Sunnyside Conservatory: A Brief History

The Sunnyside Conservatory was constructed in 1900 by a British-born inventor, William Augustus Merralls.  Merralls had taken residence in a Victorian house, which he had purchased from Charles H. Taylor, and spent the next two years installing concrete walkways, planting flowers and trees, landscaping the property, and adding an observatory tower to the top of the house.  Merralls died in 1914, and the Conservatory has seen multiple owners since.  It has been owned by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (RPD) since 1980.

The Sunnyside Conservatory was designated as an official City Landmark (#78) in 1975, and was 30% demolished in 1978 after a demolition permit had been erroneously issued by the City (it was later revoked).  For much of the next two decades, the building and its surrounding environs had fallen into decay, the victim of neglect, graffiti and littering, while receiving only minor repairs.

By 2001, a plan had been born to restore the historic property, with work commencing in 2007.  Thanks to the effort spearheaded by the Friends of Sunnyside Conservatory, the building has now been renovated from the ground up, featuring a new roof with skylights, new wood doors, modern wiring and insulation, and a freshly-planted garden of Chilean wine palm and Norfolk pine, along with new flowers and plants. 

Small bronze sculptures, 23 in total, depicting both real and imaginary creatures, have been hidden within the garden.  “You can dream, but I really didn’t imagine it would be this wonderful,” FOSC co-chair Arnold Levine told the San Francisco Chronicle on the morning of the park’s reopening.  Stacy Garfinkel, another group co-chair, told the paper that the project was more than simply preserving a historic building; it also meant building community, working with neighbors to attain funding, working through both the design process and city bureaucracy.

The Conservatory is open from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. It is located at 236 Monterey Boulevard, between City College of San Francisco and the Glen Park transit station.

For more information on the reconstruction project, visit the Friends of Sunnyside Conservatory’s “Project History” page at http://www.sunnysideconservatory.org/history.html