Jackson Playground History

Established: 1959
Location: Corner of Jackson & Arkansas Streets
Bus: #22 Fillmore, 17th & Wisconsin stop; #19 Polk, Mariposa & Rhode Island stop
Contact: Jude Deckenbach, (415) 285-1556

 One of three park reservations made by the Van Ness Ordinances of 1855 in working class Potrero Nuevo, the site was originally known as Jackson Square. Undeveloped and virtually ignored for more than 75 years, Jackson Square was made into a playground in the twentieth century. A 1930 map shows a simply landscaped park with a small building, possibly a clubhouse, on the Mariposa Street side. The same map shows what was probably an oval cinder running track occupying much of the park. Very little on it appears in the city records.
Source: San Francisco Parks and Playgrounds: 1839-1990 by Randolph Delehanty, Ph.D., 1992

It was run down and overrun for years. Mothers and fathers who gathered in Jackson Park playground on Saturday mornings to watch their kids play, deplored the garbage-strewn sandboxes and splintered benches. Renovated more than 20 years ago, the aging playground could no longer meet the needs of neighborhood families nor accommodate the crowds of young visitors who streamed over from Basic Brown Bears, a teddy bear factory, a couple of blocks away.

To the rescue came the Potrero Hill Parents Association (PHPA), a cooperative formed by concerned and active parents who weren't going to take it any more. It was time to bring the playground into the '90s. In 1993 they submitted a $335,000 proposal to Rec. and Park's Open Space Fund. That first year, they were awarded $50,000, the next year, they got $100,000, and in 1995 they received the remaining $205,000. With the full funding in place, a detailed design plan had to be approved by the Recreation and Park Department before any ground could be broken.

The design and planning process took over a year. Working with Department of Public Works landscape architect John Thomas, whose cooperation "helped a lot" says Jude Deckenbach, one of the principal parent activists, PHPA came up with a striking new plan for the 10,500 ft. space. It laid out separate play areas — one for toddlers, the other for kids 5 to 12 and up — and separated them by a low, gracefully curving wall, comfortable for seating and incorporating art in the design. Other features included tables, benches, new trees and ground cover.

Neighborhood artist Josh Sarantitis supplied the art. Chosen by the San Francisco Art Commission to conduct a tile-decorating workshop for kids, he taught some 125 young artists, ranging in age from 2 months to 14 years, how to paint and glaze tiles. Their 150 hand-painted creations are installed atop the seat wall. Josh did the colorful mosaics along its sides.

The makeover meant taking out everything. The playground surface, which had been broken by tree roots, decrepit drainage ditches, and dilapidated play equipment all had to be removed. Handicap access had to be added. Nothing conformed to code. Hard hats in place, workers dug in.

On May 1, 1999, proclaimed Jackson Park Day by the mayor, 300 people surged through the gate to celebrate the grand opening and marvel at the new equipment — slides, tunnels, a steering wheel, a talking tube, hanging trapeze, and a rope climbing wall. Since then it has been in constant use by children from Potrero Middle School, St. Gregory's pre-schoolers, and the continuous parade of visiting school groups who, after a trip to the Brown Bear store, make Jackson Playground their next stop. "One year later, it's still standing, and it still looks great," reports Jude happily.

Jeanne Alexander, Neighborhood Parks Council