Randall Museum/Corona Heights History

Established: 1937
Location: 199 Museum Way
Bus: #37 Corbett, Roosevelt & Museum Way stop
Contact: General administration, (415) 554-9600;
Amy Dawson, Randall Museum Director, (415) 554-9606;
Alexandra Kutik, Randall Museum Friends, (415) 554-9681

 Corona Heights
 Photo: San Francisco History Center,
San Francisco Public Library.

It was Josephine Randall’s dream to create "a spot in the heart of the city where young people could spend a day in the country." And in the High Sierra in 1935, naturalist and guide Bert Walker at the city’s Camp Mather, had a similar dream. His young charges were absorbed in projects at the nature museum he had created and he wanted a year- round facility where children could experiment and learn. When Superintendent of Recreation Randall visited Camp Mather, she and Walker devised the plan that became the hands-on museum for children and their families which is today’s Randall Museum.

After the camp season closed, Walker joined the Recreation Department as a gardener –there was no curator position then. He organized the collections and exhibits for the first "Junior Recreation Museum" which opened in 1937 in the abandoned San Francisco County jail, located on what is today the campus of City College. Later the museum moved into the quarters of the defunct State Relief Organization on Ocean Avenue where it remained until 1951, when the museum on Corona Heights was built. And after a curator position was created, Walker took the test competing with everyone else. Fortunately he won.
Source: Neil Fahy, California Academy of Sciences; San Francisco History Center; Randall Museum Friends.

She was appointed in 1926 as the first Superintendent of Recreation, and although age forced her retirement in 1951, Josephine Randall’s legacy on parks and programs continues today. During her 25-year tenure, she increased the department’s recreation facilities from 22 playgrounds to over 100 recreational facilities and broadened their programs of activities. She formulated and campaigned relentlessly for passage of the $12,000,000 Recreation Bond in 1947, literally a groundbreaking measure that authorized some 50 projects city-wide. One was the 16-acre hillside museum site on Corona Heights. Construction began in 1949 and in 1951, Mayor Elmer E. Robinson dedicated the Josephine D. Randall Junior Museum, named to honor the vision, hard work and accomplishments of the city’s Superintendent of Recreation.

Speaking to all ages of the community it serves, the mission of the Randall is to offer youth and adults opportunities for active involvement and recreation in an integrated program of arts and sciences which focuses on the culture and environment of the San Francisco Bay Area. The mission of its private, non-profit Randall Museum Friends is to raise additional funds to support the museum’s operations, programs, and capital projects. It’s a public/private partnership.

Operated and funded by the Recreation and Park Department, the Randall Museum is staffed by City employees. Funding covers salaries for the staff of 13, building overhead, supplies and materials. The Museum offers a variety of art and science classes primarily for children, teens and families; weekend hands-on workshops for children and families; and special Family Festivals celebrating holidays or exploring such subjects as bugs, water, and reptiles. Classes from over 100 Bay Area Schools make annual field trips to the museum for science workshops. The Randall Theater, completely and handsomely renovated in 1994, presents a variety of programs ranging from a natural history series and classic films program for teens to performances by the Storytelling Arts Troupe and the Young People’s Teen Musical Theater. Community groups use the Randall’s facilities for meetings, lectures and performances, all open to the public. The Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. There is no admission fee and activities are either free or low cost.

"The Randall runs on the public/private partnership," says Museum Director Amy Dawson. The support of our "Friends" group is vital for many current programs and exhibits, new ones, and our ongoing capital improvements."

Celebrating the completion of major capital improvements at the Museum, the Spring Festival, on April 26th, dedicated the new $2.3 million Outdoor Learning Environment, a triumph of architecture, landscaping, and public/private financing. The latter was made possible by combining funds from the Proposition A Bond, passed in 2000, Prop C (the Open Space Fund) and private funds secured by Randall Museum Friends. Honorable Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr. launched the celebration in which he was joined by Elizabeth Goldstein, general manager of the Recreation and Park Department, Amy Dawson, Amy Crichton, president of Randall Museum Friends, commissioner Jim Lazarus, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, representatives from the Neighborhood Park Council, parents and children. After the dedication ceremony, visitors enjoyed refreshments as they roamed across the Great Lawn, marveled at panoramic views from the new Observation Deck, inspected the new Art Patio, the new Learning Gardens and the Native Plant Garden. Musicians, magicians, storytellers and drumming circles provided ongoing entertainment. Admission was free.

The new Outdoor Learning Environment is dedicated to the Children of San Francisco, which would, it was said by all, have brought a delighted smile to the face of the woman who started out 66 years ago to make it happen.

- Jeanne Alexander, Neighborhood Parks Council