clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

150 things you didn’t know about Golden Gate Park for its 150th anniversary

A look at civil engineer William Hammond Hall’s urban masterpiece

Golden Gate Park turned 150 years old April 4, a major San Francisco moment worth honoring, even if you can’t actually visit it right now.

To illustrate how big this occasion is—a pandemic notwithstanding—I’ve plumbed the depths of the park’s past, present, and future to unearth 150 reasons to cherish this three-mile-long green space carved out of sand and shore dunes more than a century ago.

This year is a more somber anniversary; the city canceled most of the park’s celebrations, with denizens unable to truly enjoy what the park has to offer while most of us remain largely housebound.

Note: No matter how inspiring you might find the city’s biggest park, this is not the time to experience it in person. Until the day we’re free to explore Golden Gate Park again physically, let’s explore its legacy instead.

1. Civil engineer William Hammond Hall was 25 years old when the city handed him the enormous task of designing Golden Gate Park, designating him its first superintendent.

2. Before the park, the area was a sandy, windswept desert patch of land, seemingly inhospitable to almost all plant-life. Foliating the land was the first great challenge handed to Hall.

3. An 1853 map labeled this area the “Great Sand Bank,” but it had another name that should sound familiar to modern park-goers: the Outside Lands.

4. The city considered Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted for the job, but he thought it was impossible to create a working park in the desert environment.

5. Olmsted did put forth a proposal anyway, pitching a “green belt” that would stretch across the city. Ironically, SF rejected the idea in part because it was not enough like Central Park.

6. Even though most people regarded the Outside Lands as a barren desert, the city had a big legal fight taking ownership of the properties since people—mostly squatters—already lived there. It took an 1864 Supreme Court ruling and an 1866 act of Congress to help settle the dispute, which stretched into 1868.

7. Hall’s work began in 1870 with the first survey of the area. Note that the city is now observing the park’s 150th anniversary in 2020, meaning it dates the founding to that 1870 survey, although there was not really much of a park there to speak of at the time, meaning that in a weird way Golden Gate Park existed before it was created. Cosmic.

8. Hall’s big break came when he spilled barley from his horse’s feedbag into the sand one day, and hearty grass quickly sprouted. The barley was not only tough enough to endure in the windblown environment, it provided crucial shelter for other plants to set down roots and slowly transform the entire area. Not bad for a handful of spilled horse feed.

9. In true SF fashion, everyone had an opinion on the park layout, with some pushing Hall to level the hills and make all of Golden Gate Park a single flat expanse. But Hall favored a naturalistic approach that mostly preserved the area’s preexisting ups and downs.

10. By 1872, the park sported 22,000 live trees. By 1875, historians estimate that tree population grew to 60,000 in the once-barren site.

11. Nobody quite agrees on how many trees Golden Gate Park has these days—counting them all would be quite a task—but the high-end estimates are around 130,000.

12. City officials are planting 150 new trees to mark the park’s 150th birthday.

13. The most common tree varietals planted in the first years were Monterey cypress, Monterey pine, and eucalyptus—all three still omnipresent in Golden Gate Park today. The choices were largely practical, as Hall needed trees that could grow fast with shallow roots to tame the dunes.

14. The park measures 1,017 acres—panhandle included. When first opened, it measured 1,013 acres but additions bumped its acreage count up a bit over the years.

15. The estimated value of those first 1,013 acres was $801,593 in 1868—in modern currency, over $14.6 million.

16. Today the park includes 680 forested acres, 130 acres of meadows, 15 miles of roads, and 33 acres of lakes. Most of the rest of the natural space gets classified as “fields and open spaces.”

17. As with many projects in San Francisco, the park proposal was monstrously divisive at the time, with many critics balking at spending a fortune trying to spin straw into gold with visions of a forest growing in a desert. “A really fine park could be made upon” the Presidio instead, a real estate newspaper wrote in 1872—and it turned out there was something to that idea.

18. It was a point of pride that Golden Gate Park be larger than New York’s Central Park—which it is by more than 150 acres. But today there are more than 100 city parks in the U.S. that are larger than both.

19. Within a few years of its opening, there was talk of making the park even bigger. An 1899 issue of the San Francisco Call detailed a proposal to extend the panhandle all the way to the foot of Van Ness Avenue. A 1900 issue of the Merchant’s Association Review praised the vision for making sure “no part of San Francisco is far away” from Golden Gate Park. This was a potentially winning idea, but sadly nothing ever came of it.

20. Decades later, SF considered seriously infringing on the park instead with a planned freeway that would have run right through the entire panhandle. The Board of Supervisors ultimately nixed it in 1966, but the longstanding freeway plan was a big factor in driving down home prices in the Haight in the ’60s, which in turn made the neighborhood attractive to counterculture kids looking to live on the cheap during the Summer of Love.

