Conservatory of Flowers at night, and the installation of the words “Lift Every Voice” above the Golden Gate Park Bandshell are some of the nonprofit’s projects.
To David Hatfield, Illuminate’s chief of opportunities, the Golden Mile Project is a chance to re-envision the road. “How do we make it not look like a road and how do we make it feel like a place where people can hang out and just enjoy one of the pieces that we’re adding?” he said.
Illuminate has temporarily installed 100 adirondack chairs, three Doggie Diner heads (originals from the Bay Area Doggie Diner fast-food chain), and two grand pianos along the promenade to transform the space into a whimsical playground for adults.
Meanwhile, Paint the Void is responsible for contracting artists to paint the murals. The women-led nonprofit was founded in March 2020 when many of San Francisco’s businesses were closed and buildings were boarded up. Shannon Riley, a co-founder, said Paint the Void stepped in to beautify San Francisco in a depressing time, hiring local artists to paint over the newly blank spaces in the city.
In planning the murals for the Golden Mile Project, Paint the Void collaborated with the American Indian Cultural District and the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone. Riley said that the three organizations shared an intention to keep JFK Promenade open to the public and to make it a space where all walks of life could come together.
One of the 10 muralists, Max Ehrman, wants people not just to enjoy looking at his piece, but to interact with it. “I’m painting cubes that are two-point. If you’re standing on them at the right angle, it’s like standing on an elevated block in the middle of the street,” he said. Ehrman’s mural is located near Stow Lake and Crossover Drive and is sure to stop people in their tracks.
Another muralist, Nicole Hayden, is painting the area in front of “Lindy in the Park,” where free swing dancing lessons are held every Sunday near 9th Ave. Her mural shows four dancing couples on the points of a brightly colored star. “I just think, why not give this area some sparkle? You know, give it a little beauty and cheerfulness?” she said.
According to Hayden, the muralists decided to use exterior paint with an anti-slip additive for their pieces. She doesn’t expect the paint to hold forever, especially if cars are reintroduced to the road. “Something I painted today might look like it’s 10 years old tomorrow. I think it’s just part of the life cycle,” she said.
Hatfield said that Illuminate is using the Golden Mile Project as an opportunity to temporarily activate JFK Promenade. “If it needs to go away, it will,” he said. “But while we’re here, you’ll go from mural, to live band, to coffee kiosk, to circus performer, to doggie diner head and it’ll create this tapestry of hopefully just delight.”