Good Benches Make Good Neighbors
Chris Duderstadt’s mission: make lots of benches.
•••••••••• December 20, 2023 ••••••••••
Wen all the Christmas feasting is over, the usual New Year’s resolution — losing weight — begins, and one Westside resident thinks that having a bench or two placed on every few blocks in every neighborhood would help make the attempt to exercise more realistic."
Local SF realtor Jack Barry considers a bench “a sociability thing.” A few years ago, he purchased three benches from a retired engineer and custom tech machine designer, Chris Duderstadt.
Since retiring almost a decade ago, Duderstadt has dedicated his time to designing and making benches similar to what one would find in a public park, like Golden Gate Park, only for Duderstadt, there’s a more specific purpose. “It’s for the community.”
Like Barry, he would like a bench on every block. “A bench on every block is helpful when you’re older,” said Duderstadt, who is 75 years old.
And as people get older, they need to take a break and rest a bit, especially when climbing a hill. San Francisco has plenty of hills, even on the Westside, like out in the Sunset and Richmond Districts. Duderstadt loves to put a bench on a hill. “Every hill should have them.”
A Bench helps promote a sense of community,” he exclaimed. “It encourages neighbors and passersby to stop and visit and enjoy some sunshine.” Barry hopes that as our society puts the COVID pandemic behind us, people will get outside more often.”
Over the years, Duderstadt has designed and built 144 benches for public spaces all around San Francisco. Yet since he lives on the Westside, many of his benches are in the Richmond and Sunset Districts, thanks partly to residents and active community members like Barry.
Barry left what he described as a “conservative and stagnant” Boston, Massachusetts, in the late 1960s and moved to San Francisco. In San Francisco, he aimed to discover a new, more open-minded, politically progressive hometown.
Barry met his wife, May Pon in 1970, as she was attending San Francisco State University. “May had just gotten a job at an accounting office on Geary Blvd,” he said.
The two met while they were rallying with other young people (from SF State and University of San Francisco-USF) to help establish a recycling project in San Francisco. “It was the first of its kind, said Barry, as the ecology movement had just begun.”
Eventually, Jack and May settled into an old but elegant Victorian home on 10th Avenue in the Inner Sunset and raised two children.
devoted members of SHARP – The Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People, John and May helped many people and organizations over the years in various ways. “Yet, especially here out in the Avenues,” said Barry.
Barry recognizes the importance of what Duderstadt has been doing. “A Bench helps promote a sense of community,” he exclaimed. “It encourages neighbors and passersby to stop and visit and enjoy some sunshine.” Barry hopes that as our society puts the COVID pandemic behind us, people will get outside more often. “With computers and technology it’s easy to be sedentary and stay indoors.”
As he said, there are two benches outside Barry’s house and one “down the hill” for a neighbor-family member’s house. While the benches that Barry paid for are well looked after, some of the benches that Duderstadt has built and put throughout the City have not.
Vandalism, neglect and theft have impacted Duderstadt’s efforts.
Even so, Duderstadt is committed to making benches, especially for neighborhoods and individuals like Barry who ask for them. Referred to as The Public Bench Project, A merchant or organization can request a bench through his website. Most of the time, Duderstadt will paint the bench as he sees a bench as his canvas. The Public Bench Project is not a formal nonprofit. To learn more visit https://publicbenchproject.wordpress.com
Jonathan Farrell is a local reporter.
December 20, 2023