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Hidden Histories: University Mound Nursery

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Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed Contributor Alex Bevk highlights a San Francisco location with a secret past. Maybe it’s no longer there, maybe it’s been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in SF history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.

University Mound Nursery at Hamilton & Wayland Streets in Portola [Photo: Google Maps street view]

This week’s Hidden History comes from a reader tip:

We used to live in the Portola, and there's a place there that the locals call The Rose Factory. I think it's an old city or commercial greenhouse that seems abandoned, with roses and trees and all sorts of stuff growing wild in there. It's an entire city block, and there's a tall board fence around the north, west and south sides, or there was last time I was over there... greenhouse fronts on the east side. Got any info on what it was, and when, and what's going on there now?

[Historic photo of University Mound Nursery [Images of America: San Francisco's Portola, copyright 2007, Rayna Garibaldi and Arcadia Publishing]

Turns out the greenhouse in question was part of the University Mound Nursery, which has been owned by the Garibaldi family since the 1920s. During that time, the Portola district housed as many as 19 different family-owned nurseries, once tended by Jewish and Italian immigrants who settled in the Portola after the 1906 earthquake and grew most of the flowers in the city. Each nursery grew its own specialty flower, and the Garibaldis specialized in roses. By the 1950s, despite the fact that most of the surrounding blocks had been subdivided for houses, the University Mound Nursery buildings occupied the entire block bounded by Hamilton, Woolsey, Bowdoin, and Wayland Streets, along with multiple blocks growing fields of stock flowers.

Sanborn Insurance map showing residential development surrounding University Mound Nursery, 1953 [Photo: ProQuest Digital Sanborn Maps, 1867-1970]

The greenhouse buildings were whitewashed every year to protect the plants inside from sun damage, hence the remains of whitewashed wood frames. Today it is the last standing nursery from a group of about 19 in the Portola district. Even though the roses are no longer cultivated, they continue to grow throughout the buildings.

So what’s in store for the abandoned nursery buildings? Though the family holds the deed to the property, it has fallen into disuse and decay, and in the last decade, the Recreation and Parks Department has considered purchasing the lot. According to SF Streetsblog, the area covers a now-buried Yosemite Creek, and if the City were to purchase the nursery there’s a design to convert the land into a park featuring native plants and bioswale (along with some educational signage about the nursery and its history in the neighborhood).

Design plan for a Yosemite Creek park on University Mound Nursery Site [Photo: SF Streetsblog]

For some amazing family photos of the nursery and the Garibaldi family, check out the book “San Francisco’s Portola” by Rayna Garibaldi (it can also be viewed in Google Books).
· San Francisco's Portola [Google Books]
· The Lure of the Creeks Buried Beneath San Francisco’s Streets [SF Streetsblog]