The history of the current Music Concourse began in Chicago in May of 1893 where M. H. de Young was serving as one of the California Directors of the Colombian Exposition. Witnessing the effect the Exposition had on the economy of Chicago, de Young thought such an event would be the economic boost an ailing San Francisco economy needed. He wired back a request for public support to Mayor L. R. Ellert and to Governor H.H. Markham but no federal, state, or city funds were available.
He then personally pledged $5,000 and called together the other prominent Californians in Chicago and raised another $41,500. With this, fundraising begin in San Francisco and a total of $344,319.59 was raised to build the structures needed. The current value would be about $10 million.
Much to the displeasure of the new Park Director, John Mclaren, Golden Gate Park was chosen as the site and the area between JFK, Lincoln, 10th Ave., and 6th Ave selected. The Groundbreaking Ceremony was held on August 24, 1893. With a city holiday, the resulting parade was the largest yet held on the West Coast.
De Young's idea was to hold a local fair, bring much of the materials from the dismantled Chicago Fair to San Francisco by rail. The Fair being held in winter to show the world the mildness of San Francisco's climate. The Fair was to open on January 1, 1894 but a hard winter in the Sierra's forced rerouting of the materials through southern California and the actual opening day was January 27, 1894- 5 months after the initial ground breaking. By comparison, the Chicago fair required 5 years to build.
The current contours of the Music Concourse and Big Rec. were carved out for the fair. Big Rec. served as the parade ground for the almost daily parades, the Concourse was ringed with Exhibition Halls, and King Drive served as a midway. As fairs have always been a primary opportunity to show new technology, the Mid-Winter Fair had on site generators for both kinds of electricity, AC and DC. The center piece was a tower in the Concourse with a single beacon that shone a light powerful enough it was claimed, to read the paper at a distance of 8 miles. One assumes it would have been the Chronicle.
The Fair closed on July 4th, 1894. Though the agreement stated that after closing, the organizers would return the park to 'as nearly natural condition as possible', John Mclaren was left with the task of removing many of the structures and all of the concrete foundations. In his impatience he had his crew place dynamite on two legs of the tower and after it fell, had it cut up and sold for junk, the proceeds going to the Park Improvement Fund. Of the Mid-Winter Fair, four items remain today- the Japanese Tea Garden, the statue of the grape pressing man at the northeast corner, the man with sword which was dedicated at the groundbreaking of the Fair, and Monarch the grizzly bear, who is stuffed and in the California Hall at the Academy.
As a result of impact on the Park, attempts to hold other such events in the Park have been prevented. Most notable was a plan for the Pan Pacific to use the western end of the Park. Though the groundbreaking ceremonies were held at the Polo Field, the event was moved to the Marina.
But the future of the Concourse was cast. The roadways remained and de Young convinced the Park Commission to accept one of the structures, the Fine Arts Building, as a future museum. The current tunnels were completed and the Spreckles Temple of Music was dedicated on September 9th, 1900.
Though structures in the park were damaged in the 1906 earthquake, the major lasting impact was the moving of the California Academy of Science from its destroyed location on Market to a new facility at the Concourse completed in 1916-- the Steinhart Aquarium being added in 1926. The former structure of the de Young was added in 1921 and closed in 2005. A new building designed by the internationally acclaimed Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, was built in its place and reopened in 2005. The original Fine Arts Building was removed in 1927 and the Phoebe Hearst Fountain installed that same year. In 1969 the current Asian Art Museum replaced the west wing of the current 1921 structure. For the Mid-Winters Fair concrete posts surrounding the Concourse with heavy anchor chain stretched between them. The Park Commission, in a patriotic gesture, had the chain removed and given to the war effort during WWII. A few of the posts remain.
In the mid 1980's ADA ramps, concrete borders, retaining walls, and asphalt paving were added. The Bandshell suffered damage in the 1989 quake and underwent significant structural repair. The Park Band used a temporary stage constructed over the west fountain until work was completed. Though the fountains have been turned off in drought years, the Music Concourse looks today much as it has for 100 years.
Friends of the Music Concourse
(415) 710-2402, http://www.musicconcourse.org