People of the Promenade
People of the Promenade is a series of short stories, based on conversations with parkgoers we’ve met along car-free JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park.
Famed Parisian artist Jean-Michel Othoniel stopped by Golden Gate Park last week for a dedication ceremony for his La Rose des Vents sculpture—a now permanent feature just outside the SF Conservatory of Flowers and very visible from the JFK Promenade. Othoniel, who maintains a permanent commission in the historical gardens of the Palace of Versailles, was inspired to create La Rose des Vents during a visit to the Conservatory, years ago. “I wanted to make this piece like a rose, to bring light to this site,” he said. “It’s a very hopeful work, and when the sun touches it, you’ll see it’s very flamboyant like the architecture itself.” Othoniel added that car-free JFK has created a more “joyful” atmosphere. “In Paris, we have so many cars. Once a week, they’ll stop the traffic, but it’s not all week.”
The mural, titled “We are on Native Land” by artist Rachel Znerold, is part of Paint the Promenade, which will see several murals being painted along JFK over the coming weeks. “We really wanted to do something that highlights Ramaytush Ohlone land,” she said. “It’s not just about native land, it’s also about honoring the animals that are here. We have conversations about the park and accessibility, but there are very few places in San Francisco that are non-developed where the coyotes go, where the hawks go.”
She added, “There’s a collective responsibility that we as people have to these plants, to these animals, to protecting parks, and to protecting these areas that people utilize every day.”
Park Rangers Fung and Totten
But, while biking on JFK Drive is one of the more fun parts of their job, the bikes are also useful for trekking dirt trails and footpaths deep inside the park. “Sometimes, there are issues in the park that are within these really tight trails and you can’t take even take an ATV through it. It’s basically like a pedestrian foot trail, so having a bicycle really helps me better perform my job,” Fung said.
Although the JFK Promenade isn’t a skate park, Esteban said the serene—yet sometimes bustling—community space it’s become makes it a great place for a novice skater. “A lot of my friends who are learning to skateboard, we come to this space for them to find their footing, and have all this flat, open space to practice. It’s car-free, so that’s a huge plus,” he said.
Never shy about his love for San Francisco, you can oftentimes catch Cody biking in his signature San Francisco Wheelmen shirt—an homage to the historical club that once dominated the local cycling scene.
Tomi, a dance enthusiast, comes to Golden Gate Park at least twice a week. She’s either biking along the Promenade with her teenage daughter, or she’s performing outdoor personal dance pieces throughout the park. “Cars don’t really disturb my dancing, but I think making car-free streets is great,” Tomi says.
She and her daughter pedal down JFK to Hellman Hollow, where they join a regular gathering of dancers. Even though Tomi is all about movement, today she was resting her feet along a quieter section of the JFK Promenade, just near the Rose Garden—enjoying the natural setting and cool fog as she contemplated her next dance piece. “It is really nice to just sit here and not have cars coming by,” she said.
Alex and Anna
Even though Anna and Alex are naturally outdoorsy, the JFK Promenade encourages them to step out more often. “It’s so inspiring seeing people do their thing out here; bikers, rollerbladers, people playing volleyball. It’s just really inviting, and I feel like that’s pushed us more to be outside every day,” Anna said.
Next on their to-do list: skateboarding along the Promenade and rolling around Skatin’ Place!
Billy has lived near Golden Gate Park since the psychedelic 1960s. In his time, he’s watched icons like Janis Joplin and The Doors perform at the park. Of Joplin, he said, “To hear the sound of her voice just makes me shiver, you know what I mean? She was something else. She will always be my favorite.”
Having witnessed the evolution of Haight Street and Golden Gate Park over the decades, he laments, “It’s not the same anymore.” But Billy doesn’t mind the recent car-free changes, because now he can cruise the Promenade with ease as he listens to blues music on his speaker.
Nadine and Kelsey
It’s not a stretch to say that Nadine (right) and her best friend Kelsey (left)—both Washington High School cheerleaders—enjoy practicing their moves along the Promenade. “I love it because it’s a really open space and you can do just about anything and not have to worry about whether cars are coming or not. You can just be free!” said Kelsey.
On top of cheering, the two besties also enjoy the park in other ways: roller-skating, picnicking, holidays, birthday parties—you name it.
Alfonzo’s hobby includes cars—tiny ones to be exact. He comes to the Promenade on his days off to fulfill his need for speed with his remote-controlled cars.
The mini machines are fast, but he’s always watching out for bicyclists and pedestrians. “These things can dodge just about anything,” Alfonzo said.
And while he’s all about his cars, he also likes the tranquility of the Promenade. “We come whenever we have a chance. JFK has calmed down a lot and allows more people to see what’s going on.”
Nicky and Joy
If you ask Nicky (top), the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers is the best spot in Golden Gate Park. But today he opted to join Joy (below) and try out her electric skateboard along the JFK Promenade.
“It’s pretty sweet because now we have free reign to do this. I wouldn’t feel safe doing this if cars were here,” Nicky said.
“This is our practice area,” Joy said. “I feel safer riding here than the streets.”
The board, which is controlled by a small handheld device, can go as fast as 30 mph. For now, however, the pair is playing it safe.
“This is my very first time,” Nicky—an avid snowboarder—said. “I’m just scared of the concrete. If I fall on snow, it’s perfectly fine because it’s very forgiving. So, I’m trying not to fall.”
100-year-old Arnie has witnessed San Francisco make some big changes since he first moved to the city in 1957. One place that continues evolving for the better is Golden Gate Park, he says. The JFK Promenade is a 3-minute stroll from his second home--the San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club. He’s been coming here for the past 32 years.
“I came one day to try it and I liked it, and I’ve been stuck on it ever since,” he said. “I enjoy the open air, and all the good people that are around. I really enjoy everything about it. It’s really a community… and this is about the cheapest thing you can find compared to other sports.”
And if you’re wondering what's Arnie’s secret to longevity, it’s simple: outdoor activity!
“When I was about 90 years old, I figured ‘I’m going to pass out and whither in a couple years. What’s the sense of going?’ But then, I just kept on going and now I’m 100 years old.”
On his most recent birthday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared July 26, 2022, Arnie Barros Day.