Planets, stars–nay–entire galaxies were aligned on Sunday, July 10 to bring about super weather and enthusiastic neighbors and friends to the Gum Tree Girls Festival in Glen Canyon Park.
Neighborhood historian Evelyn Rose, founder and director of the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project, spearheaded the event. Safe to say, without Rose this wouldn’t have even happened.
Rose organized the event to honor the Gum Tree Girls–Zoanne Nordstrom, Geri Arkush and Joan Seiwald–who in 1965 began a campaign to kill the preposterous idea, first proposed in 1948, of running a freeway (a “Circumferential Expressway,” later shortened to “Crosstown Freeway,” to be precise) right through Glen Canyon Park. The Gum Tree Girls moniker was a pejorative, after the Blue Gum eucalyptus trees in Glen Canyon, for the three housewives who had the temerity to question the wisdom of the powers that be in San Francisco City Hall who revered the almighty private vehicle above worthless nature, fresh air, flora, fauna and exercise.
The festival kicked off with speeches by local dignitaries: District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, president of Glen Park Merchants Association Janet Tarlov, SFMTA director Jeffrey Tumlin, SFFD Chief Jeannine Nicholson, League of Women Voters president Alison Goh, project director of the Burnside Mural+ Renee Berger, and Glen Park Association president Hilary Schiraldi.
The most heartwarming words were those of the families of the Gum Tree Girls. Joan Seiwald, the only surviving member of the threesome, was seated on the dais where she observed the ceremony and was honored with many rounds of applause.
In a moving remembrance of those lost to Covid-19, a Sound Healing Ceremony was performed by Leonard Sherman and Melanie Mentzel.
In addition to honoring Glen Park’s significant neighborhood history, the festival was a free, community, family-focused event. Fun and games were major components of the festival. With the great outdoor spaces surrounding the Recreation Center, children played games from days of yore, such as cornhole pitching and hula hooping. For the more competitively inclined there were three-legged and individual sack races and egg spoon races. There was also a coloring activity based on the Burnside Mural+ images.
Food was available from two nearby trucks–Media Noche and Aroy Thai, as well as Canyon Market.
A beautiful dance routine was performed by the Annie Fu Chinese Dance Company, followed by music sets by Allison Lovejoy & the Best Bad Things, The Cottontails, Rado and the Stanky Leg Trio, and Meredith Edgar & Paul Griffiths with Sean Silverman.
For the many newcomers to Glen Park and residents and visitors who might not have been aware of this time in neighborhood history, Rose presented a talk in the Recreation Center auditorium on the history of the freeway plan, as well as other near misses, including Nobel’s dynamite factory, a plan for a Hetch Hetchy reservoir and a housing development. This was followed by a video interview of Zoanne Nordstrom and Joan Seiwald. Nordstrom’s grandchildren also shared how their grandmother taught them the importance of activism and to “never sit back and take it.”
As well as honoring the Gum Tree Girls for their moxie, the festival also recognized seventeen activist women who preceded them over the past 160 years: lifelong Glen Park resident Minnie Straub Baxter (an earlier foe of the proposed freeway), suffragists, civil rights leaders, labor activists, entertainers, teachers and environmental activists.
The Gum Tree Girls Festival was a rousing success. An estimated 300 people attended. There’s talk of making it an annual summer event–if enough folks can volunteer some time to organize it. Maybe you?