I Love My Park: January 2009

Welcome to “I Love My Park”, NPC’s monthly column featuring interviews with people all over the city talking about the personal connections they feel to parks in San Francisco.

We are breaking with format this month to bring you an unsolicited essay sent to NPC by coalition member Chuck Farrugia, a native San Franciscan and resident of Portola for 41 years, who holds a special place in his heart for McLaren Park.  We are happy to present his poetic memories of San Francisco’s second largest park, though it is, for many, an undiscovered treasure.  We hope it inspires you to visit there!

Where do I begin to start when trying to explain how much a park means to me?  Almost every fond memory of my life originated in McLaren Park.

My oldest memories as a child are playing in the old sand pit on Oxford and Burrows (which no longer exists today), digging in the sand and listening to music my sister was playing on her transistor radio.

Tree houses, forts, bicycle trails, animal discoveries, kite flying, rope swings, baseball games, football in the rain, concerts at the old amphitheater, motorcycle rides on trails that were all named by previous riders before me (back when we thought it was legal),

Making out with my first girlfriend on a park bench,

BBQ’s with all my friends while watching the clouds drift over my head,

Soap box racing down Shelly Drive when being naked was normal, I guess,

Walking my dog on the trails everyday until I could basically draw a map of the parks every feature in my head,

Checking out the amazing views at night from the top of Blue Tower hill,

Going to Tiny Tots as a 4 year old at the old Roundhouse (which hasn’t change one iota in 40 years!)

Chasing rabbits and catching pollywogs and frogs from McNab lake (which every kid in the neighborhood referred to as Tadpole Pond),

Being chased by the police on horseback because I was breaking tree branches in order to build a tree house,

Eating cherries from the only cherry tree in the park,

Having picnics with my mom and sister under the giant Willow tree on Shelly near Cambridge St. (gone now – but a baby Willow is growing in its place),

Drinking my first bottle of alcohol as a young teen that I stole from my parents liquor cabinet and being busted by the cops after while pushing my bicycle home,

Being scared to death when my friend had an epileptic seizure while we were checking out an old abandoned van someone dumped in a thicket of trees,

Falling from the giant Eucalyptus tree on Oxford flat on my back so hard I couldn’t breathe for what seemed like an eternity,

Climbing the old bathrooms and sitting on the roof while I gazed at the myriad of cars and people go by,

Building a dam under the bridge near Oxford street using sand from the sand pit nearby and seeing it finally give was such a big thrill for a 5 or 6 year old,

Getting my dad’s car stuck in the mud near the big parking lot on Shelly Drive because I listened to my stupid friend who is now a cop,

Parking my truck in the valley between the two hills on Mansell Ave. after the bar closed and drinking beer with my friends till sunrise…..

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I could go on and on forever but I guess the point has been made.  As a child, teen, young adult and now a father, McLaren Park meant/means everything to me.  Without her I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I love her more than any man can know.

I thank God that I had such an amazing resource so close to my house and was able to enjoy her without fear my whole life and I hope my son who is now 14 months old can live through the same experiences I lived (well, almost all of them) while he grows up here in a big city of concrete, wood and glass.  Without McLaren Park, children of San Francisco who live in the Portola and Visitation Valley would have little chance ever to know how beautiful mother nature can truly be.

–Chuck Farrugia

Thank you, Chuck, for sharing your wonderful park memories with us!  If any other readers are interested in appearing in this column in the future, please email us and tell us all the reasons why you love your park. To read the archive of past columns, click here.

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