John McLaren Memorial in Rhododendron Dell.
Photo by William Warby

21. Although Hall was the park’s great founder, he’s overshadowed by his successor, horticulturalist John McLaren, who became superintendent in 1890 (after three years in an interim role) and served in the post for 50 years, during which time he both lived and worked in Golden Gate Park. He rarely left its confines.

22. A loudly opinionated Scottish immigrant, McLaren favored a vision of parks as wholly natural spaces, ideally devoid of manmade structures. But even McLaren approved of one human building in Golden Gate Park: his own home, built there in 1896 and now enshrined as the McLaren Lodge.

23. You might think that Golden Gate Park’s curving, cursive road layout is an effort to build around the hills, but according to an oft-cited 19th century Almanac, Hall set it up that way “to discourage fast horse-and-buggy drivers.” (The hooligans.)

24. For the record, Hall didn’t actually want any roads to cut through the park at all, but city planners overruled him, which modern drivers will agree was a good call in the long run.

25. SF Recreation and Park estimates that the famed park sees 25 million visits (not visitors) yearly, three-quarters of them from the Bay Area, and two-thirds of those San Franciscans.

26. Before the opening of the San Francisco Zoo, Golden Gate Park used to exhibit exotic wildlife, including zebras, emus, beavers, and bison. The bison, of course, are still there.

27. According to the San Francisco Zoo, over 500 bison calves have been born in Golden Gate Park over the years.

28. The bison paddock added five new juvenile bison to its coterie this year. That brings the total population to ten, all of them female.

29. The first two bison arrived in 1891, one cow and one bull, transferred from Kansas and Wyoming respectively.

30. When the bull came first, the San Francisco Examiner named him “Ben Harrison,” after the U.S. president at the time. The cow that came later earned the name “Sarah Bernhardt,” presumably for the French actress.

31. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 1891, SF Parks Commissioners wanted to buy every remaining American bison in the country (!), but it turned out they could only afford one. The price of a bull in those days was $350, almost $10,000 today, the purchase made via a conservationist farmer laboring to restore the almost extinct bison population.

32. Once upon a time the park included an aviary with over 2,000 songbirds, but these too made the big trip to the zoo when the time came in 1930.

33. So closely associated are the zoo and the park that SF Zoo traces its own lineage back to a single captive Grizzly Bear, Monarch, who once held court in Golden Gate Park.

34. Among other elements of the special relationship between the park and the zoo, SF Zoo’s koalas feed exclusively on eucalyptus grown in Golden Gate Park.

35. Although the area where these birds lived is still called the Peacock Meadow, park peacocks no longer reside here.

Stow Lake.
Photo via Shutterstock

36. Rounding out the wildlife history, over the years we’ve seen a few fitful reports of an alligator in Stow Lake. This is a delightful urban myth, but such a creature likely couldn’t keep a low profile for so long.

37. On the subject of lake myths, one of SF’s most persistent ghost stories tells of an unfortunate mother who drowned herself trying to rescue her newborn from Stow Lake, cursing her to wander the lake shore forever in grief. The San Francisco Chronicle contends that a real tragedy inspired this story when some kids reported a drowned infant in the lake in 1906.

38. Stow Lake, completed in 1893, is the park’s largest lake.

39. The highest point in the park is Stow Lake’s Strawberry Hill, measuring some 430 feet to its peak.

40. It’s likely there are no actual strawberries on Strawberry Hill, as more aggressive plants have taken over its slopes. Although park management suggests that “vigilant examination” of the slopes may turn up a few holdouts of the namesake fruit-bearing plant.

41. After the 1906 earthquake, tens of thousands of displaced people lived in Golden Gate Park while the city rebuilt. Estimates vary, with some historians recording up to 40,000 refugees in the area, while SF Recreation and Park says it was approximately 100,000.

42. The temporary wooden structures that housed some of those park refugees came to be known as earthquake shacks, and some tenants towed them away later to build larger homes from them. Quake shacks—or their imitators—can draw big money on the SF housing market these days.

43. Out of 22 statues in the park, only two depict women: a circa-1914 allegorical statue of a pioneer woman with her two children, located by the Stow Lake Boathouse, and a monument to educator Sarah Cooper that includes this figure.

44. The Pioneer Statue is also the subject of another local ghost story, holding that it moves around after dark. This is, in part, a response to its odd design, which even the park’s official anniversary site describes as “creepy” and “bizarre.”

45. Despite its reputation nowadays, the Pioneer Statue was an undertaking at the time. Phoebe Apperson Hearst, mother of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, proposed the idea, and in the style of a true blue Hearst publicity stunt, she raised the money partly through donations of small change by children.

46. Only one of the park’s 22 statues resides in the panhandle section: a memorial to President William McKinley, dedicated three years after his 1901 assassination.

