Artist Lauren Bon focused attention on the potential of downtown’s new Cornfield state historic park last year with an act as brilliant as it was obvious: She planted the swath of empty, low-lying land with corn. The corn grew tall as the summer sun arched higher, and the field’s verdant, vividly green beauty shimmered in startling contrast to the concrete bunker that is downtown. Under Bon’s nurturing, the sun, the seed and the site’s historic significance all conspired, unleashing an almost Dionysian energy. What ensued was a kind of Summer of Love, with drumming, dancing, bonfires, lectures, soirees, film and art festivals. It was as if nature coupled with the city and produced culture as its offspring, persuasive evidence that downtown desperately needs a defining natural feature — a Central Park, a Golden Gate Park — and that the agricultural field that once fed el pueblo is the right choice.
Bon was drawn to the site even as an adolescent, biking to the North Broadway bridge to dangle her feet over the industrial ruins below. She experienced, she says, “a sense of infinity there .?.?. an eerie absence that is [the Cornfield’s] essential presence .?.?. a void in the historic and geographic center of our city that is itself a monument of sorts.” Thousands have added their names to Bon’s mailing list, creating a volunteer army that can keep the heat on if plans for the park ever stall. The corn has been harvested, the seeds gathered, the bales of compost now stand in a forlorn “Cornhenge.” But the field will not lie fallow for long, because Bon is staging a last act: the bales have been planted with golden poppies, which should soon explode into bloom. And Bon is on one of the teams competing for the chance to design the new park.