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Excelsior hillside gets beautiful tile steps after nine years

Community group spent a decade turning scrubby hill into greenspace

Pedestrians at the intersection of Athens Street and Avalon Avenue in the Excelsior will be delighted to stumble on a beautiful hillside covered in greenery with a set of striking rainbow-hued mosaic steps leading up to where Athens Street turns into Valmar Terrace.

But it wasn’t always this way. Over the course of nearly a decade, neighbors and community members in a group called the Athens Avalon Greenspace labored to slowly transform the formerly barren hillside (a public right of way connecting the two halves of Athens) into its picturesque present state, with the steps by artist Iran Narges dedicated just over a week ago as the crowning touch.

The San Francisco Parks Alliance non-profit (a financial partner on the project) says this orphaned block of Athens used to be in a rather sorry state:

The area had long been a place where people threw their garbage, old furniture, bags of junk, bottles cans,etc. The steps running up the hillside were a graffiti spot and old cans of house paint had been spilled and left to dry on the steps.

The vegetation on the hillside consisted of overgrown scotch broom, invasive weed species, and non-native grasses. Overall, it was a constant mess, an eyesore.

It was a while before anyone realized that the neglected hillside actually belonged to the city and that it might be transformed into a park, given enough labor, heavy lifting, and coordinating with the city.

Volunteers drew up the first plans—including the steps—back in 2008, and then neighbors met on the first Saturday of every month, year after year, to clean up. Funding came by way of everything from public improvement money to garage sales.

The AAG petitioned the Arts Commission to approve the step design in January of 2016, and once the red tape eventually unraveled work began last spring.

On June 24 neighbors cut the ribbon on the steps and ushered the longtime passion project to completion.

(For some idea of how long the steps have been in the making, notice that the same design serves as the greenspace group’s logo.)

The group’s Facebook page notes that “While we have accomplished the major project goals, gardens always need tending. We have a monthly workday the first Sunday of each month.” Excelsior residents take note.

In the meantime here’s a look at the southern tip of the city’s own little stairway heaven.