47. Observers will no doubt notice that the McKinley statue is not of McKinley. Instead its designer, Robert Aitken, crafted a goddess-like figure that he felt represented McKinley’s qualities as a national leader.

48. Due to its panhandle location—a small strip of park flanked on both sides by busy streets—the McKinley monument is one of the most frequently tagged pieces of public property in all of San Francisco, so much so that cleaning bills for it run up to $10,000 annually.

49. The oldest statue in the park, dating to 1884, is a memorial to President James Garfield, who died by assassination six and a half months after taking office.

50. The park’s statue of San Francisco namesake St. Francis of Assisi by sculptor Clara Huntington is leftover from a World’s Fair held on Treasure Island in the 1930s.

Robert Aitken’s statue honoring President William McKinley.
Photo by David Goehring

51. McLaren hated statues in parks, often arranging plantings to obscure views of them. Only after he died did later pruning and landscaping unveil a lot of monuments that the average San Franciscan never realized existed. Clever.

52. In a bit of cruel irony, there is a statue of McLaren in the park. Created in 1911, it didn’t go on display in the park until 1943, after McLaren died and could no longer object. This figure stands on the ground without any kind of pedestal, to better represent McLaren’s relationship with the natural landscape. Sorry, John.

53. Contrary to common interpretation, the prominent “man working press” statue in the Music Concourse is not making wine, but rather apple cider. During the 1894 World’s Fair, it operated as a fountain—possibly stocked with cider instead of water, although the historical record appears a bit bleary on that point.

54. The tallest monument in the park is one many people never see: a 64-foot cross circa 1894 called the Prayerbook Cross. Though large in size, the surrounding trees make it hard to see from most angles—possibly more McLaren handiwork.

55. The cross commemorates Sir Francis Drake saying the first Christian prayers in California—something that actually happened miles away in Pt. Reyes.

56. Perhaps the most obscure Golden Gate Park landmark is a tree: the Liberty Tree planted in 1894 on the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington. There’s a plaque marking the significance of the planting, but you almost have to trip over it to find it.

57. Another significant but overlooked arboreal monument: the George Washington Elm, planted in 1932 by the Sons of the American Revolution, supposedly the descendant of a tree from a significant Revolutionary War site on the East Coast. The plaque for this one is easier to find; note that park management says this current tree is a replanting from the 1950s.

58. On the subject of presidents, Golden Gate Park also features a redwood grove named after President Herbert Hoover, but there’s no marker indicating where it is. (It’s located just west of the 20th Avenue and Lincoln entrance.)

59. Keeping with the theme of trees as symbols of overflowing patriotism, the Colonial Trees Grove, dedicated in 1896, features a different tree for each of the original 13 states. This is also where you’ll find that supposedly haunted pioneer statue.

60. Golden Gate Park is also home to SF’s official holiday tree, a Monterey cypress that dates to 1880.

61. People often want to plant memorial trees in Golden Gate Park, but tree management is a strictly regimented process. SF Recreation and Parks prefers you sponsor memorial benches instead.

62. The first park windmill appeared in 1903. The second one arrived four years later. They were as practical as they were decorative, doing the job of pumping water—critical for keeping the park from reverting back into a desert.

63. The mills pumped water into Metson Lake, newly constructed at the time.

64. Those windmills became obsolete after a few years when in 1913 the park switched to a motor pump system. The disused mills became so neglected over the next century that a renovation campaign that started in the mid-1960s didn’t finish until 2009.

65. These days the windmills still operate a few hours a week, and still require manual operation via a giant metal bar and a lot of pulling to set them into motion—the wind takes over once the blades get moving.

66. Overlooked next to the Murphy Windmill (the newer, southern-lying of the two—the other is dubbed the Dutch Windmill) is the Millwright’s Cottage, built in 1903 as the home of the designated windmill caretaker. Lest you imagine that this was a humble calling, the “cottage” measures two stories tall and over 2,500 square feet.

Dutch-style windmills, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California
One of the park’s remaining Dutch windmills.
Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

67. The San Francisco Model Yacht Club in Golden Gate Park dates to 1898 and is believed to be the oldest such organization in the United States.

68. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) built the model yachter’s clubhouse in 1937 out of salvaged materials from the 1906 earthquake.

69. According to the yacht club, Spreckels Lake (another artificial body, created as a reservoir) was “specifically designed for model yachting.” Originally the club set their tiny vessels into the waters of Stow Lake, but yachters found its waters disagreeable.

70. Established in 1901, the park’s lawn bowling club is also the oldest in the U.S.

71. The park’s flyfishing club—established 1894, and based in Golden Gate Park since 1933—originally operated on Stow Lake, but these days they have three fishing pools all their own. Anyone can show up, borrow a rod, and learn to cast. The club even has a fishing library open to the public.

