Golden Gate Park in San Francisco

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Golden Gate Park, located in San Francisco, California, is a large urban park consisting of 1017 acres of public grounds. Configured as a rectangle, it is similar in shape but 20% larger than Central Park in New York, to which it is often compared. It is over three miles (5 km) long east to west, and about half a mile north to south. With 13 million visitors annually, Golden Gate is the third most visited city park in the United States after Central Park in New York City and Lincoln Park in Chicago.


In the 1860s, San Franciscans began to feel the need for a spacious public park similar to Central Park that was taking shape in New York. Golden Gate Park was carved out of unpromising sand and shore dunes that were known as the "outside lands" in an unincorporated area west of then-San Francisco's borders. Although the park was conceived under the guise of recreation, the underlying justification was to attract housing development and provide for the westward expansion of The City. The tireless field engineer William Hammond Hall prepared a survey and topographic map of the park site in 1870 and became commissioner in 1871. He was later named California's first State Engineer and developed an integrated flood control system for the Sacramento Valley when he was not working on Golden Gate Park.

The actual plan and planting were developed by Hall and his assistant, John McLaren, who had apprenticed in Scotland, the homeland of many of the nineteenth century's best professional gardeners. The initial plan called for grade separations of transverse roadways through the park, as Frederick Law Olmsted had provided for Central Park, but budget constraints and the positioning of the Arboretum and the Concourse ended the plan. In 1876, the plan was almost exchanged for a racetrack favored by "the Big Four" millionaires, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Charles Crocker. Hall resigned and the remaining park commissioners followed him. The original plan, however, was back on track by 1886, when streetcars delivered over 47,000 people to Golden Gate Park on one weekend afternoon (the city's population at the time was about 250,000). Hall selected McLaren as his successor in 1887.

The first stage of the park's development centered on planting trees, in order to stabilize the ocean dunes that covered three-quarters of the park's area. By 1875, about 60,000 trees, mostly Blue Gum Eucalyptus, Monterey pine and Monterey cypress, had been planted. By 1879, that figure had more than doubled to 155,000 trees over 1000 acre. Later McLaren scoured the world through his correspondents for trees. When McLaren refused to retire at age 60, as was customary, the San Francisco city government was bombarded with letters: when he reached 70, a charter amendment was passed to exempt him from forced retirement. He lived in McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park until he died at age 96, in 1943.

In 1903, a pair of Dutch-style windmills were built at the extreme western end of the park. These pumped water throughout the park. The north windmill has been restored to its original appearance and is adjacent to a flower garden, a gift of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. These are planted with tulip bulbs for winter display and other flowers in appropriate seasons. Murphy's Windmill in the south of the park is currently being restored.

Most of the water used for landscape watering and for various water features is now provided by groundwater from the City's Westside Basin Aquifer. However, the use of highly processed and recycled effluent from the city's sewage treatment plant, located at the beach some miles away to the south near the San Francisco Zoo is planned for the near future. In the 1950s the use of this effluent during cold weather caused some consternation, with the introduction of artificial detergents but before the advent of modern biodegradable products. These "hard" detergents would cause long-lasting billowing piles of foam to form on the creeks connecting the artificial lakes and could even be blown onto the roads, forming a traffic hazard.

Golden Gate Park is adjacent to Haight-Ashbury, and it was the site of the Human Be-In of 1967, preceding the Summer of Love. The tradition of large, free public gatherings in the park continues to the present, especially at Speedway Meadow. One of the largest events held annually at the park starting in 2001 has been the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (formerly the "Strictly Bluegrass Festival"), a free festival held in October. Speedway Meadow also plays host to a number of large-scale events such as the 911 Power to the Peaceful Festival held by musician and filmmaker Michael Franti with Guerrilla Management.

Major features

Kezar Stadium

Kezar Stadium was built between 1922 and 1925 in the southeast corner of the park. It hosted various athletic competitions and became the home stadium of the San Francisco 49ers of the AAFC and NFL from 1946 to 1970, also hosting the Oakland Raiders of the AFL for one season in 1960. The old 59,000-seat stadium was demolished in 1989 and replaced with a modern 9,044-seat stadium, but includes a replica of the original concrete arch at the entryway. It has been used in recent years for soccer, lacrosse, and track and field and is the host of the annual city high school football championship.

Conservatory of Flowers

The Conservatory of Flowers is one of the world's largest conservatories built of traditional wood and glass panes. It was prefabricated for local entrepreneur James Lick for his Santa Clara, California, estate but was still in its crates when he died in 1876. A group of San Franciscans bought it and offered it to the city, and it was erected in Golden Gate Park and opened to the public in 1879. In 1883, a boiler exploded and the main dome caught fire. A restoration was undertaken by Southern Pacific magnate Charles Crocker. It survived the earthquake of 1906 only to suffer another fire in 1918. In 1933 it was declared unsound and closed to the public, only to be reopened in 1946. In 1995, after a severe storm with 100 mph (160 km/h) winds damaged the structure, shattering 40 percent of the glass, the conservatory had to be closed again. It was cautiously dissected for repairs and finally reopened in September 2003.

