Halloween is new deadline for Castro Street project
by Matthew S. Bajko
Come Halloween, the Castro sidewalk widening project should no longer be scaring away traffic – pedestrian, vehicular, or otherwise – to the city's gayborhood.
Having failed to meet the initial deadline to wrap up the $6 million worth of streetscape improvements prior to the annual Castro Street Fair, taking place this Sunday, October 5, the city's Department of Public Works is now shooting to complete the upgrades along Castro Street between Market and 19th streets prior to All Hallows' Eve Friday, October 31.
A public celebration, with the tagline "It's Time to Party," is being planned from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, October 30. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have been asked to conduct a special blessing that evening and the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band and Cheer San Francisco have been invited to perform.
"Seven months of jackhammers, fences, noise, dust, complaining, and sluggish sales will be done," Castro Merchants President Daniel Bergerac promised in a recent email to members of the neighborhood business association.
John Dennis, a designer with DPW who is acting as the project manager, told the Bay Area Reporter this week that, "We could be out there up until the last second" on the 30th.
"We have asked the contractor to be prepared for the ribbon cutting and to not be allowed to work on Halloween weekend," he added. "We expect this project finished by then and are working together to get it done."
District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who has championed the project since being elected four years ago, called the additional three and half weeks of work "a minor delay" for such a complicated project in a heavily trafficked area of the city.
"Even though we are not getting everything done before the Castro Street Fair, we came very close to that goal," said Wiener. "The entire project will be done by late October. I am very pleased by the progress and timetable."
Nonetheless, Wiener acknowledged the work, particularly portions done overnight and on weekends, has been a hardship for Castro merchants and residents.
"I apologize to people for having to deal with these disruptions and thank them for persevering," he said. "This is a permanent, long-term, significant upgrade for this neighborhood that we are all going to be able to enjoy for decades and decades to come."
City construction officials and the project contractor, Ghilotti Brothers of Marin, have made considerable progress in recent weeks following a number of delays this summer that required them to push back their initial deadline. New trees have been planted, two blocks of Castro Street have been repaved, and street furniture such as lights and leaning posts have been installed.
"I am feeling really good. It is exciting to see it come together in just the last few days," Dennis said late Monday afternoon. "In the next few days it will be even more of a transformation once the paving and crosswalks go in."
Wednesday saw the installation of rainbow crosswalks at the 18th and Castro Street intersection. Also, a special tile pattern in front of the Castro Theatre was extended to the edge of the new sidewalk. The city had San Jose-based Stonelight Tile, which produced the original tiles, supply the new scarlet and red Ironspot tiles.
Among the items remaining on the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street are realigning the poles for the overhead Muni wires and additional street lighting.
Preliminary work on the repaving of Jane Warner Plaza at 17th Street and Market is soon set to begin. One of the final pieces of the project will be a reconfiguration of the crosswalks at the intersection of Castro and Market streets.
"Their last piece of work is the Market Street intersection and repaving it. That is the part they are having a real hard time fitting in before the 30th," said Dennis. "They have to fit it in before the 30th."
History facts to debut
A series of historical factoids about the Castro district etched in concrete along Castro Street will have its official debut prior to this weekend's fair. It follows on the heels of the premiere in early September of the Rainbow Honor Walk's first 20 plaques celebrating LGBT luminaries.
Officially known as the Castro Street History Walk, the project will feature 20 facts about the neighborhood placed into the sidewalks on the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street. It is being funded at a cost of $10,000 by the Castro Upper Market Community Benefit District, which also paid for the rainbow crosswalks.
The local history walk is meant to cover the breadth of the neighborhood's 230-year history, beginning with the Native Americans who called it home, then the various Europeans who moved into what became known as Eureka Valley, and later migrations of LGBT residents who referred to it as the Castro.
The unveiling will be held at 6 p.m. Friday, October 3 with a ceremony at Harvey Milk Plaza near where the history walk begins.