Rec And Park Plan To Rebrand Jerry Garcia Amphitheater Under Fire

A park amphitheater in San Francisco’s Excelsior neighborhood named for San Francisco rock legend Jerry Garcia could be renamed—but not if a local community group has its say in the matter.

The Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in McLaren Park was named for the Grateful Dead bandleader, who grew up in the adjacent Excelsior neighborhood.

The performance space that hosts the annual Jerry Day Festival every summer was named for the guitarist in 2005 after money from his estate went toward improvements at the park’s playground and amphitheater, located off of Mansell Street.

Despite repairs, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department spokeswoman Connie Chan said the number of performances at the 43-year-old venue has been declining. In 2012 only four performances booked the space.

She said the department is concerned that the 2,000-seat space is too small for high-profile acts and too big and costly for smaller performance groups.

To revive the space, the department is exploring a proposal from Los Angeles-based nonprofit Levitt Pavilions, which helps fund renovations and operations to outdoor venues.

As part of the potential partnership with Levitt, which would bring in 50 free concerts a year to the space and repair the aging amphitheater, the park department would rename the site as “Levitt Pavilion San Francisco at Jerry Garcia Meadow.”

The proposal has drawn ire from the nearby community.

A “Save Jerry Garcia Amphitheater” group has formed in the past two weeks, collecting nearly 1,600 signatures as of this afternoon on an online petition asking the park department to keep the venue named after the neighborhood’s “native son.”

Group spokesman Stefan Gosiewski said the community wants the department to reconsider partnering with the nonprofit group Levitt.

He said the amphitheater is “something uniquely San Francisco” and a matter of civic pride.

A longtime Excelsior resident, Gosiewski said there was a groundswell of support from the community to rename the space after Garcia in 2005 and if it was replaced by Levitt, “it instantly alienates the neighborhood.”

He said the Levitt organization would be better off establishing a concert space elsewhere in the city or leaving the name as is.

“Obviously branding is more important to them than the community,” he said.

He proposed forming a local organization to plan events and promote concerts at the McLaren venue.

“As a community we can do what Levitt does,” Gosiewski said.

Tom Murphy, who is leading the Save JGA group, wants to promote programming at the park but without changing what he considers a city landmark.

“I’m all for free live music,” Murphy said. “But we’d love to keep (Garcia’s) name intact.”

Murphy hopes city and Levitt officials will hold talks with residents concerned about the name change.

Meanwhile, the group is planning on having a contingent in the city’s Carnaval festival at the end of the month and using social media to spread their message.

Levitt Pavilions spokeswoman Vanessa Silberman said the park department is working on collecting community input on the proposal.

“We are having exploratory conversations with SF Rec and Park,” Silberman said.

She emphasized the organization’s ongoing involvement in the community.

“We don’t just rehabilitate a venue and then leave,” she said. “We need to make sure that the local community is really behind this.”

As part of the Levitt public-private partnership to provide a venue and offer cultural and arts performances, the group gives about $400,000 of seed money to build or improve a bandshell that usually runs up to $2.5 million.

She said the renaming of the amphitheater “is not about vanity, but more about what the name represents.”

The organization offers 50 free concerts per year and has the venue open to other groups, nonprofits and local performers to use.

Part of the proposal at McLaren Park includes putting in lawn seating where the 2,000 seats currently are.

Silberman said the Levitt lawn creates a social connection and “enables freedom of movement” and “sets a very neighborhood vibe.”

The nonprofit also provides ongoing operating support to city officials, Silberman said.

Garcia died in Forest Knolls on Aug. 9, 1995 at the age of 53.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!
  • Where do I sign up to oppose this asinine community group? I live in the Excelsior.

    The Jerry Garcia Amphitheater is a white elephant, a terrible, never-used space. And they want to “save” it just because it has Jerry Garcia’s name on it? And what they’re saving it from is a nonprofit organization that’s going to help turn it into a usable venue AND bring 50 FREE SHOWS A YEAR to the space—current number of shows at this beloved space so meaningful and beloved to the community: 4. Oh, and by the way, Jerry Garcia’s name IS STILL GOING TO BE ON IT.

    Never mind wondering about whether these people have anything slightly more important to be activists about than the name of an amphitheater that nobody uses. They’re opposing actual, non-evil* improvements just because their beloved rock star’s name gets moved down the credits a little? And then they have the gall to accuse the nonprofit of caring more about branding than about the community! Jeebus! The pot and the kettle.

    * – A note. Maybe that nonprofit is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the renovation is evil in some way. I don’t know. But it’s important to note that these ninnies are not saying that. They’re simply protesting the insult to Jerry Garcia’s name.

