Music Concourse & Spreckels Temple of Music, Golden Gate Park
The Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park was originally designed as the Grand Court of Honor for the 1894 Midwinter International Exposition, a major "world's fair" event that showcased the arts and architecture of different cultures around the world. Michael O'Shaugnessy, a civil engineer, designed the concourse as a sunken oval, with pedestrian paths surrounded by an outer carriage drive. After the Midwinter fair ended, the nine-acre open-air space was designated as a Music Concourse for people to gather and listen to live musical performances. By this time, the public already had been gathering to listen to music in Golden Gate Park for over a decade, as weekend concerts had been performed by the Golden Gate Park Band since 1882. A formal bandshell was added to the Music Concourse in 1900, and the bandshell became known as Spreckels Temple of Music, in honor of Claus Spreckels, who donated the funds for its construction. Several historic statues are also located within the Music Concourse, while a central asphalt path leads from the bandshell to the Francis Scott Key Memorial located on a hill to the northwest. The Music Concourse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. The Golden Gate Park Band still performs at this venue today, offering free Sunday concerts for the public.
Backstory and Context
The Music Concourse and Spreckels Temple of Music were added to Golden Gate Park following the 1894 Midwinter International Exposition, an event that lay the groundwork for the creation of the Music Concourse. This nine-acre sunken oval landscape was originally designed to serve as the Grand Court of Honor during the exposition. After this event ended, however, it was designated to serve as a Music Concourse where people could gather for public concerts.
Since 1883, people had enjoyed coming to Golden Gate Park to listen to live musical performances. The first performance stage built for hosting music in the park was simply a small wooden platform constructed to host the Golden Gate Park Band, which was founded in 1882. In the open space surrounding this rustic platform, the public was able to enjoy live musical performances while sitting in their horse-drawn carriages, walking along pedestrian paths, or resting on benches. But as the Golden Gate Park Band grew from 12 to 25 members, more space was needed. The band was initially founded within a local San Francisco unit of the California National Guard, but soon, members of the 2nd Artillery Regimental Band also joined the group. Because the size of the band grew so quickly, a larger bandshell was built in 1886 to accommodate the additional musicians. Meanwhile, more space was also designated in the park for the spectators, which included people and their horses. Free public concerts, offered on Saturdays and Sundays, were supported by contributions from the Park Commission, along with local business and the Market Street Cable Railway Company, which transported many of the concert-goers to the venue each weekend.
Thus, by the time that the Midwinter International Exposition was held in Golden Gate Park in 1894, attending public performances in Golden Gate Park was already a popular pass-time. However, in preparation for the Midwinter fair, the landscape was greatly refined by creating a nine-acre sunken oval concourse that included more elaborate walking paths surrounded by a carriage drive.
Following the event, this open-air space was designated as the Music Concourse, a beautiful area within Golden Gate Park where the public could enjoy listening to musical performances. In 1900, the sugar magnate Claus Spreckels donated funds for the construction of a formal bandshell within the Music Concourse as a place for symphony orchestras and concert bands to play. The classical-style bandshell became known as "Spreckels Temple of Music." The dramatic dome-shaped space is flanked by colonnades on each side of the bandshell.
In 1906, Spreckels Temple of Music suffered damage caused by the great earthquake that shook the city of San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Park Band was temporarily relocated during the restoration of the site. Decades later, the Temple of Music was damaged again during the earthquake of 1989. Each quake left the bandshell out of commission for a period of years. However, the Temple of Music was successfully restored after each earthquake, and the public concerts continued to be held either off-site or on a make-shift stage while the restorations were being completed. For over a century, Spreckels Temple of Music has continued to serve as a venue for musical performances. In recent decades, the site has hosted musical artists ranging from Luciano Pavarotti to the Grateful Dead.
Today, the Music Concourse remains a gathering place where people can listen to live music in the park by different musical artists, bands, and symphony orchestras. During its annual series of Sunday concerts held from April to October, the Golden Gate Park Band performs both popular and classical music. These concerts still remain free and open to the public. They often feature themed performances such as patriotic, jazz, or circus music, or they highlight the work of a particular composer. In a spirit similar to the 1894 Midwinter International Exposition, the Golden Gate Park Band also frequently features music from other cultures, in addition to special performances by singers, dancers, costumed performers and ensembles.
Within the Music Concourse, several historical statues may also be spotted. These include statues of the composers Guiseppe Verdi and Ludwig von Beethoven, a statue of the Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant, and even a likeness of a Roman gladiator. There are also four decorative fountains along the axial paths that bisect the Music Concourse. Near the east entrance, close to the de Young Museum, a water feature known as the Pool of Enchantment features bronze statues of California mountain lions and a musical boy playing a flute. In addition, a bosque filled with pollarded plane and elm trees provides some shade within the open-air concourse. Nearby, the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences sit each in close proximity to the historic musical venue.
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"Golden Gate Park Band: History" , The Golden Gate Park Band. Accessed January 20th 2020. https://goldengateparkband.org/about/history/.
"Music Concourse", Cultural Landscape Foundation. Accessed January 20th 2020. https://tclf.org/landscapes/music-concourse.
"Music Concourse (and Spreckels Temple of Music)", Golden Gate Park. Accessed January 19th 2020. https://goldengatepark.com/music-concourse-and-spreckels-temple-of-music.html.
"Pool of Enchantment", Art and Architecture SF. Accessed January 20th 2020. https://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/golden-gate-park-san-francisco-february-24-2012.html.
"Spreckels Temple of Music", Atlas Obscura. Accessed January 20th 2020. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/spreckels-temple-of-music.
The Golden Gate Park Band
San Francisco Historical Photographs Collection
The Friends of the Golden Gate Park Band
The Golden Gate Park Band