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The Tip: San Francisco’s mosaic steps

Hidden Garden Steps
Hidden Garden StepsEllen Albanese for the Globe

SAN FRANCISCO — A stairway is usually a means to a destination, but in two San Francisco neighborhoods, the stairway is the destination. In 2003 local artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher pieced together a brilliantly colorful mosaic up the 163 steps on Moraga Street between 15th and 16th avenues, known as the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps (www.16thavenuetiled
steps.com
). Ten years later the city dedicated the Hidden Garden Steps (hiddengardensteps
.org
) on 16th Avenue extending uphill from Kirkham to Lawton in the Golden Gate Heights/Inner Sunset neighborhood. This installation (pictured) features a second ceramic-tiled stairway by Barr and Crutcher — this one 148 steps — bordered by a garden of native plants, succulents, and other drought-tolerant species, designed to attract birds and butterflies. The two sets of tiled steps are a long two blocks (less than half a mile) apart.

The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps depict a sea-to-stars theme, with seashells, corals, and underwater creatures in a blue-green ocean at the lower levels giving way to bright stars against a deep blue night sky at the top. In the Hidden Garden Steps, Rousseau-like panoramas of flowers, mushrooms, giant butterflies, and sinuous salamanders travel fluidly up the slope. Some 30,000 pieces of ceramic make up each stairway. In both installations, because only the riser of each step is tiled, the design is only visible when you’re looking up. Looking down from the top, you see a succession of smooth, monochromatic landings, city rooftops, and the distant bay.

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Both installations are in residential neighborhoods. They are supported and maintained by local residents, who ask visitors to respect their privacy.

ELLEN ALBANESE