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The Glen Park Gum Tree Girls Festival 2022
A Perfect, Sunny Day in the Best Park in San Francisco

Since the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project (GPNHP) was founded in 2014, we have been repeatedly gob smacked by the number of Glen Park district women of the past who, for various reasons over the past 160 years, strove to make a difference in their communities. It was time to celebrate the historic legacy of Glen Park Moxie!

 

The Glen Park Gum Tree Girls Festival 2022, was a free, community event for young and old alike. Held on Sunday, July 10, 2022 from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm, the festival was named in honor of three young housewives - Zoanne Theriault Nordstrom, Joan Seiwald, and Geri Arkush, now famously known as “The Gum Tree Girls.” In 1958, Minnie Straub Baxter had galvanized the neighborhood during the first Glen Park Freeway revolt. Then, between 1965 and 1970 and following the lead of their predecessor, the Gum Tree Girls rose up to fight back against San Francisco City Hall and the State of California Highway Department to stop construction of the “Circumferential Expressway,” a viaduct freeway that would have sliced through Glen Park and 70-acre Glen Canyon Park as a shortcut to the Golden Gate Bridge. Had it been constructed, the character of Glen Park would have been forever changed and the rugged open space of Glen Canyon, located in the very heart of San Francisco, would have become a concrete-laden gully. Glen Canyon Park could never have received the designation of Significant Natural Resource Area it was awarded in later years.

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There's still time to support the Gum Tree Girls Festival! Scan, click, or tap the QR code above to help us honor Glen Park's amazing historic women!

The suggestion for the festival was offered in April 2021 by Mark Theriault. His mom, Gum Tree Girl Zoanne Nordstrom, had passed away earlier that year due to complications from COVID-19. He suggested a festival for the community could not only celebrate the legacy of his mom, the Gum Tree Girls, and all of historic women of the Glen Park district, but also help the community heal as it emerged from the pandemic by commemorating those who had been lost to COVID. Without fully understanding the immensity of the project at the time, the GPNHP happily agreed to lead the effort.

 

And an immense project it was! Certainly a far cry from the trope attributed to Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney of, "Jeepers, let's put on a show in the barn!" After 15 months of planning (with the aid of seasoned event planner Susie McKinnon), grant writing, fund raising, permit seeking, speaker searching, media hawking, hoop jumping, shortened deadlines, and countless sleepless nights over how it was all going to come together (compounded by our combined stage, sound, and tables vendor abandoning the festival just 10 days before the festival), the big day finally arrived! [click here to download the Festival Flyer featuring the beautiful art by Charlotte Theriault].

 

In the days leading up to the festival, the weather had been more dreary than typical summer days in San Francisco – foggy, damp, cold, wind gusts up to 35 mph and a wind chill in the mid-50s. Yet, as if ordained by the Glen Park women of the past (with support from Karl the Fog), July 10 opened to a brilliantly sunny, cloudless day with a light breeze and a midday temperature of 80 degrees! Given that July 11 returned to cold drippy dreariness, the weather alone was truly a remarkable outcome.

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An estimated 300 people attended the 6-hour event [click here to download the festival program]. The festival opened with a grand welcome from our able festival emcee, Ginger Murray. After opening comments by GPNHP Director Evelyn Rose, leaders of local neighborhood associations included Hilary Schiraldi, president of the Glen Park Association; Janet Tarlov, president of the Glen Park Merchants Association; and Rene Berger, director of Burnside Mural+. The next speakers represented our city's leadership: District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department Jeanine Nicholson, and Director of the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency, Jeffrey Tumlin. More inspiring words from the president of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco, Alison Goh, followed.

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Next, the families of the Gum Tree Girls shared their memories. As young children during those days of grassroots protest, nearly all had participated in what Kristen Arkush, daughter of Geri Arkush, describes as "low level civil disobedience." Their activities included attendance with their moms to meetings at City Hall where they were encouraged to "run wild" in the gallery so that the women's position would magically move from dead last on the agenda to next. To the frustration of highway engineers, from time to time they would uproot surveyor's flags from the proposed route of the freeway. Of special note, Gum Tree Girl Joan Seiwald joined the families on stage! Joan and all the family members received an extended round of cheers and applause from a grateful community!

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We closed the opening ceremony with a soulful sound-healing performance by Leonard Sherman and Melanie Mentzel to commemorate local residents lost to COVID-19. Afterwards, Diane Fu, a close friend of the Theriault family, and her traditional Chinese dance group delivered a beautiful and colorful performance. They were followed by Alison Lovejoy and the Best Bad Things, known for their original "Songs & Stories of the Brave, Bawdy & Beautiful Women of San Francisco from 1800-1950," who gave an amazing performance singing about our freeway heroines and other famous women. Next were The Cottontails, a hugely popular group who are no strangers to Glen Park's Bird & Beckett Books & Records, performing popular tunes of 40s swing, bepop, and jazz. They were followed by Rado and the Stanky Leg Trio playing awesome funk, soul, and jazz. The folk music of Meredith Edgar & Paul Griffiths with Sean Silverman was a delightful close to the day's joyous entertainment.

 

Concurrently along Glen Canyon Park's entry promenade, nonprofit organizations hosted information tables to share information with the community. The GPNHP hosted the Welcome table "under Glenda the Cow sign" at the Elk Street entrance to Glen Canyon Park. The festival was thrilled to welcome the League of Women Voters of San Francisco, the Glen Park Association, the Glen Park Merchants Association, the Diamond Heights Community Association, St. John Catholic School, the Golden Gate Audubon Society, and the recruiting office of the San Francisco Police Department

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On the soccer field, the Glen Park Association hosted sports activities for kids, and behind the Recreation Center a coloring activity sponsored by Burnside Mural+ and Twin Walls Mural Company was enjoyed. Also behind the Recreation Center, various delectables were available for purchase from Glen Park's Canyon Market and two food trucks, with Media Noche serving delicious Cuban food, and creative and tasty bites delivered by Aroy Thai.

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In the recreation center auditorium, GPNHP Director Evelyn Rose presented the history of the many activities in Glen Canyon since the San Francisco Gold Rush that, had they come to fruition, would have led to the permanent demise of this significant site in its natural state. These include the first dynamite factory in America that was personally licensed by inventor Alfred Nobel, conversion of the canyon into a reservoir for the Hetch Hetchy project, a proposed housing development, among other near misses. Afterwards, attendees viewed a 30-minute video of the oral history of two of the Gum Tree Girls, Zoanne Nordstrom and Joan Seiwald ( Geri Arkush had earlier passed in 1999) that was recorded by the GPNHP in 2016 to document their grassroots activism in the Freeway Revolt (you can view snippets of the video here).

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Afterwards, the up and coming generation of the Theriault Family spoke impressively of how their grandmother, Zoanne, had so positively influenced them. It was very clear that Zoanne had taught them truth to power, and had channeled to them the powerful moxie that Minnie Straub Baxter had channeled from Glen Park women suffragists of the early 1900s to the Gum Tree Girls:

 

  • No matter their differences, the willingness to lock arms and collaborate with others who may hold very different beliefs and perspectives from theirs;

  • Standing up and speaking out with courage and fortitude to increase knowledge and understanding, and bring attention and raise awareness to their cause;

  • Participating in peaceful assembly to create a public spectacle to further bring attention and support to their cause;

  • Staying true to their mission to bring equality and rights to all.

 

To highlight the depth and breadth of Glen Park Moxie, the Glen Park Women Hall of Fame was on display in the new wing of the Recreation Center. In addition to the Gum Tree Girls, an additional 17 women were heralded by the festival. These women are associated with the Glen Park district either as former residents or because a park or school in the district has been named for them, including:

  • The mother of California civil rights, Mary Ellen Pleasant;

  • Johanna Pinther, co-leader of America’s first march for woman's suffrage in 1908;

  • Loretta Starvus Stack, a California communist leader who was a defendant in a 1957 Supreme Court decision that overturned the US Antisedition Act and reconfirmed First Amendment rights for all;

  • Union activist Dolores Huerta, who cofounded the United Farm Workers with César Chávez;

  • Artist Ruth Asawa, who is nationally recognized for her wire sculptures;

  • Hollywood actor Irene Ryan, “Granny” on the 1960s sitcom, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” whose gift to The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC continues to support the development of young actors;

  • Barbara Kascinell, a specialist in American Sign Language who worked with Koko the Gorilla at Stanford;

  • Environmentalist Dorothy Erskine who in the 1940s advocated for a San Francisco Master Plan, in the 1950s encouraged integration of public housing, and in the 1960s emphasized the importance of preservation of green space in public planning;

  • Jean Kortum (at the link, scroll down), who not only fought to stop construction of a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head, but as a historian is responsible for registering California State Historical Landmark No. 1002 in Glen Canyon Park in 1992 for America's first dynamite factory that was personally licensed by inventor Alfred Nobel and for which the GPNHP, in partnership with the Native Sons of the Golden West Foundation and San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, placed a plaque to commemorate the designation in 2018; 

  • Environmentalist Ruth Gravanis, credited with being an early proponent of banning the sale of single-use water bottles and who made the recommendation to then-Mayor Gavin Newsom (Governor Newsom recently signed a bill to reduce single-use plastics in California);

  • And several others.

