Haight-Ashbury historian intervenes to save sidewalk that saw it all

Photo: Camden Avery/Hoodline
By Camden Avery - Published on July 08, 2020.

Earlier this week, contractors broke ground at Haight and Ashbury streets, as part of the years-long Haight infrastructure project that's set to overhaul everything from the plumbing to the street trees.

When workers started pulling up the sidewalk, Nancy Gille realized it was her chance to preserve a piece of history — from the Summer of Love to the neighborhood's revolving door of famous musicians and artists.

"The people that have performed, sat, and protested on those streets are fixtures in our minds, and we're all looking the other way," said Gille, a San Francisco Heritage board member and the custodian of the historic Doolan-Larson building

"It came to my awareness that it's a little bit like the Berlin Wall," she said. "And I'm going to treat it as if it's a section of the Berlin Wall."

The salvaged square of sidewalk, held by the construction worker who helped remove it. | Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Gille

Gille expected a fight when she showed up on Monday to snag a square of the sidewalk, bringing staff from Roberts Hardware to help.

Instead, construction workers painstakingly removed and preserved the concrete for her.

"I can't give them enough credit," Gille said. "As soon as it was out of the way, the backhoe was there digging up the rest of the sidewalk."

Gille said the concrete will be displayed in the Doolan-Larson home, as part of a growing collection that documents the neighborhood's past.

Here are just a few of the moments that the Haight and Ashbury sidewalk witnessed over the years:

Facing west on Haight Street from Ashbury, 1944. | Photo via SFPL
Firemen fighting a 1952 fire at Haight and Ashbury, again viewed from the west. | Photo via SFPL
An aerial view of Haight and Ashbury and the Doolan-Larson building, 1969. | Photo via SFPL
Throngs of people at Haight and Ashbury in 1970. The intersection saw numerous festivals, open air concerts, and protests. | Photo via SFPL
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