Last Lamp Standing: Philippe Starck, the Lonesome George of street lamps.

Shout out to the last member of an extinct species, the one remaining Philippe Starck street lamp on Howard Street. There used to be 15 or 20 of them, but all but one were removed in 2016 when the interminable Moscone rebuild began in earnest.

From 2016: Here's what the Philippe Starck streetlamps look like turning on. Nearing 20 22 years old, this time-lapse video shows what they look like when they swivel down just before dusk.

Designed by French designer Philippe Starck, who has reimagined everything from windmills to toilet brushes, the lampposts stand ramrod straight up during the day, only to swivel down at dusk, then back up again at 7 am. But only the lucky get to witness these lights drop down. Until now.

Though sleek and contemporary, the lights did not cost the city a dime. According to a 2010 New York Times article, "The lamps were priced at $22,000 each, but San Francisco received them at no cost because JCDecaux wanted to display its products at the June 1997 U.S. Conference of Mayors at the Moscone Center."

In 1996, then mayor Willie Brown, during a visit to Paris, became enamored with the lamps during a visit to the JCDecaux factory in Plaisir, France. When he came back to the city, he wanted a few of them installed. And back then, whatever Brown wanted, he received. Free of charge, no less.

So, funny story.

Remember that time someone offered to give me the Moscone BSOD-o-Tron?

Well, a couple of years ago I was chatting with a friend who works at SFDPW about the never-ending "9 San Bruno Rapid Project", which took away our parklet for over a year. My friend mentioned that the sidewalk-widening was also going to mean some reconfiguration of street lights on 11th Street, which led to me lamenting the loss of the Starck street lamps. My friend said, "Yeah, they're not planning on re-installing those. All of them are just sitting in one of our warehouses."

My immediate reaction was, "OMG, if they're not putting them back on Howard, how do we get those re-installed on 11th Street? Can we redirect 'fix the 11th Street lamps' to 'install the Starck lamps here' instead??"

I didn't really expect anything to come of that, but a couple weeks later my friend said, "Well I asked around, and... one of my superiors said in a round-about, 'I was never here, this conversation did not happen' kind of way, 'What's it worth to you for one of those to fall off the truck?'"

I didn't pursue it, because "falling off the truck" is not a great way to get a street lamp installed on a public street. But that sure wasn't the answer I expected.

Incidentally, you can still get a 27" tall table lamp version for only $6,600. And that's the "used and slightly broken" price.

Philippe Starck Table Lamp for JCDecaux. In 1992, Philippe Starck worked with JCDecaux to develop a revolutionary street lamp, Streetlight, a striking yet functional solution to illuminating the city streets. With its pivoting head rotating from the vertical to the horizontal, the light is positioned upright during the day, then slowly moves to an angled position to light up the street as night sets in. When turned on arm extends just like the street lights. This timeless design is currently installed in 10 locations across Denmark, France, Uruguay and USA.

Arm goes up, but does not return, has to be done manually. Wear consistent with age and use.

Just in case you were laboring under the illusion that I am hard to shop for.

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7 Responses:

  1. James says:

    There is still hope for the body politic and its shaping of the urban pattern languages.

  2. Jenni Bot says:

    I wonder if reinstalling them in a public plaza instead of over a wide road would give them a new life, where people would be less focused on moving from point A to B on the sidewalk on a busy road and have a chance to notice them moving out of the corner of their eyes.

  3. Wow, it’s gorgeous, in an Alien ovipositor kinda way. Bummer they were removed.

    • NT says:

      I was always reminded of the gynaecological instruments for operating on mutant women in Dead Ringers. Amazing movie, but not something I need to be reminded of on a regular basis.

  4. Jim Sweeney says:

    The Howard Starkes!

  5. MattyJ says:

    They should dot them around the 49 Mile Drive to add some fun to that tourist attraction.

    Yes, the tourist attraction that no tourist knows exists, but I certainly love it.

  6. Seems like there have been four eras of streetlamp design:
    1: actual gaslamps
    2: retro fake gaslamps
    3: George Pal War of the Worlds
    4: back to fake gaslamps

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