Golden Gate Park

150-Foot-Tall Ferris Wheel to Mark GG Park’s 150th Anniversary

By Mathew Hose

Despite opposition from conservationists, the eastern end of Golden Gate Park’s Music concourse will host a 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel over the next year as the city celebrates the park’s 150th birthday. 

Additionally, the Spreckels Temple of Music on the opposite side of the concourse will get new lights and a speaker system for the next two years as part of the celebration.

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This artist’s concept rendering of the planned Ferris wheel gives the viewer a persective from above the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park looking north at the east end of the Music Concourse. The Ferris wheel is scheduled to be ready in time for the April 4 Community Day event to celebrate the park’s 150th anniversary. Courtesy image by SkyStar.

The wheel, called an Observation Wheel, will begin service April 4 as the centerpiece of a Community Day celebration commemorating the park’s founding in 1870. It will remain open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily until March 1, 2021. 

Golden Gate Park will also host a number of other events throughout the year highlighting nature, history and recreation in the park, according to Stacy Bradley, a deputy planner with the SF Recreation and Park Department.

“One of the primary goals of April 4 and the whole yearlong celebration is to celebrate Golden Gate Park as everybody’s park,” Bradley said at a Historic Preservation Commission meeting in January.

A 12-minute ride on the wheel, which features 36 fully enclosed gondolas seating six people apiece, will cost $18 for adults and $12 for seniors and children. It will be installed in March at the expense of the vendor, SkyStar. City officials did not respond to requests for comment on how much money the city would receive from fares, but Bradley told the commission in general terms that it would not be a large revenue generator.

In addition to the Ferris wheel, the proposed improvements to the area include adding 60 new temporary lights, a wood stage extension, two new speakers and a lighted sign bearing the Harvey Milk quote: “Hope will never be silent” to the Spreckels Temple of Music, also known as the Bandshell. 

The proposal for the Temple of Music, which was considered at a meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission on Feb. 19, after press deadline, would allow those changes to stay up until March 2022. City planners did not respond to requests for comment on the reasons for having the changes remain for a year beyond the anniversary.

Wheel Photo 5

Courtesy image by SkyStar.

The Music Concourse, which is a designated San Francisco historic landmark situated on the eastern side of the park between the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences, was built as a centerpiece for the California Midwinter International Exposition in 1894, which featured an attraction called the Firth Wheel. 

Bradley said the new wheel will harken back to that part of the park’s history and draw in new visitors who might not normally come to the park.

However, the wheel has been panned by naturalists and conservationists who say it does not fit with the aesthetics of the Music Concourse and could be detrimental to the park’s wildlife.

Katherine Howard, the co-chair of a group called Friends of the Music Concourse, said the concourse has a formal design with its symmetrical roadways and a landscape that evokes peace. 

“(This area is) special to a lot of people,” she noted while walking through the concourse on Feb. 13.  She pointed out a tai chi class going on between rows of the signature pollarded trees. “If you put the Ferris wheel, you lose the value and appreciation of the cultural landscape.”

The San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission was tasked at a Jan. 15 meeting with deciding whether or not the Ferris wheel was a fit for the concourse. 

Commissioner Richard Johns said he did not think the Ferris wheel was contrary to the use of either the park in general or the music concourse, which is flanked by two bustling cultural institutions.

“Golden Gate Park is a lot of things to a lot of different folks,” Johns said.

But Commissioner Jonathan Pearlman said he felt arguments connecting the current Ferris wheel with the park’s history were disingenuous, as the 1894 wheel was only up for six months. He said the wheel doesn’t represent the whole 150-year history of the park, but rather just a sliver of that history.

He also said he felt the commission had been put under pressure to approve the Ferris wheel, since Mayor London Breed released a statement in December announcing the coming attraction and saying the SF Recreation and Park Commission was “expected to approve” it before either commission had voted on it.

Ultimately, the historic commission voted 4-1, with Pearlman dissenting, to approve the  wheel.

Historic concerns were not the only issues raised about the wheel and the new lighting. A number of environmental and wildlife groups came out opposed to the Ferris wheel and  changes to the Temple of Music.

Arthur Feinstein, vice chair of the San Francisco Sierra Club’s Conservation Committee, said the project should have required an environmental impact report through the California Environmental Quality Act. He noted that the lights and spinning from the Ferris wheel, along with the other lighting proposed in the area, will be confusing to migratory birds and could endanger the habitats of other wildlife.

“Golden Gate Park was created to sustain those critters, but this edifice that is proposed will do just the reverse,” Feinstein told the Historic Preservation Commission. “It will make it even more hard and more difficult for these critters to survive in Golden Gate Park.”

Using the example of the Outside Lands music festival held every August, Howard noted there will always be a tendency for groups to try to commercialize different aspects of the park, but that will ultimately take away from its naturalistic beauty.

“There’s always some worthy thing or some fun thing to do, but you’ve got to decide: Are we going to have a park, or are we going to have a carnival?”

Nonetheless, Christine Raher, a San Francisco resident of nearly five decades and a member of the Lawn Bowling Club in Golden Gate Park, said at the historic commission meeting that “celebrations require big things.”

“What’s a big ride that always represents those world fairs, expositions and commemorations, especially from a distance? Yes, it’s that Ferris wheel,” Raher said. is sponsored in part by:

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