|GOLDEN GATE PARK
HISTORY OF THE SATURDAY CLOSURE OF KENNEDY DRIVE
David G. Miles Jr.
San Francisco's Golden Gate Park is one of the City's most treasured resources. It is
1017 acres of beautiful green oasis that is surrounded by an ever-growing urban jungle.
The park has a very rich, well-documented history going back 130 years. Then and now
photos show a park carved out of a no mans' land as a great city grows up around it.
In 1894, the Midwinter International Exposition was held in the park, giving us what is
now the Japanese Tea Garden and the M.H. de Young Museum. In 1906, the earthquake and fire
turned the park into a temporary haven for approximately 200,000 people left homeless by
the disaster. By 1967, as the hippies were flocking to the Haight Ashbury in the Summer of
Love, Main Drive in Golden Gate Park was changed to John F. Kennedy Drive. Kennedy Drive
has been closed to automobile traffic every Sunday since Sunday, April 2, 1967.
Supervisor Jack Morrison initially suggested the idea of a road closure, based on the
successful closures in New York's Central Park in 1966. The proposal was to test the road
closure concept and to return the Music Concourse to its former status as a pedestrian
mall. For nearly 15 hours on Sunday, January 22, 1967, the Music Concourse was closed to
cars. It was considered a big success.
In February of 1967, SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association)
brought in Thomas Hoving, the New York City Parks Commissioner who closed Central Park to
cars, for a discussion called "Parks For People." John Hirten, SPUR Executive
Director, considered Hoving's ideas and attitudes to be very relevant to San Francisco and
it's needs. Over 1000 people attended the meeting including S.F. Mayor John Shelley,
Senator Gene McAteer, members of the Board of Supervisors and other officials. Once SPUR
became involved, things simply fell in place. This was the hippie era. People were
becoming more aware of the cars effect on the environment. On March 9th, 1967, the
Recreation and Parks Commission voted to enact the road closure on a trial basis with no
The first Sunday closure began with a small ceremony on Sunday, April 2nd, 1967. It was
called the "People's Day In The Park", and the name of the main road was
dedicated to John F. Kennedy. Mayor Shelley, Recreation and Parks Commission President
Stendell, Undersecretary to the Navy Paul Fay Jr. and about 25 others presented a tribute
to the late President. During the speeches, Mayor Shelly joyfully stated that he was
"returning the park to the people and taking it away from the mechanical monsters
that has overcome us in the last 60 years."
The Sunday closure of Kennedy Drive to automobile traffic has proven to be the most
successful program of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. Thousands of San
Franciscans and others from throughout the Bay Area and beyond flock to the park on
Sundays when there are no cars. The closed roads become a safe recreational paradise for
runners, walkers, skaters, cyclists and others who are looking to escape the pressures of
the fast paced city lifestyle and enjoy themselves in a lush, green sylvan environment.
The Sunday closure has proven to be been so popular that many people are calling to close
Kennedy Drive to autos all weekend long.
The idea of closing a portion of John F. Kennedy Drive to traffic on Saturdays is not a
new one. A letter dated Sept. 12, 1967 from Elvin C. Stendell, S.F. Recreation and Parks
Commission President to Mayor John F. Shelley states: "The closing of Golden Gate
Park to automobile traffic on Sundays has been favorably received and it is hoped that
other sections (of the park) will be closed in the future. In addition, the possibility of
closing the park on Saturdays is being studied."
There was no significant movement towards Saturday closure of Kennedy Drive in the 60's
and 70's. The Sunday closure did not see really big numbers of park users until about
1977. This is when the first skate vendor trucks began to line up along Fulton St. The
summer of 1979 saw estimates of 15,000 to 20,000 skaters using Golden Gate Park on
Sundays. There were over thirty skate vendor trucks that rented skates alongside the park
border, each truck containing between 200 and 500 pairs of skates. Add in the thousands
cyclists, walkers, tourists and other park users and it is plain to see that the Sunday
experience in Golden Gate Park needed to be expanded to include the entire weekend.
Working through the system can be a slow process. The first real attempt to get the
Saturday closure began in 1982. David Miles and a group of skaters from the Golden Gate
Park Skate Patrol had been working for three years with the Recreation and Parks Dept.
under Peter Ashe, then Asst. Rec and Parks Superintendent, as volunteers to help keep
order and respond to injuries during the Sunday closure. Miles began organizing the
skaters and started circulating a petition. The petition stated: "In signing this
petition, you are indicating that you are in favor of closing John F. Kennedy Drive to
traffic on Saturdays and also on Mondays when a holiday falls on that day".
6,000 signatures were collected. The skaters worked with Deborah Learner, the Park
Planner, for three years hashing out the issues. Finally on July 18, 1985, the Recreation
and Parks Commission passed the Golden Gate Park Transportation Management Plan. This did
not grant Saturday closure of Kennedy Drive, but it did allow for closure of the roadway
on seven Monday holidays per year. It also provided for the Saturday closure of Middle
Drive between Crossover Drive and Metson Road.
