A $25 million bond up for vote in November may actualize SWA’s The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco

Support for a Supportive Space

A $25 million bond up for vote in November may actualize SWA’s The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco

A $25 million bond that would be used to fund The Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco is up for vote in November. (© FHMP and SWA)

Harvey Milk—the first openly gay man elected to California public office—recorded a tape in anticipation of his assassination: “All I ask is for the movement to continue, and if a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” Forty five years after Milk’s assassination by coworker Dan White, and decades of attempts to memorialize his death, Milk’s legacy may finally be properly realized in a scheme from SWA

In April, San Francisco mayor London Breed proposed a $25 million bond measure supporting the construction of The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza, which would: honor Harvey Milk, provide a community gathering space, promote safety, and increase transit accessibility. Now in review by the City Board of Supervisors, the bond is officially set for vote in November 2024. 

The construction of a memorial has been long awaited. In 1985, the Castro Muni metro station, located at the intersection of Market Street, Castro Street, and 17th Street in the historically LGBTQ+ Castro neighborhood, was named “Harvey Milk Plaza.” Despite significant push in the subsequent years to design a formal memorial, it was not until 2016 that an official group in support of the memorial emerged, The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza

The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza selected design firm SWA to lead the design effort in 2021. Other project collaborators include Paulett Taggart Architects and MARJANG Architecture in the role of interior architects and Volume Inc. as exhibit and environmental graphic consultants.

A previous design competition launched in 2017 selected Perkins Eastman for the project. However, community pushback eventually squashed the proposal.

The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza officially formed in 2016. (© FHMP and SWA)

In March 2024, U.S. representative Nancy Pelosi secured a federal allocation of $500,000 for the memorial. In combination with the pending city bond, this funding would almost entirely finance the memorial’s infrastructural components and improvements to the busy Castro Muni station entrance.  

Beyond commemorating Milk’s legacy, the plaza addresses transit. In many ways, SWA plans to approach these goals together. For example, at the entrance of Muni Station an overhead canopy—protecting the stairs from weather—will resemble Milk’s iconic bullhorn, used to rally crowds and emblematic of his unabashed activism. Other features focus more strictly on memorialization: 11 trees, dubbed “The Grove” and paired with lighting which will illuminate the word “hope,” represent the 11 months Milk served as San Francisco Supervisor.

Mayor Breed, who spearheaded the recent proposal, said in a statement: “Harvey Milk Plaza should be an iconic location that serves the community not just as a connection to transit, but as a reminder of Harvey Milk’s life and legacy. By investing in this plaza, we can make it more accessible for all, benefit the Castro community and create a new and even greater gathering space.”

As echoed by Breed, SWA’s proposed design of The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza foregrounds the memorial’s potential to serve as a community gathering space. One partially indoor feature, “The Gallery,” is slated to represent the “voices of the community” and provide a flexible gallery space for exhibitions while a permanent sculpture and audio artwork will broadcast Milk’s voice. Another, “The Terrace,” located at the base of the rainbow flag, includes an oculus skylight and a window into the gallery.

SWA plans to include six distinct design elements, including a canopy over the Castro Muni Station entrance. (© FHMP and SWA)

“The community has been working toward this moment for decades,” said Cleve Jones, an author and activist who served as a student intern in Milk’s office before his death, in a press release. “The Memorial is really about giving physical form to Harvey’s ideals—that LGBTQ+ people from all walks of life can come together and improve the world we face today, with all its crises, struggles, losses, and joys. It’s a space our city deserves.”

In 1978 at the same location as the planned memorial, the Castro community congregated on the night of Milk’s assassination for a candle-lit procession. Decades later, the same spirit—an effort to honor Milk’s relentless advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights—imbues the plans for The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza.