John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
San Francisco just got a little less whimsical.
"Keebler elves?!?" guessed Arnold.
"It leads down into the parking garage," tossed out the White Rabbit.
"It’s a very tiny coffee shop. It’s already played out," said Dude.
These were some of the conjectures that The Richmond District Blog's readers suggested regarding the puzzling appearance of a miniature door in the base of a tree in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The dinky aperture ostensibly popped up in early March and looked to be the work of an expert carpenter: lustrous, burnt-orange wood with a beautiful lacquer, perfectly fitted to the natural gap in the tree it protected. Two metal hinges made certain no nut-crazed squirrels were going to knock this baby down.
A reader sent the above photo to Richmond District's editor Sarah Bacon, who wrote a cursory item wondering if it belonged to an "upscale park mouse." That post blew up to become the blog's most popular story, ever, attracting scads of comments from admirers, some of whom pointed out a similar "fairy" or "elf" door near Minneapolis' Lake Harriet. San Francisco's residents began to trek to the park's central concourse to pay homage to this shrunken door, leaving goodwill offerings of tasty pastries and hand-scrawled notes for the magical creature who lives inside:
The story became big enough that ABC News interviewed Bacon: "When I see the door, I think of the word ‘delight,'" she said. "When people talk about walking by it, it makes their day a little happier because it's unexpected." The parks department seemed to agree, with a supervisor telling NBC that he "didn't have any plans other than to leave the elf door and continue to take care of Golden Gate Park." Gawker's commenters added their snark: "Man, that door is terrible. Look at the gaps! His heating bill is going to be through the upper-branches-of-the-tree-that-form-a-protective-canopy," and, "Ah, San Francisco, where rich, young professionals have time to be zany...."
I headed over to see this little door that the national media were squeezing their huge bulk through. It's located in the central concourse area, a labyrinth of "fist trees" that would easily conceal a fairy door from all but the most psychopathic of hunters. Luckily, somebody on the Richmond blog had posted directions.
They're not actually called "fist trees." They just look that way, and I can't find any official classification for them although it certainly exists:
A small group was huddled around the base of the tree, gazing in dismay at the cavity that used to hold a door. One guy's pug walked over to sniff or pee on it but he pulled it away. A woman who was tapping her smartphone said, "Somebody took it. I don't know. People are jerks."
She turned out to be Bacon, the blog editor, who lives in the neighborhood. She had come out to visit the fairy door for the first time, and this is what she got. I asked if she had a message for the vandal, and she replied, "Let me edit myself, and say thanks for killing my whimsy."