The Spirit of Stone
At San Francisco’s Stern Grove, Lawrence Halprin revives
a magical outdoor theater.
By Linda Jewell, FASLA
To create a mystical place where one would be inspired to reach
into oneself” was the intent of Lawrence Halprin, FASLA, in his
design for San Francisco’s Stern Grove Rhoda Goldman Concert Meadow.
Calling upon a reiterative and collaborative design process, Halprin
has woven a magical landscape experience into the everyday lives
of thousands, and he has done so within the constraints of contemporary
codes and the strenuous public review of a city-owned landscape.
This new outdoor theater was constructed through a $15 million gift
to the city of San Francisco and opened in June 2005 in San Francisco’s
Halprin achieved his goal by artfully inserting a stage, grand
stone bleachers, grass terraces, stone ziggurats, and 175 granite
boulders into a half-mile-long ravine that has been a city park
for more than 70 years. Halprin recalls his first visit to the grove
in the 1950s when he came to watch his wife, Anna, dance. “Even
then, it was kind of a mess, with a terrible setup for the backstage.
And the people sitting on the slope would slide down to the bottom.”
Nearly 50 years later, Halprin attended a concert at the invitation
of Doug Goldman, president of the Stern Grove Festival Association
(SGFA and great grandson of Rosalie Stern, who turned the property
into a public park. While discussing the theater’s condition with
Doug’s father, Richard Goldman, Halprin sketched a concept for a
possible theater scheme on a cardboard lunch box. The three men
left the concert agreeing that the sgfa must address Stern Grove’s
deteriorating conditions if it was to continue to serve large audiences
and preserve the natural setting.