AIDS Memorial Grove

The AIDS Memorial Grove has been in progress since 1988. In 1996, it was designated a national memorial by an act of Congress, becoming an affiliated area of the National Park System. The Grove's executive director, Thom Weyand, has said that "part of the beauty of the grove is that as a memorial which receives no federal money, it is blessedly removed from the fight over the controversy of AIDS."

Music Concourse Area

The Music Concourse is a sunken, oval-shaped open-air plaza originally excavated for the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. Its focal point is the Spreckels Temple of Music, also called the "Bandshell" where numerous music performance have been staged. It includes a number of statues of various historic figures, four fountains, and a regular grid array of heavily pollarded trees. Since 2003, the Music Concourse underwent a series improvements to include an underground 800-car parking garage, and pedestrianization of the plaza itself. It is surrounded by various cultural attractions, including:

De Young Museum

Named for M. H. de Young, the San Francisco newspaper magnate, the De Young Museum is a fine arts museum that was opened January 1921. Its original building had been part of The California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894, of which Mr. de Young was the director. The de Young was completely rebuilt and the new building opened in 2005.

Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is one of the largest natural history museums in the world , and also houses the Steinhart Aquarium and the Morrison Planetarium. The Academy of Sciences carries exhibits of reptiles and amphibians, astronomy, prehistoric life, various gems and minerals, earthquakes, and aquatic life. A completely new building for the Museum opened in September 2008 designed by Renzo Piano.

Japanese Tea Garden

The 5 acre Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. The garden was designed by Makoto Hagiwara for the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894, including still-standing features such as the Drum Bridge and the tea house. Subsequent additions included a pagoda and Zen garden. It is one reported site of the introduction of the fortune cookie to America.

San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum

The San Francisco Botanical Garden was laid out in the 1890s, but funding was insufficient until Helene Strybing willed funds in 1926. Planting was begun in 1937 with WPA funds supplemented by local donations. This 55 acre arboretum contains more than 7,500 plant species. The arboretum also houses the Helen Crocker Russell Library, northern California's largest horticultural library.

Stow Lake

Stow Lake surrounds the prominent Strawberry Hill, now an island with an electrically pumped waterfall. Rowboats and pedalboats can be rented at the boathouse. Much of the western portion of San Francisco can be seen from the top of this hill, which at its top contains one of the reservoirs that supply a network of high-pressure water mains that exclusively supply specialized fire hydrants throughout the city.

Spreckels Lake

Named after sugar magnate Adolph B. Spreckels who also served as San Francisco's Park Commissioner. Spreckels Lake is located on the northern side of the park near 36th Avenue. As the home waters of the San Francisco Model Yacht Club, one can usually find model yachts sailing on Spreckels Lake. Many of these are of the 'free-sail' type used before the advent of the modern radio controlled model. The yachts are set up by their owners, and most include either an auxiliary wind vane or main sheet linkage to control the rudder in response to varying wind conditions. The yachts are then released, and pole handlers will walk down each side of the lake with a padded pole to prevent the yachts from colliding with the lake edge. The lake has been specifically designed for this type of operation, as it has a vertical edging (allowing the yachts to closely approach the shore) and a paved walkway around the entire edge. At one location near a grassy area, "duckling ramps" allow young wildlife to leave the pond safely.

Golden Gate Park Stadium

Golden Gate Park Stadium, also known as the "Polo Field", in the western section of the park was opened in 1906, originally envisioned as a 60,000 seat amphitheater with a mile-long circumference. The plan did not come to fruition, but the stadium did eventually incorporate bicycle and harness-racing tracks as well as a polo field. In 1967, stadium was the site of the Human Be-In which launched the Summer of Love and where Timothy Leary urged fellow hippies to "tune in, turn on, and drop out". Today, the stadium is marked by its raised perimeter and a small grandstand.

Bison Paddock

Bison have been kept in Golden Gate Park since 1891, when a small herd was purchased by the park commission. At the time, the animal's population in North America had dwindled to an all-time low and San Francisco made a successful effort to breed them in captivity. In 1899, the paddock in the western section of the park was created. The animals today are cared for by staff from the San Francisco Zoo.


In 1902, the parks commission authorized construction of two windmills to pump subterranean water to supply the park. The first one, on the north side of the park facing the Pacific Ocean, was completed in 1903 and became known first as the North Windmill and later as the Dutch Windmill; it is now paired with the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden. The second, Murphy's Windmill, on the south side of the park, began operation in 1908. They operated for several decades, but fell into disrepair after the park switched to electric water pumps. The Dutch Windmill was restored in 1981 with Murphy's Windmill's restoration completed in September 2011.

