Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park is set to become Hellman Meadow if the Recreation & Park Department approves the plan unanimously passed last week by the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. The name change would honor Warren Hellman, the financial and spiritual force behind the three-day free music fest known as Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. But festival neighbors see this motion as being out of tune with their concerns.
Naming something for a living person is uncommon, but not unheard of in the Bay Area. Quentin Kopp, retired supervisor and judge, has a freeway named for him, and he’s very much alive.
The main outcry is not about the “who” in the name change, but rather about the “what.” The year-round residents of the neighborhood bordering the meadow have been unhappy with the highly-amplified music festival and the throngs it attracts. Those responding to a poll posted last Friday by the Richmond District blog are against the name change nearly two to one: 65.5% say no; 34.5% say yes.
“If he had to live across from the park during Hardly Strictly, he’d disown his own concert,” reads one comment. “I’m sure he’s a great guy and all, but Golden Gate Park can’t accommodate so many people.” An estimated 600,000 people attended the free festival this year. (The population of San Francisco, by comparison, is about 805,000.) Other opponents see this as another example of the high and mighty chipping away at public space for private use. That idea is timely, and historic. The current name of the area, Speedway Meadow, dates back to the late 1800s. It was originally called The Speed Road and was built in the new Golden Gate Park by wealthy San Franciscans – Sutro, Stanford, and Spreckles among them – for horse and buggy races. This was not a public track, mind you. It was for their private use. The Recreation and Park Department has to approve the current plan before mapmakers start updating the name. The re-naming item in on the Park Commission agenda for this Thursday. It will pass if the Park Commission shares the feelings of Rec & Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg. He calls Warren Hellman “a beloved civic leader and a great park champion,” adding, “Through philanthropy and song he has given hundreds of thousands a magical connection to Golden Gate Park's beauty and joy. It is a blessing to honor him.” Hellman is almost certain to appreciate those blessings, especially if they help to counteract the annual curses from the festival’s neighbors.