San Francisco has two beloved bridges, a world-famous Art Deco masterpiece and a more complicated, two-bridges-plus-a-tunnel span that was elegantly retrofitted a decade ago. San Francisco also has one particularly reviled bridge: a squat, seldom-used pedestrian bridge that connects a Chinatown park to a Hilton hotel across Kearny Street.
Derided as the “Bridge to Nowhere,” it’s scheduled for demolition later this year, part of a larger $66 million neighborhood improvement project. In April 2022, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to revoke the 210-foot-long bridge’s permit, and, over the hotel’s strenuous objections, directed the Hilton to pony up the estimated $2.1 million for its removal.
Built in 1971, the current Brutalist pedestrian bridge is wider than two bus lanes and looks vaguely like a BART platform without trains, but it was constructed with an important civic function in mind. It tethers the hotel, which contains the two-floor Chinese Cultural Center, to Portsmouth Square, which functions as an outdoor living room for the wider neighborhood. Chinatown is home to thousands of seniors and residents of single-room occupancy units (SROs) who might otherwise have few non-commercial places to socialize.
The bridge’s demolition is intended to enlarge Portsmouth Square, giving 20,000 square feet of open space. On Monday, the pro-development blog SF YIMBY—which is unaffiliated with the pro-housing group of the same name—revealed preliminary illustrations for such a possibility. A rump section of the bridge will remain intact as a terrace overlooking the square, with a redesigned porte-cochère beneath for drivers to pull up to the hotel entrance.
Although nominally public, the little-used bridge had often been used for private functions at the Hilton, and it was often closed off entirely during Covid. It’s eligible for historical preservation, but that outcome was unlikely, as a 2017 survey found that a strong majority of Chinatown residents wanted it gone.
Peter-Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]