San Francisco is expected to install by August a second sidewalk plaque honoring native son and late Grateful Dead member Jerry Garcia.
The honor may be long overdue, but comes during the 50 year anniversary of the Summer of Love and in time for the 15th annual Jerry Day music concert on Aug. 6, and for what would have been Garcia’s 75th birthday on Aug. 1.
The plaques — the first was installed in October — are are seen as a way to create neighborhood pride, stimulate local economic activity and educate residents of the iconic musician’s local history. The bronze plaques are about 3-feet-by-3-feet and inlaid into the sidewalk.
Tom Murphy, organizer of the annual Jerry Day music event at Jerry Garcia Amphitheatre, McLaren Park’s outdoor music venue, said that despite having grown up in the Excelsior himself it wasn’t until 1995 that he learned Garcia was a native son of San Francisco’s last working-class neighborhood.
Since then, Murphy has helped to promote, albeit slowly and somewhat organically, Garcia’s Excelsior roots, and is one of the supporters of the plaques.
“It means a lot,” Murphy said. “He’s a guy that came from the neighborhood. He overcame a lot of adversity.”
Garcia co-founded the Grateful Dead in Palo Alto in 1965. Galvanized early on through LSD experimentation, the band would go on to tour relentlessly, playing more than 2,300 live shows and spawning a “Dead Head” culture, which couldn’t get enough of the adventurous jazz-like improvisation. The last Grateful Dead show was July 9, 1995. A month later Garcia died on Aug. 9 at the age of 53.
But the band has left an indelible imprint. The remaining members continue to play to great fanfare and countless other bands cover the Dead’s rich catalogue, exhibiting just how great a legacy Garcia left behind.
Former Supervisor John Avalos, who represented the Excelsior neighborhood, proposed the plaques in July 2014 at the community’s request and with the help of his legislative aide Jeremy Pollock for the sites of 121 Amazon Ave., where Garcia lived for the first five years of his life, and 87 Harrington St., where the musician and his brother, Tiff, moved in with their maternal grandparents.
It was decided to place the plaques on Mission Street where the two streets on which Garcia lived intersect, not directly outside of the homes themselves.
The first of the plaques, the one commemorating 87 Harrington St., was installed in October 2016 in an unveiling ceremony that included Avalos and Garcia’s daughter Trixie Garcia.
The torch was then passed on to Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who was elected in November to take over for termed-out Avalos. Avalos attended two more Grateful Dead shows than Safai did, who said he attended none.
But Safai is a strong supporter of the plaques and Jerry Day. “There’s unanimous support of Jerry in the district,” Safai said. “There’s not a lot of arguing about that.”
“He’s probably one of the most talented musicians of the 21st century,” Safai added.
The design for the second plaque, which is currently being made by Berkeley-based Artworks Foundry, includes the Garcia quote, “What we’re trying to do is expand rather than narrow.”
The plaque also reads, “Jerry Garcia was a legendary guitarist, singer, songwriter, and founding member of the Grateful Dead. He grew up in the Excelsior, living his first five years at 121 Amazon Avenue.”
A previous quote proposed for the second plaque was approved but later discarded. That quote reads, “Well, if I work as hard as I can in my life, I may be able to end up building this thing that nobody can tear down after I’m dead.”
The Arts Commission unanimously approved the second plaque last month. Murphy said the plan is for Department of Public Works to install the plaque by Aug. 1, Garcia’s birthday, and have an unveiling ceremony on Aug. 5 or 6.
The plaques, both designed by artist Beth Byrne, are overseen by local community group Friends and Advocates of Crocker-Amazon and the Excelsior.
San Francisco also honored Garcia in 2005 when the Excelsior’s 2,000-seat Greek theater in McLaren Park was renamed for the musician.
At the first plaque ceremony in October, Avalos said, “It’s been years that we’ve been talking about wanting to do this kind of honor.”
Trixie Garcia said at the time, “It is such an honor to be here in the center of the Excelsior having the city of San Francisco value Jerry Garcia as someone important to their legacy.”
Murphy said he’s since seen a few people taking selfies with the first plaque and would like to generate more interest.