    • Tom Murphy

      king kaufman – i respect your opinion from reading the article. trust me, i’m all for good responsible free programming, but also believe our heritage is just as important. I also believe in full transparency on the proposal. At the end of day, their needs to be a plan in place for good responsible programming. For those who really want it regardless of the name and giving away the amphitheater for 30 years, the choice is going with levitts. The second option is keeping our soul / heritage, digging deep, and finding an alternative. I’m chosing the latter. If you want to discuss more feel free to email or call me – tmurphysf@gmail.com or 415.272.2012.

      Thanks –
      Tom

      Excelsior Native

  • Where do I sign up to oppose this asinine community group? I live in the Excelsior.

    The Jerry Garcia Amphitheater is a white elephant, a terrible, never-used space. And they want to “save” it just because it has Jerry Garcia’s name on it? And what they’re saving it from is a nonprofit organization that’s going to help turn it into a usable venue AND bring 50 FREE SHOWS A YEAR to the space—current number of shows at this beloved space so meaningful and beloved to the community: 4. Oh, and by the way, Jerry Garcia’s name IS STILL GOING TO BE ON IT.

    Never mind wondering about whether these people have anything slightly more important to be activists about than the name of an amphitheater that nobody uses. They’re opposing actual, non-evil* improvements just because their beloved rock star’s name gets moved down the credits a little? And then they have the gall to accuse the nonprofit of caring more about branding than about the community! Jeebus! The pot and the kettle.

    * – A note. Maybe that nonprofit is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the renovation is evil in some way. I don’t know. But it’s important to note that these ninnies are not saying that. They’re simply protesting the insult to Jerry Garcia’s name.

    • Tom Murphy

      king kaufman – i respect your opinion from reading the article. trust me, i’m all for good responsible free programming, but also believe our heritage is just as important. I also believe in full transparency on the proposal. At the end of day, their needs to be a plan in place for good responsible programming. For those who really want it regardless of the name and giving away the amphitheater for 30 years, the choice is going with levitts. The second option is keeping our soul / heritage, digging deep, and finding an alternative. I’m chosing the latter. If you want to discuss more feel free to email or call me – tmurphysf@gmail.com or 415.272.2012.

      Thanks –
      Tom

      Excelsior Native

  • HMM burritos

    The amphitheater is not used because wreck and park raised the fees in a
    down economy. The amphitheater is not used because wreck and park can
    not maintain it properly whether on purpose or accidental. The
    amphitheater is not used because the weather is not desirable to some.
    The amphitheater is not used because you have groups come in and say it
    is a dangerous park which scares people off. The reality is that McLaren
    Park is safer than GG Park. The amphitheater is not used because wreck
    and park diverts money away from McLaren Park because it is a
    “underused” more like under served.

    McLaren Park gets stuck with the leftovers and poor ideas(like this one) without community awareness or involvement.

    The
    proposal for Levitt calls for most of the concerts to be at night. They
    want to double the size to 5000. They are going to have to cut down
    mature trees and cut up the current bowl. They are going to have to cut
    in to the park to create a bigger parking lot. They don’t even have enough bathrooms in the park currently. They can not control the
    sound that is going to reverberate to the surrounding homes. They can’t
    control the weather which is largely foggy, windy and cold, especially
    at night. Have you heard of the Alemany Gap? Probably not. People are afraid of the low income housing when they
    shouldn’t be. Public transportation in this area is horrible. The bus
    stops are in dangerous places that puts people waiting for the bus at
    the risk of getting hit by a car.

    All the facts have not been
    presented yet. Now wreck and park along with a handful of people are trying
    to push this bad idea through without community support is not acceptable. It is more than just a name change. This will strip the community of pride.

  • HMM burritos

    The amphitheater is not used because wreck and park raised the fees in a
    down economy. The amphitheater is not used because wreck and park can
    not maintain it properly whether on purpose or accidental. The
    amphitheater is not used because the weather is not desirable to some.
    The amphitheater is not used because you have groups come in and say it
    is a dangerous park which scares people off. The reality is that McLaren
    Park is safer than GG Park. The amphitheater is not used because wreck
    and park diverts money away from McLaren Park because it is a
    “underused” more like under served.

    McLaren Park gets stuck with the leftovers and poor ideas(like this one) without community awareness or involvement.

    The
    proposal for Levitt calls for most of the concerts to be at night. They
    want to double the size to 5000. They are going to have to cut down
    mature trees and cut up the current bowl. They are going to have to cut
    in to the park to create a bigger parking lot. They don’t even have enough bathrooms in the park currently. They can not control the
    sound that is going to reverberate to the surrounding homes. They can’t
    control the weather which is largely foggy, windy and cold, especially
    at night. Have you heard of the Alemany Gap? Probably not. People are afraid of the low income housing when they
    shouldn’t be. Public transportation in this area is horrible. The bus
    stops are in dangerous places that puts people waiting for the bus at
    the risk of getting hit by a car.

    All the facts have not been
    presented yet. Now wreck and park along with a handful of people are trying
    to push this bad idea through without community support is not acceptable. It is more than just a name change. This will strip the community of pride.