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St. Mary’s Square expanding to Chinatown rooftop

Park extension completes decades-long high-rise deal

A man sitting in St Mary’s square on a clear blue day. Photo by Broken Sphere

San Francisco’s most walkable neighborhood is about to get an extra destination, as the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department announced Monday that Chinatown’s St. Mary’s Square will soon expand, climbing up to the rooftop of a newly minted building on its border.

According to a Recreation and Parks press release:

Park space in Chinatown is now scheduled to open early in October, 2017. The 6,000 square-foot Rooftop Park, which is connected to St. Mary’s Square, contains planted areas, seating and an open plaza.

It was built as a condition of approval from San Francisco Planning Department for the development of 500 Pine Street and 350 Bush Street. Accessible to the public through St. Mary’s Square, the new plaza is located at Quincy Street between California and Pine Streets.

The expansion, which extends up onto the roof of nearby 500 Pine, is in recompense for the fact that the new building casts a shadow over St. Mary’s Square.

Indeed, shadows are a big part of the history of the 500 Pine and 350 Bush locales, which sat vacant on the edges of densely populated Chinatown for decades on account of fears that they’d throw shade.

Late developer Walter Shorenstein planned two high-rises on the Chinatown lots after demolishing the former properties there.

But before he could break ground, voters passed Prop K in 1984, regulating new high-rises that would cast shadows on public land. (As former Supervisor Bill Maher told San Francisco Magazine in 2014, by way of explanation for the shadowy regulation, “People like the sun.”)

Shorenstein couldn’t get City Hall to grant him a waiver, so he simply left the plots empty. It took 30 years for new buildings on the lots to finally break ground.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin commented to Recreation and Parks that he’d been advocating for the park expansion “since my first term in office”—all the way back in 2001. Peskin also noted that despite bristling with residents, Chinatown enjoys relatively little open public space.