Recently, a tiny wooden door was found at the base of a tree in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Park officials don’t know who put it there, or what its purpose is. Andy Stone, a park’s department employee said, “As of now we don’t have any plans other than to leave the elf door and continue to take care of Golden Gate Park.” So there it stays to this moment, and I’m sure each person that passes the strange doorway has a small hope deep down in their heart that a real shoemaker elf complete with tights and pointy hat built the door in his little elf workshop and installed it with pride in his little elf heart.

       Newton has a sort of elf door, though not quite as charming. Like the tree elf door it is surprising and a tiny bit enchanting. It sits on the west side of the most industrial, utilitarian eye-sore of a set of buildings in Newton—the grain elevator complex. Now, just because I think those buildings are ugly does not mean I am against their existence. They stand for industry, jobs and agriculture (all important); they just don’t stand for beauty. They are square, concrete and dirty, without architectural flourishes or any bright colors. Even in Military park east of the elevator, there is an audible hum of machinery and large industrial fans. No one crossing Broadway’s railroad tracks looks up at the buildings there and says, “My, What a lovely sight!” (I’m not sure if people would say that anyway—only in books.) The buildings are large, but they’re not grand; they serve a purpose, but they don’t propose any new ideas to the imagination, that is, except in one spot. Just at the intersection of Broadway and Pine, near the corner of the coop office building there is a door. On either side of the door are budding trees and relatively ornate, weather-worn pillars with a trace of quality masonry in them. Above the door is a tri-layered awning buttressed by more marble looking stone. The door itself is nothing spectacular, but it does have some fancy glasswork and a little human feeling etched into it. In any other city building or house, a door with these features and surroundings would not be noticed. But juxtaposed with its stark, plain background, it is as out of place as a jockey at a car race or a McDonalds in a monastery.

      It gave me hope when I saw it. Obviously, some architect couldn’t quite bring himself or herself to make the entire complex drab and flat. She or he thought the whole business needed a touch of something more than utility, so they built that doorway and planted those budding trees at extra expense and effort. Something in them longed for a taste of beauty, even at a grain elevator. We all have a divine stamp and share with God a love for beauty—even at the expense of efficiency and practicality. And that truth is demonstrated perfectly at Broadway and Pine—Newton’s own elf door.

R. Eric Tippin
On a bench in Military Park across from the elf door