Modern Masters Shine During What’s Out There Weekend San Francisco

More than 1,000 people explored San Francisco’s wealth of designed landscapes, particularly Modernist ones, September 17-18 during What’s Out There Weekend. As with similar previous events in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, the weekend provided visitors with free, expert-led tours through 25 area parks, gardens, public plazas, and neighborhoods spanning over 100 years of design, though the focus, in keeping with the weekend’s Mostly Modern theme, looked at masterworks by Lawrence Halprin, Robert Royston and other practitioners.

Bill Stout
William Stout receiving the TCLF 2011
Stewardship Excellence Award
The weekend began on Thursday afternoon, September 15, with an engaging panel discussion about the Bay Area’s Modern landscape legacy moderated by John King, the San Francisco Chronicle’s influential architecture critic, and hosted by SPUR (the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association). A reception followed at Room & Board to honor William Stout with TCLF’s 2011 Stewardship Excellence Award and to officially launch What’s Out There Weekend San Francisco. Stout was recognized for his visionary and long-standing leadership as a publisher of books that emphasize Modernism and Modern landscape architecture. The reception attracted an energetic crowd including Scott Jamieson from national sponsor Bartlett Tree Experts, many of TCLF’s local partners and sponsors, and a diverse mix of tour guides, volunteers, supporters and enthusiasts.

Fort Mason Center

Levi's Plaza
(upper) Topher Delaney and visitors testing
out the SEATs at Fort Mason Center;
(lower) Walking through Halprin's
Levi's Plaza fountain
For those who attended on Saturday, the tour du jour featured landscape architects Topher Delaney and Kika Probst of Seam Studio, and NPS Historian Amy Hoke at Fort Mason Center and the SEAT art exhibition. The NHL-listed site, with Mission Revival-style piers and warehouse buildings, now owned by the National Park Service and managed as a community art center, was the city’s Port of Embarkation throughout the first half of the 20th century. Delaney was the cultural Sherpa who led visitors through SEAT, an entertaining 35-piece temporary exhibition which she and Kika curated.

Visitors were treated to a fantastic tour of three Robert Royston parks in Palo Alto and Santa Clara. The three sites – Bowden Park, Mitchell Park, and Santa Clara Central Park – contain many of Royston’s signature park elements including Chinese red fences and arbors, innovative playgrounds, and asymmetrical and biomorphic forms. Landscape architect JC Miller, who worked for Royston and frequently lectures on mid-century landscapes as a practitioner and academic, led the engaging tour, which culminated at Santa Clara Central Park in the midst of a rather bacchanalian Art & Wine Festival.

Chandler McCoy’s engaging Sunday morning tour of Levi’s Plaza and the Golden Gateway Center also attracted a large and enthusiastic audience. The tour covered Halprin’s seminal work at Levi’s Plaza, which includes three distinct cascading water features set in open plazas and rolling lawn, and then proceeded to explore Sasaki, Walker and Associates’ parks, pathways and open space at Golden Gateway. The Modernist-style project, completed over a 20-year period with architects Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons and DeMars and Reay, exemplifies the successful implementation of multi-use urban development concepts that marked the 1960s.

Stern Grove
Andrew Sullivan explains some of the design
thinking behind Stern Grove's renovation

Sigmund Stern Grove, carved out of a remarkable redwood forest, is San Francisco’s premier outdoor concert venue and was the subject of Lorri Ungaretti’s well-attended tour on Sunday afternoon. The WPA-era amphitheater was renovated by Lawrence Halprin in 2005, and Lorri’s talk was augmented by comments from Andrew Sullivan, who managed the project for Halprin, and Ed Westbrook, who was responsible for the selection and installation of the site’s beautiful gray granite.

Historian Richard Brandi closed out our weekend with a insightful and entertaining tour of St. Francis Wood, providing visitors with the inside scoop of how the community was developed, how it has evolved, and what makes it unique. The beautiful Beaux Arts neighborhood, developed by Duncan McDuffie and designed by James Dawson of Olmsted Brothers in 1913, maintains much of its original intended character. The tour ended at St. Francis Wood’s local park, where neighborhood association president Paul Hill regaled the audience with the inside scoop of current community management issues.

Media highlights included coverage in traditional print such as the East Bay Express’ extensive feature about the Kaiser Center Roof Garden, San Francisco Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and numerous influential bloggers throughout the area.

Stay tuned for announcements about What’s Out There Weekend events in 2012 and 2013!