A plan 82 years in the making for a veterans memorial site to be built in San Francisco broke ground Thursday afternoon in a ceremony with Mayor Ed Lee, former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Mayor Willie Brown.
The memorial will go up between the War Memorial Opera House and the Veterans Building on Van Ness Avenue in a courtyard that had always been intended to honor those who have fought for the country.
The final piece of a vision set out in 1932 for a San Francisco War Memorial Complex was kicked off at a ceremony with an Armed Forces Joint Color Guard holding flags at the site and with Shultz lauding the project pulled together by the city’s Veterans Memorial Steering Committee.
“This memorial stands for the fact … that we honor our veterans and those who have served in combat,” he said.
Through a national competition in 2010, Los Angeles designer Susan Narduli and San Francisco landscape architect Andrea Cochran were chosen as finalists to design what the art would look like.
Both women were at Thursday’s ceremony for the project, called “Passage of Remembrance.” The design includes reflection pools surrounded by a stone octagon, maintaining the shape of the current courtyard designed by architect Thomas Church in the 1920s.
There will be a walkway over the water, and a wall along the path that will be inscribed with a poem by World War I veteran Archibald MacLeish.
Veteran Noah Griffin read the poem, “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak,” at the noontime ceremony.
Lee also spoke at the ceremony in front of an audience that included veterans and other military members and many city leaders including City Attorney Dennis Herrera, city supervisors Scott Wiener, David Chiu, Eric Mar and Norman Yee, and the city’s Department of Public Works director Mohammed Nuru.
Lee noted that in the past 80 decades this memorial should have already gone up, but “we now have the benefit of modern design and technology to accompany this.”
The memorial court has soil from battlefields from around the world where Americans have fought and, as part of the new design, new soil will be added from more recent battlegrounds locations, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, San Francisco Veterans Memorial Project leader and retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. J. Michael Myatt said.
The memorial is estimated to cost about $2.5 million to build, which has been raised through private fundraising, he said.
Using shovels, Lee, Brown, city administrator Naomi Kelly and other members of the memorial planning team ceremoniously turned over the soil to signify the start of the project.
After the groundbreaking, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to former Mayor Brown, who turned 80 years old Thursday.
Brown spoke about the memorial building process, noting, “San Francisco is notorious for taking a long time to do anything.”
Mayor Lee said the memorial construction is being fast-tracked to be ready in time for Fleet Week on Oct. 10.
Renderings of the design and more information about the memorial can be found at sfveteransmemorial.org.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News