Storied Demonstration Gardens headed to long-vacant McCoppin Hub

A community garden that was displaced from its UC Hastings-owned site in the Tenderloin neighborhood this week to make room for a new academic building has found temporary shelter at the Mission District’s embattled McCoppin Hub.

Faced with a March 1 deadline to relocate from its home of a decade at 333 Golden Gate Ave., volunteers have spent the last week moving the Demonstration Gardens’ foliage to the hub, a public plaza near Market and Valencia streets. The garden is expected to bring new life to the space, which has been fenced off from the public for more than a year and a half after homeless residents began congregating there.

On Friday, all but a few “old trees that are too large to fit under the cable car lines” had been moved, said Demonstration Gardens steward Kasey Asberry, who is also the sustainability director at UC Hastings College of the Law.

SEE RELATED: Residents grow impatient with fenced off SoMa plaza

Demonstration Gardens’ roots in the Tenderloin run deep: The garden was started at 220 Golden Gate Ave. by the Central YMCA at the height of The City’s HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1970s, according to Asberry.

“People used the rooftop garden as a place to console each other and to build the kind of community that could respond to all of the different dimensions of that pandemic,” she said.

McCoppin Hub, seen in December, will temporarily house what can be salvaged from Demonstration Gardens. (Jessica Christian/2017 S.F. Examiner)

With a portion of the garden known as Grotto of Compassion still dedicated to the “spirit of organizing” of that time, Demonstration Gardens continued to pay homage to a pivotal moment in San Francisco history when it moved around the corner to its current site after the YMCA closed its doors in 2009.

That site is part of the UC Hastings campus. Through a partnership with the school, the garden over the last decade has developed into an environmental justice program that offers community-based programing in science, arts and “green skills” training to the neighborhoods youth, seniors and formerly incarcerated.

But long-standing development plans at the UC Hastings campus are beginning to take shape, and construction for a new 55,000-square-foot academic building is set to begin at 333 Golden Gate Ave.  in April as part of a larger, multi-year expansion plan.

“It’s a piece of real estate that had always been destined for construction,” said UC Hastings Chancellor and Dean David Faigman. “Our students … and the general neighborhood benefited from its presence here. We wish we had the space to have kept it close.”

Plans to keep the garden in the Tenderloin community fell through just three weeks before the impending move. That’s when The City stepped in to help, and offered a public plaza long in need of activation.

“It was decided, for the time being, in order to save the gardens and keep them intact, the Demonstration Gardens will be temporarily housed at McCoppin Hub,” John Gavin, chief policy adviser of The City’s Real Estate Division, told the San Francisco Examiner.

The hub, a one-time empty lot on a dead-end street, received a multi-million dollar makeover in 2014 in a bid to activate the space for community use.

Kasey Asberry, steward of Demonstration Gardens and sustainability director at UC Hastings, helps relocate plans from the garden to McCoppin Hub on Tuesday. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Permanent seating and terraced pads were added, and the idea was that the plaza would be in the control of the community and could host public events and food trucks. But the new design proved difficult to navigate for the trucks, and the attempt to activate the plaza backfired.

The newly landscaped plaza morphed into a respite for the homeless — and a thorn in the side of many neighbors who complained about loitering and drug use.

Not long after its inauguration, the plaza was padlocked shut; last summer, The City installed an 8-foot-tall, $145,000 permanent fence, which was decried by some as an anti-homeless measure.

The fence also triggered an Americans with Disabilities Act requirement for a wheelchair ramp, which resulted in its continued closure. As long as the ramp’s installation is outstanding, Demonstration Gardens will not be open to the public at McCoppin Hub, Gavin said.

Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes McCoppin Hub, is expected to hold a community meeting in the coming months to discuss ideas to activate the plaza once again, though a date has not been set.

Asberry hopes Demonstration Garden’s presence at McCoppin Hub will help the surrounding community “articulate what it wants for the space in the long term.”

“It’s an interim space for us,” Asberry said. “We are not planning to drop down on the neighborhood from above and take over a neighborhood space. But one thing we can offer, as we have been given shelter there, is our skill at activating public space.”

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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