Indeed, there are many tiny parklets and twee patches of grass scattered around San Francisco. All of them wonderful and adorable to behold. But the city’s smallest public park, Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park, consists only of a plaque and six enormous eucalyptus trees that tower above Octavia in the Fillmore.
Mary Ellen Pleasant was born a slave sometime between 1814 and 1817. Pleasant came to San Francisco in 1852 to escape the Fugitive Slave Law as she was part of the Underground Railway. She later became one of the first black female American millionaires.
New Fillmore has details on her life in San Francisco:
In 1852, Pleasant came to San Francisco, fleeing prosecution under the Fugitive Slave Act for her work leading people from slavery to freedom. She continued that work in California, sheltering people who escaped slavery and finding employment for them. She met at least once with abolitionist John Brown and gave him money to help with the cause. In accordance with her wishes, her tombstone, in Napa, states: "She was a Friend of John Brown."
Pleasant arrived in San Francisco with a considerable sum of money left to her by her first husband. She invested it wisely: Her businesses here included laundries, dairies and exclusive restaurants — all of which were quite lucrative in a city filled with miners and single businessmen. In the 1890 census she listed her occupation as "capitalist."
After opening her own restaurant and meeting Thomas Bell, the "great love of her life" and business partner, her worth was estimated upward of 30 million. She later moved into the Bell Mansion.
New Fillmore has more:
Her 30-room Octavia Street Italianate mansion, which she designed, built and furnished, became known as the Thomas Bell mansion. When she moved in, Bell did too, along with a Caucasian wife Pleasant more or less found for him. Because of this living arrangement, and because of rumors about events and underground passages at the house, it also became known as the "House of Mystery."
In 1974, the city of San Francisco designated the six eucalyptus outside the mansion, which she had planted shortly before her death in 1904, as a Structure of Merit. At just a half block long on half the sidewalk, It is now considered to be the city’s smallest park.
Jack Early Park, over in North Beach, is widely considered to be the city’s tiniest, albeit unauthorized, park.
Here are some shots of the Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park:
- Don't Call Her Mammy: Mary Ellen Pleasant [The New Fillmore]
- Mary Ellen Pleasant, California’s Mother of Civil Rights, and her partner meet again on the corner of Bush and Octavia, where it all began [SF Bayview]