An article about the legacy of the Gum Tree Girls was published in the San Francisco Examiner on the day of the festival. They had previously been highlighted by National Geographic and the San Francisco Chronicle/SF Gate. The Glen Park News also published a report that captured the spirit of the festival.

After 15 months of planning, the festival was suddenly over in 6 short hours. Despite all of the bumps in the road and angst leading up to it, the festival was a huge success! There are many people to thank for helping to make it a reality. We especially thank Gum Tree Girl Joan Seiwald, her husband, Robert, and their children, as well as the families of Gum Tree Girls Zoanne Nordstrom and Geri Arkush. A special note of thanks to Charlotte Theriault, granddaughter of Zoanne Nordstrom, who created the beautiful logo art for the festival!

 

This could not have been possible without the support of the Glen Park community. We thank the Glen Park Association, and the Glen Park Merchants Association and Avenue Greenlight for the two grants totaling $2500 they awarded in support of the festival. We also thank our sponsors: the Glen Park Association, the Glen Park Merchants Association and Avenue Greenlight, Bird & Beckett Books & Records, the League of Women Voters of San Francisco, and Canyon Market. The very fun kids' sports and coloring activities would not have been possible without the generous support and enthusiasm of Jessica Bogo of the Glen Park Association, and Renee Berger of Burnside Mural+ and Twin Walls Mural Company, respectively. Thanks also to the Golden Gate Audubon Society for reaching out to the GPNHP for co-leading the combined Birding and History Walk in Glen Canyon in April that helped raise nearly $500 for the festival. We look forward to collaborating with them again! And also to Betsy Eddy and Patrick Carroll of the Diamond Heights Community Association and also Brynna McNulty of Friends of Christopher Park for their endless support and helping us spread the word about the festival!

 

Without event planner Susie McKennon, the festival could not have been the success that it was. Thank you, Susie!  A huge thanks also to St. John Catholic School and to Bonnee Waldstein of the Glen Park Association for putting the call out for volunteers, as well as to the dozen or so volunteers who arrived to assist with festival set-up, showtime, and/or take-down between 7 am 6 pm. We could not have done it without you! And a big thanks also to our fiscal sponsor, Independent Arts & Media and Executive Director Lisa Burger, for all of the essential guidance and support.

We also want to express our thanks and appreciation to the staff at the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department for their critical support of the festival and their incredible guidance, including Shauna Bogetz, Supervisor, and Serena Lau of Special Events, Permits and Reservations Division; Lisa Graves, Park Section Supervisor, Parks and Open Spaces; Carol Sionkowski, Recreation & Parks, Park Service Area Manager; Marcus Santiago, Lieutenant of the San Francisco Park Rangers; Conor Casey, Facility Coordinator, Glen Park Recreation Center; and also Erik from the Grounds staff on the day of the festival. It is a shame that SFRPD could not send a representative to speak during the opening ceremony of the festival to not only support their amazing work, but also help highlight how Minnie Straub Baxter and the Gum Tree Girls played such a key role in conserving Glen Canyon Park, the most beautiful natural park in San Francisco.

And last but not least, we thank YOU, our enthusiastic GPNHP members and followers who have supported us throughout the years with your passion, enthusiasm, and generous financial support to not only help us carry out our mission to rediscover our forgotten histories, document our living histories, and share our histories with others, but also in direct support of the festival to help us herald and commemorate all of these amazing women. We could not have done it without you! You will always have our deepest gratitude.

All in all, it was just a glorious day! And, following the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the timing of the Glen Park Gum Tree Girls Festival celebrating the rights and achievements of women could not have been more perfect. The lessons we can learn from Glen Park’s historic women have never been more important than they are now. Let's use that Glen Park Moxie and carry it forward!