Harvey Milk plaque stolen
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A plaque devoted to slain gay icon and former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk at a plaza bearing his name has been stolen.
The bronze piece had been by the entrance of the underground Muni station at Harvey Milk Plaza, which is near Castro and Market streets, since the 1980s. It had been bolted into a cement pillar next to several photos of Milk.
Openly gay Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose district is generally considered to be Milk's old seat and includes the plaza, said the plaque "just wasn't there anymore as of Saturday (October 15)."
The homage included Milk's image and much of his biography as a Castro Street businessman. Milk was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country when he was voted onto the Board of Supervisors in November 1977. But just over a year later, former Supervisor Dan White assassinated Milk and Mayor George Moscone in City Hall.
Wiener said he reported the theft of the plaque to San Francisco Police Sergeant Chuck Limbert, the LGBT liaison for Mission Station, which oversees the Castro and surrounding neighborhoods. Limbert didn't respond to an interview request.
Wiener learned of the incident Saturday after someone noticed the plaque had gone missing. "It's possible it took a few days for anyone to notice," he said.
The photos of Milk remain, Wiener said, and there were no messages or graffiti left at the scene. Wiener said that he wasn't aware of there being any video surveillance of that part of the plaza. The Department of Public Works didn't remove the plaque for any reason, he said.
"I want to encourage whoever took it to return it, no questions asked. We just want the plaque back," Wiener said. He said he's working with others "so we can get it replaced."
Photographer Dan Nicoletta, a friend of Milk's, said he's been doing research into the plaque's creation, but "I don't know that it necessarily has to be replaced."
"There've been more memorials now than I can count, and I deal with Milk stuff every day. ... I wasn't that attached to that particular monument," he said.
In an email he sent after his phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter, he added, "I personally would like to see any funds that would need to be parlayed for [the plaque's] replacement to go to a more contemporary beautification and maintenance of that plaza which on any given day borders on an eye sore and which is certainly not commensurate with what the plaza is meant to symbolize."
Nicoletta said over the phone that the plaque probably was installed in 1985 or 1986, after the plaza itself opened. He said the piece was made of bronze, and didn't know how much it weighed, but said it was "really heavy." The piece was likely worth about $40,000 to $60,000, he said.
"It definitely stinks of a political message to me," Nicoletta said of the plaque's removal. "It's not just some random vandalism by people hanging out in that plaza."
Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro-Upper Market Community Benefit District, said that it's assumed the plaque was stolen to sell as scrap metal. She also said Department of Public Works officials told her that it appeared someone had tried to pry loose the plaque under the rainbow flag, as well. The flag is near Harvey Milk Plaza. DPW was working to secure that plaque, she said, adding that if that could not be done it would be removed as a precaution.
[Updated October 20: Aiello sent an email late Wednesday indicating that public works crews did remove the plaque under the rainbow flag. That plaque will be repaired and reinforced before being reinstalled.]