South Park History

Established: 1852
Location: 2nd/3rd Streets/Bryant/Brannan
Bus: #15
Contact: Louise Bird, (415) 957-0199

South Park In 1852, a prolific and eccentric Englishman, George Gordon, began buying up lots between Bryant and Brannan and Second and Third Streets, an area described as "the only level spot free from sand in the city's limits." The pamphlet that Gordon, a sugar and iron magnate, published in 1854, described his plans. The Prospectus of South Park proposed to "lay out ornamental grounds and building lots on the plan of the London Squares, Ovals or Crescents, or of St. John's Park or Union Square in New York City, and equally elegant."

Construction of the two-story homes began swiftly, accompanied by the development of the oval garden in the center of South Park. It rapidly became an elite address in its early years, until the infamous "Second Street Cut" in 1869 connected Second Street to the waterfront and made the area accessible to the working poor. With the influx of new neighbors, the park gradually lost its popularity and cachet with the city's wealthy residents.

In 1897, the city acquired the site and established it as a public park. In its first 45 years, South Park had been locked, and only those local residents who held keys had entrance. By 1906, the locks had come off and it was a working class community, with run-down but comfortable homes surrounding the well-used park. The earthquake and fire in that historic year virtually destroyed the neighborhood.

Today South Park is a revitalized and highly desirable urban neighborhood with giant dot- com companies moving in next door to its architects, designers, shops and restaurants. A $50,000 grant from the Park Renaissance Campaign has financed the Friends of South Park's long sought and much needed improvement plan which included new lighting fixtures around the pathway, a new water fountain, and replacement of picnic tables, benches and trash receptacles –all highly important for the 500 people who flock into the park from surrounding businesses to eat lunch, every day. On Earth Day a volunteer corps from Rec and Park's School Stewardship and Volunteer Department came in and installed two hummingbird gardens, created a new native plant garden, and refurbished the existing one.

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

Upgrading the Park's two run-down playgrounds generates controversy. "They flunked Rec and Park's guidelines," says Friends' Louise Bird, explaining that the equipment is antiquated and rusting and that the playground lacked disability access and a fence. She adds that in the park's small residential community there are not many children, and the surrounding businesses have little interest the playgrounds, now used principally by a nearby day care center. And, she notes smilingly, "sometimes in the evening, by men in coats and ties, who jump into a swing on their way to dinner on the circle." Friends have secured funding for a standard chain link fence, and they plan to raise money for the additional cost of making it a black, wrought iron one that would harmonize with the new fixtures and furniture. "Funding and philanthropy" are the answer to the playground problem, Bird believes, and an overall plan is just a drawing board away.

Jeanne Alexander, Neighborhood Parks Council