Beach Chalet

The two-story Beach Chalet faces the Great Highway and Ocean Beach at the far western end of the park. It was opened in 1925 in Spanish colonial revival style as a city-run restaurant and included changing rooms for beach visitors. Elaborate murals were added to the first floor as a 1936 Works Progress Administration project. The murals depict real people and scenes from San Francisco in the 1930s. The Mural room is now the San Francisco Visitor's Center. After several years of closure and following a renovation completed in 1996, the building now houses the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant on the second floor, opened by Lara and Gar Truppelli and Timon Malloy. Its sister restaurant, the Park Chalet, is located to the back of the Beach Chalet with a dining room facing the park and outdoor dining on a terrace and lawn area.


John F. Kennedy Memorial Drive, formerly North Drive, winds from the East end of the park to the Great Highway. It was renamed after the Kennedy Assassination. The portion east of the 19th Avenue park crossing is closed to motor traffic on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, providing an oasis for children, parents, pedestrians, bicyclists, and skaters. The other major east-west road is Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, renamed from South Drive in 1983. California State Highway 1 crosses the park north-to-south as Crossover Drive.

Minor features

There are also many more naturalistically landscaped lakes throughout the park, several linked together into chains, with pumped water creating flowing creeks. There is a short trail lined with large tree ferns adjacent to a small lake near the Conservatory of Flowers. The hippies called this area Mescaline Grove and used to often go there to take psychedelic drugs.

Several statues of historical figures are located throughout the park, including Francis Scott Key, Robert Emmet, Robert Burns, the double monument to Johann Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, General Pershing, Beethoven, Giuseppe Verdi, President Garfield, and Thomas Starr King. The bronze statue of Don Quixote and his companion, Sancho Panza kneeling to honor their creator, Cervantes, combines historical and fictitious characters. At the Horseshoe Court in the northeast corner of the park near Fulton and Stanyan, there is a concrete bas-relief of "The Horseshoe Pitcher" by Jesse "Vet" Anderson, a member of the Horseshoe Club.

Also, the "Janis Joplin Tree" is a favorite site for many tourists and locals. Located on the edge of Hippie Hill, a small hill at the eastern end of Golden Gate Park that has been a popular spot for marijuana smokers since hippies often gathered for that purpose during the Summer of Love, it is said to have just enough room in its branches for a girl and her guitar.

Chronic homeless encampments

Since the 1980s, the city of San Francisco has grappled with what to do about large encampments of chronically-homeless people living in Golden Gate Park, which have been criticized as unsanitary, unsafe and "demoralizing" for park users and workers. The camps have been described by journalists as full of garbage, broken glass, hypodermic needles and human excrement, and the people in them are described as chronically homeless, many suffering from serious addictions, and often behaving aggressively with police and park gardeners. There have been occasional incidents of violence and vandalism related to the homeless in the park, including the 2010 park beating to death of a homeless man and an attack on park visitors by dogs owned by a park resident, also in 2010.

Starting in 1988 under then-mayor Art Agnos, and continuing under the direction of subsequent mayors including Frank Jordan, Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom, San Francisco police have conducted intermittent sweeps of the park aimed at eliminating the camps. Tactics have included information campaigns designed to inform homeless residents about city services available to help them, waking sleeping homeless people and making them leave the park, issuing citations for infractions and misdemeanors such as camping, trespassing or public intoxication, that carry penalties of $75 to $100, and the seizure and removal from the park of homeless people's possessions.

The crackdowns have been criticized by anti-poverty activists and civil liberties groups, who say they attack only the symptoms of homelessness while ignoring its root causes, and criminalize the poor for their poverty while ignoring their property rights and constitutional rights. In 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union brought a lawsuit against the city government on behalf of 10 homeless people, alleging property violations by the city during sweeps in Golden Gate Park the year before.

Golden Gate Park in film

Charlie Chaplin filmed scenes for at least two movies in the park including A Jitney Elopement and In the Park, both from 1915. A scene in Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai was shot in the Steinhart Aquarium in the old California Academy of Sciences building, and the Conservatory of Flowers was filmed in Harold and Maude.

Dirty Harry scenes were filmed in Kezar Stadium, located in Golden Gate Park.

The starship in ' is said to land in the park, but the scene was actually filmed at Will Rogers State Historic Park near Los Angeles.

A scene from The Pursuit of Happyness was shot in the Children's Park.

"Scaramouche" 1952 scenes of duels looking west into the fog at Speedway Meadows, interiors in De Young Museums old period rooms.

"Line-up" 1958 scenes shot inside Steinhart Aquarium.

Bugs Bunny cartoon "Bushy Hare" 1950 Bugs pops up in Golden Gate Park with Lloyd Lake Portals to the Past, the remains of the A.E. Towne mansion from the 1906 Earthquake.

In the TV Series Eli Stone, in the episode "Waiting for that Day", some citizens of San Francisco seek refuge in the park during a 6.8 earthquake. They later witness the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge from the park, though in reality, the bridge isn't visible from the park.

See also

  • Panhandle (San Francisco)
  • San Francisco Nature Education

External links