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A love letter to Glen Park’s Brutalist BART station

This 1970s concrete beauty stands above the rest

Rare is the weary commuter in awe of a BART station.

Powell is drab and dirty. Civic Center a dark and gray mess. And end stops, like Pittsburg Bay Point or Concord, are, at best, nondescript. Save for Oakland’s 19th Street and 12th Street, whose dark red and deep blue brick walls, respectively, are a delight, most stations hold back when it comes to bold, innovative design.

But not Glen Park’s BART station, an unsung hero of “brooding grandeur” stands as the Bay Area’s most stunning—and most polarizing—transit station.

Designed by Corlett + Spackman and Ernest Born, the station is noteworthy for adopting Brutalism. But don’t let the aggressive name fool you—this concrete-centric midcentury architecture style has produced some of the finest works in San Francisco and the world over. (So much so that architects and preservationists go to battle when a Brutalist work is in danger of demolition.)

The exterior of Glen Park Station in San Francisco. The facade is grey with a sloped roof. Photo by Patricia Chang

The drab exterior—jarring in its own right, as it should be—belies open and airy interiors that benefit from use of heavy shadows, Carrera marble, rough concrete, natural light, canopies, and an inverted skylight.

Born also designed the asymmetrical marble mural, comprised of 100 right-angle pieces in warm brown and red-brown hues, found at the west end of the mezzanine.

San Francisco architecture and urban planning firm Robin Chiang and Company likens the station to a holy space, saying, “At the concourse level, one of the most compact in the system, the treatment of the surrounding walls and the use of a glass roof create the feeling of being in a monumental vestibule or, perhaps, the ruin of an ancient temple.”

High praise indeed. But most important is what lies below at the platform.

San Francisco Chronicle urban design critic John King, who has lavished praise on the station, writes in his book Cityscape: San Francisco and Its Buildings:

“The boxy exterior with its drab plaza gives no hint of what’s below: tucked deep inside the earth, under a raised muscular shell, trains rush in and out through a brooding grandeur of rough concrete against polished stone, blunt structural beams, and sharp shafts of light.”

Inside a subway station with an escalator leading down towards the platform. On either side of the escalator are bike racks, while above is an inverted skylight, big windows, and a back concrete wall. Photo by Patricia Chang

For Brutalism fans, King’s words could double as a description of the heavens. For regular passengers, it’s a daily treat, as if ascending into paradise during the rapture.

And any devotees worried about renovation shouldn't fret.

“Brutalism is back!” proclaimed a 2016 New York Times article, while similar stories have echoed the same sentiment. One look at the Glen Park BART station and it’s easy to see why.

Update: The station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.

Photo by Patricia Chang
Photo by Patricia Chang