A pedestrian underpass beckons like an intriguing cave opposite the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, offering a vehicle-free means of traversing JFK Drive. On a sunny day, the sunlit steps on the other side are an invitation to enter and the reward is the Rockery, with it rustic stone steps leading up the hillside to the back of the Rhodendron Dell.
On an overcast day the underpass is a little more foreboding and you may choose to brave the traffic up above instead of entering such a shadowy grotto. Unless, of course, it’s a weekend, when music issuing from the darkness is an irresistible lure. This impromptu bandshell is a favorite of local musicians because of the lovely acoustics.
Actually the underpasses in Golden Gate Park were probably inspired by those in Central Park, New York, on which Golden Gate Park was closely modeled. The design of Central Park relied heavily on the concept of separating vehicular and pedestrian traffic via under and overpasses, as the concept for that park was a seamless “Greensward” uninterrupted by cross-town traffic.
William Hammond Hall, in his 1871 submittal of the original plan of Golden Gate Park to the park commissioners wrote that, ” it is to be regretted that these crossings could not have been arranged so that the traffic and the pleasure travel would be kept separate, by the crossings for the former being carried over, or under, the avenue roads and walks.” Although not part of the initial plan for Golden Gate Park, pedestrian underpasses like this one in Conservatory Valley were added later, including one leading to the tennis courts from the Rockery (under Middle Drive), one to the Music Concourse from the north playground (under JFK Drive) and one from Alvord Lake to Mothers’ Meadow (under Kezar Drive). They may be piecemeal in terms of traffic management, but I think they add to the mystique of the park. And the music wafting out over Conservatory Valley may not be what its designer had in mind, but is definitely a plus.