Installed on a rocky breakwater not far from the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco's Marina district, the Wave Organ is an acoustic sculpture, a man-made instrument of recycled and repurposed granite, marble, PVC and concrete used by the wind and water to play strange music. Well off the beaten path—but now more easily reached thanks to the installation of an accessible path and ramp as part of a 2010 restoration—the wave organ sits at the furthest edge of a small boat harbor, offering intrepid music lovers recitals at high tide, the sounds of nature in concert with industry.
"Part of the experience of The Wave Organ is finding it," says its designer Peter Richards, Senior Artist Emeritus with the Exploratorium, who tells people to, "First find the marina yacht harbor and then the St. Francis Yacht Club—then walk east to the end of the jetty that forms the harbor."
Completed in 1986, the installation is situated along San Francisco's northern waterfront, directly opposite the Marina Green and cater-cornered from the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture. The isolated spot is quite open, with panoramic views of several shores along San Francisco Bay, a potentially romantic setting but one which necessitates dressing for the weather as it's entirely exposed to the elements, a factor which affects the Wave Organ as well.
"It is in the splash zone of the bay so takes a beating," Richards explains. "The biggest problem is sand shoaling along the face of the jetty, which obstructs the organ pipes and also hinders boat access to the harbor. As global warming continues and the sea level rises, I expect that within 100 years, it will not be accessible."
Sculptor and stonemason George Gonzalez, collaborator on the original piece, was responsible for building the ramp and the new path that provides fuller access to the disabled, as well as undertaking repairs associated with the restoration. Both artists were on hand for a public celebration following the restoration of their gift to the city.
"There are many different ways [of] experiencing the wave organ," says Richards. "It is a place to relax—a place where what it has to offer will come to you if you are patient and willing to listen and to observe."
Writer and bon vivant J. Eric Miller lives, loves, and laughs in San Francisco and its environs. Follow his further adventures at theupsanddownsofsanfrancisco.tumblr.com.