Creator of the Golden Gate Park mini elf/fairy door comes forward

Rio, the 6 year old son of the door’s creator, Tony Powell, poses with the door after it was first
installed in February. Photo: Tony Powell | SF Chronicle

We got an email last night from someone named T. Powell, that began with “Thank you for shining your light on the little fairy door my six year old son Rio and I made and quietly mounted last February.”

Today, the Chronicle posted a story about the same man, whose full name is Tony Powell. It was Tony, and his young son Rio, that created and installed the door at the base of the Golden Gate Park concourse elm tree back in February.

Tony and his son live on a boat in the San Francisco Bay, which may be equivalent to living under a rock of sorts. That might explain how they missed the international media attention that the door has attracted.

“Until a few days ago, we had no idea it had been getting so much attention,” Tony wrote to us.

After hearing about the hype, Tony returned to the tree recently and witnessed the impact it has on visitors.

“Yesterday we went to see, and from afar we watched many folks come around the tree and open the door to leave notes and flowers and such. Even though our original door was removed (and its hinges most likely damaged with its removal), the spirit is still there,” Tony wrote.

“It has been really gratifying to see that people besides us are still full of wonder at such things in modern day.”

Tony and Rio designed and crafted the door from scrap pine over a period of a few months, then added a knob and marine-grade varnish for the finishing touch. They installed it around Valentine’s Day.

Inspiration for the door comes from the ages, Tony explained.

“Of course people have given recognition to the creative spirits of nature for ages. The Greeks called them by such names as Dryads (tree spirits) and Naiads (spirits of stream and lake), and the Irish called them the Sidhe (pronounced “shee” as in banshee).”

It took over a month for word to spread about the door’s existence. But once it did, people couldn’t get enough of it. Visitors flocked to it, leaving notes, offerings and spinning theories on what it meant.

Was it a fairy door? Did elves live inside? Would wishes be granted if you left them inside the door?

But Rec & Park, despite telling local media they had no plans to remove it, changed their mind and removed the door without any explanation. That resulted in a lot of disappointed visitors (including this blogger), who found only an empty hole and a couple of notes and twigs that were left behind.

The door-less tree after Rec & Park removed it.

There was enough backlash that Rec & Park had to react – albeit in a very unexpected way. They installed an imposter door, which was nowhere near as lovely as the original. Their PR person said the door was removed because its hinges were damaging the roots, and the varnish on the door was toxic to the tree. Boo.

And eventually, even the fake replacement door will be removed, as it violates the policy of Rec & Park which prohibits anything from being attached/nailed to park trees. Double boo.

The original door on the left (Photo: Erica Reh); and the Rec & Park imposter version on the right (Photo: Tony Perry)

Despite the bureaucratic melee, Tony and his son don’t seem deterred. He told the Chronicle that he’s trying to think of a way to create a new door that doesn’t have to be attached to the tree.

“We love Golden Gate Park and all of its art and magic and we know well that the creative spirit of nature is still all around us, creating things like trees budding and thrushes nesting and tears of fog dripping from the redwoods, and also fashioning little doors in hollow trees as well as making offerings to it,” Tony wrote to us.

He and Rio were touched by the offerings people left inside the door, so much so that Tony couldn’t resist answering one visitor’s burning question.

“When we read one of the notes which asked whether fairies were real, I had to scrawl upon it in green crayon, “Yes we are.””

Whether built by fairies, or by a man and his young son, we’re just glad that this little piece of delight came to our park. Thanks Tony and Rio!

Sarah B.

Tony and Rio’s door, filled with offerings from visitors. Photos by Erica Reh


  1. Dear Tony & Rio,

    Thank you for bringing the magic of the door into the park to be discovered & enjoyed! You mentioned wanting to find a way to attach the door without it being hinged to the tree. How about a dowel that goes into the earth & the door can either be attached by hinges in the door around the dowel, or the dowel can be part of the door like a post & go into the earth a little way. This way the door can still swing yet not be attached to the tree. Also, cedar will have longevity without the need for the heavy duty varnish.
    We’ll be looking forward to your future creations! (The elves will, too…)

  2. Thank you, Tony & Rio, for brightening so many people’s day. The faeries and elves are excited at the prospect of a new door for one of their dwellings!

  3. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that the Powells won’t be harassed by rec and park now that they’ve come forward – KEEP THE DOORS COMING!!

  4. Thanks for all the good wishes. I called the Parks&Rec Dept spokesperson and left a message saying that I appreciated the attempt to make amends for the mistake of removing our faery door by making a new one. And I like Sheree’s idea of using a staked pinion, and we will be giving that at least some tests. And faeries can make lots of things besides doors too, you know. So like I said to Sarah Baker, Keep an eye out for the faeries, and please remember that just because something may have been built with human hands does not mean that there was no faery magic guiding them.

    The Sidhe (Faeries)

    I have sought you:
    Over the tide levelled shore
    on the West Wind’s wide corridor
    adorned with wave borne mosses
    and the bleached bones of the nautilus;
    Among the bending reeds
    of the dark moor, brooding
    under the crow’s silvered wings;
    In the cool wood, deep sunken
    beneath the amber dropping boughs,
    wide with the calling finches.

    I seek for you in the harrowed fields,
    in the brake shaded brooks
    of unfathomable scent,
    in the asphalt humbled ecologies
    of vacant lot tangles, springing lush,
    and along the pounded smoky roads.

    And always I may
    find you
    wherever I have pushed
    open my stone green heart.

    – T. Powell
    Copyright MMXII

  5. Needs Corgis. These noble dogs are the steeds of faries.

    And thank you, T. Powell.

  6. Dear Tony and Rio thank you for giving us a reminder that magic exists.

  7. Dear Tony and Rio,

    Thank you so much for creating such a work of mystique. I’m at a rough place with life, and when the photographer (a friend of mine) shared her photo of your little door with me, it really brightened my outlook. It gave me hope. Hope that there are still faeries. Hope that someone still cares to create a work of pure faery magic. Thank you.

  8. Yes, the magic does exist. I remember years ago having a discussion with my then landlady who thought that future society would be completely utilitarian and “without any magic or religion”. And I thought about that because it didn’t make sense to me that a people could survive that way or would even want to. And I realized that the magic can’t actually be removed. You can use magic to disguise and cover itself up, but it is always here. You may be able to take away everything down to the last atom, and all that would be left would be its magic source. I believe in nothing but miracles. – T. Powell

  9. I really enjoy following this. My wife and I are eager to move back to San Francisco. We own and run an old dog and cat rescue. We are winding down and when the last soul crosses the Rainbow Bridge we are on our way back to The City. My Wife grew up in The Haight and I wish we had never left. This whole story is magical and we love it.
    David And Amy Bloebaum

  10. Rachelle, those are beautiful pictures of the park on your blog. The Faery Door is still there – I went by this morning to gather the latest messages. Lately it has been adorned with a clutch of pine cones and dressed in a red ribbon.

Comments are closed.