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Warren Hellman Meadow: Supes Propose Renaming Golden Gate Park Field After Banjo Pickin' Billionaire (VIDEO)

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WARREN HELLMAN MEADOW
Warren Hellman performs at the 2010 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. | Getty Images

San Francisco seems to be having a one percent type of day.

First, the city evicts the Occupy SF encampment near Justin Herman Plaza, and now, the Board of Supervisors has voted to recommend renaming Golden Gate Park's Speedway Meadow after a billionaire financial titan.

But Warren Hellman isn't your ordinary billionaire financial titan, and Speedway Meadow is no ordinary meadow.

The 77-year old private equity kingpin became a San Francisco institution when he started funding Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, an annual music festival in Golden Gate Park that draws up to three-quarters of a million music fans every year. Unlike other Bay Area music festivals, Hellman's festival is completely free--paid for entirely out of his own pocket.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who introduced the measure, said he's doing it as a way to thank Hellman for his generosity.

"He really lived the credo he repeated often--'You give where you live,'" Elsbernd told the San Francisco Examiner. "Renaming Speedway Meadow in his honor is a very nice thing to do as a small token of our appreciation for all that he has done."

Hellman's civic involvement doesn't stop with the festival. He is also the chairman of the New York Times-affiliated non-profit news organization The Bay Citizen (although he plays no editorial role there) and was one of the most prominent supporters of this November's successful pension reform measure, Proposition C.

He was also the driving force behind the installation of the controversial underground parking garage between Golden Gate Park's California Academy of Sciences and de Young Museum.

"I am absolutely blown away by this gesture," Hellman said in a statement to The Bay Citizen. "Golden Gate Park is home to some of the best (and worst) moments of my life: family picnics with my wife, kids and grandkids, morning runs, over a decade of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and of course, the longest eight years of my life building the underground garage. There are no words and my fingers couldn't pluck a tune to express my gratitude. My only hope is that others experience the joy and happiness I've found standing, singing, plunking and listening in this beautiful meadow."

While Hellman is the grandson influential California banker and philanthropist Isaias Hellman, his fortune is largely self-made. He was the president of the now-defunct investment-banking firm Lehman Brothers until the early 1980s when he founded the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman LLC.

The proposal to rename the field will have to be voted on by the Recreation and Parks Commission before becoming a reality.

Check out this video of Hellman leading his band, The Wronglers, on a tune in favor of Prop C:

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Filed by Aaron Sankin