Park users considered this to be a big victory in the long campaign for Saturday
closure of Kennedy Drive. It took two more years to begin implementation of the road
closures. Finally, when the first holiday closure came on Monday, May 25, 1987, the
Recreation and Parks Department dropped the ball. THEY FORGOT TO CLOSE THE PARK!!!!!
This would be the only time this would happen as this goof up reached the desk of the
most read columnist in San Francisco - Herb Caen. This is what he wrote on Friday, May 29,
IN ONE EAR:
Another one for the who's-in-charge-around-here dept: Golden Gate Park was
supposed to have been closed to auto traffic last Monday, Memorial Day, but it wasn't,
thereby discommoding several organizations that had made long range plans. Why wasn't it
closed? "We just plain forgot," explains a Wreck Park person.
By 1990, Rollerbladers began rolling through the park, dramatically raising the numbers
of park users on Sundays. Skateboarders and BMX bike riders added themselves to the mix of
the park use community. The interest in Saturday closure again became a big topic of
discussion, but to a broader audience. The Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol, which now had
been serving the public in Golden Gate Park for 11 years, began another petition drive for
Saturday closure of Kennedy Drive. On April 5, 1990, the Parks and Planning Committee of
the Recreation and Parks Department had this as item 1 on their agenda:
GOLDEN GATE PARK / ROAD CLOSURES
Consideration of request from the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol to close John F.
Kennedy Drive to traffic from Kezar Drive to Transverse Drive in Golden Gate Park on
Saturdays, Monday holidays and to extend the time the park is closed for one hour, opening
the park to traffic at 6:00 P.M. instead of 5:00 P.M. during Daylight Savings Time.
The holidays had already been approved. Unfortunately, the Saturday closure was not
granted, however, the extra hour of closure on Sundays and holidays was approved. Even
though the idea of Saturday closure was extremely popular and building in support, the
Recreation and Parks Commission would not vote it in. This was mainly due to the pressure
put forth by the park institutions like the de Young Museum and the Academy of Science.
They maintained that the Sunday closure of Kennedy Drive has hurt their attendance. They
wanted cars to be able to drive into the park freely to attend their shows and
At some point around 1991, the Academy and the de Young convinced the Recreation and
Parks Commission to remove the auto ban in the Music Concourse. This marked the first
regression in the road closure policies. Cars were allowed to enter the Music Concourse
loop from King Drive, but not allowed to cross Kennedy Drive. Ironically, the Concourse
area was the first area in the park to be closed to auto traffic. It was done in January
of 1967 as a trial to see what problems would occur in closing the roads in the park.
By 1994, the cycling community began taking the lead in the efforts for Saturday
closure. Jungle John Poschman is a cyclist/activist who shared the same dream of others
who wanted to see the park closed on Saturdays. Jungle John activated a growing number of
more experienced and determined activists. With the support of the ever-growing park
community, another drive for Saturday closure began steamrolling, only to hit a brick wall
of opposition, mainly from the park institutions. Again they cited their need for cars to
have easy access to the Academy and the deYoung. The park institutions felt so strongly
against the proposed road closures that rumblings of repealing the Sunday closure could be
heard in McLaren Lodge. No Saturday closure policies were adopted.
1997 marks the latest effort to achieve what had now become been a 30 year dream. The
San Francisco Bicycle Coalition became the voice of thousands of Bay Area cyclists. They
have fought to improve conditions for cyclists and represent their interests in the
political arena. Paul Dorn headed the SFBC's "Golden Gate Park Task Force". They
began a solid, well organized petition campaign that brought in even more experienced,
politically savvy volunteers such as Jennifer Clary of S.F. Tomorrow and Jane Morrison,
wife of Supervisor Jack Morrison, the man who first championed the vision of a car free
Golden Gate Park. Along with an even larger community of park users, Dorn and his crew
gathered over 11,000 signatures. Their efforts received the best "Quality of Life
Crusade" award from the SF Bay Guardians "Best of the Bay" issue in
Unfortunately, like each and every other attempt to get what seems to most like an
inevitable situation, this valiant effort crashed against the desired of the park
institutions to use Golden Gate Park as a parking lot.
Now we have reached the new millennium. The call for Saturday closure of Kennedy Drive
is stronger than ever. 33 years after the first Sunday closure in Golden Gate Park, the
forces that have been gathering and growing together over the years are preparing to mount
what may prove to be the final battle in the Saturday closure war. Skaters and cyclists,
runners and walkers, tourists and natives, the disabled and elderly, boys and girls and
families unite. The question of Saturday Closure in Golden Gate Park will now be presented
to the highest authority in the land - you the people.