72. For more obscure Golden Gate Park past times, nothing beats the petanque courts. Petanque is a French game similar to bocce ball, in which players throw hollow metal balls, with the goal of getting as close as possible to a smaller, lead wooden ball. SF’s petanque club is reportedly the second oldest in America.

73. Koret Playground (originally the “Sharon Quarters for Children”) was one of the first public playgrounds in the United States.

74. Children’s Playground once housed goats, chickens, a tiny little barn, and even a miniature town (dubbed “Rabbitville”) for rabbits to play in.

75. The park carousel contains 62 animal figures, including a tiger, giraffe, dragon, camel, and ostrich. Installed in 1941 (though built nearly 30 years earlier), it was the park’s third carousel since 1888. This is another leftover from the Treasure Island World’s Fair in 1939.

76. Like many park landmarks, the Japanese Tea Garden started out as a temporary installation for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition (Golden Gate Park’s own “world’s fair”).

77. The tea garden’s roots stretch back to a “Japanese village” exhibition during the fair, which was the brainchild of Australian businessman George Turner Marsh. He had previously lived in Japan and opened Japanese import shops in SF, making something of a trend out of “all things Japanese.”

78. Turner sold his village to the city after the World’s Fair. The city then hired landscape designer Makoto Hagiwara to turn Turner’s village into an authentic garden and tea house. Hagiwara went so far as to import fish and birds from Japan to populate the site. Hagiwara’s original tea house sat on a single acre, but these days it has grown to five times that size.

79. While Hagiwara’s heirs sat in an internment camp in Utah during World War II, the city rechristened his garden the “Oriental Tea Garden” to escape the ire of jingoistic wartime boosters. The real name wasn’t restored until 1952.

80. The 9,000-pound bronze lantern sculpture in the tea garden was a gift from the Japanese government, one of many postwar diplomatic gestures.

The Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park.
Photo via Shutterstock

81. Today you can find a garden dedicated to the Hagiwaras, populated by dwarf trees the family planted, which the city removed in the 1940s for being too Japanese looking. The city later returned them in the 1960s. Ruth Asawa designed a plaque on the site commemorating the family’s work in 1974.

82. The entire layout of the park’s centerpiece, the Music Concourse, also has its roots in the World’s Fair. It was supposed to be temporary, but public approval convinced the city to preserve things like the main road and some of the buildings.

83. One major feature of the World’s Fair that did not last was the centerpiece tower, mounted with a huge electric light to advertise the technological wonders of the exhibition. McLaren blew it up with dynamite after the fair ended.

84. The music stand—or Spreckels Temple of Music, if you’re feeling ambitious—was surprisingly not part of the exhibition, as it didn’t come along until 1900, a gift from German-born Hawaiian industrialist Claus Spreckels.

85. Concrete posts and a huge anchor chain originally marked off the area of the concourse, but the chain ended up being donated to the U.S. Navy during World War II, leaving the posts orphaned but still visible for decades after.

86. De Young Museum namesake M. H. de Young promoted the World’s Fair plan after seeing a similar exposition in Chicago in 1893. De Young raised the first $5,000—over $143,000 today—himself.

87. Creating the infrastructure for the World’s Fair cost a total of $344,319—almost $9.9 million in modern currency.

88. It only took about five months to erect 180 buildings for the World’s Fair, partly due to the temporary nature of much of the construction and partly because de Young recycled a lot of materials from the Chicago World’s Fair. McLaren, of course, hated all of this construction in his park, but the financial enticement of such a huge event in SF overruled his objections.

89. The de Young Museum opened in 1921, replacing a temporary fine art museum building. The current building, which opened in 2005, was constructed after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake badly damaged the first one, which was demolished.

90. The only part of the old museum building remaining: the sphinxes out front, along with the nearby vases.

91. Those sphinxes were part of the “Egyptian building” at the world’s fair. That building closed with the exhibition, but the figures have stayed in place for nearly 130 years now.

92. Speaking of the de Young, a lot of park-goers don’t realize that the 144-foot observation tower is free to the public—stop by any time (other than now).

Deyoung Tower
The De Young Museum.
Photo by Getty Images

93. Part of the appeal of the controversial Herzog & de Meuron design for the current de Young building is supposed to be that the copper facade “will assume a rich patina over time that will blend gracefully with the surrounding natural environment.” Well, it’s been 15 years, and there’s no sign of it yet.

94. That facade uses 950,000 pounds of copper, shaped into 7,200 individual panels.

95. The 1989 earthquake so badly damaged the California Academy of Sciences that the whole thing ended up being rebuilt. Construction didn’t begin until 2005, and the new facility, designed by Renzo Piano, opened in 2008. The original building dated to 1916, although the academy as an institution predates the park.

96. Looking at the living roof of the modern academy building, note that the looming domed hills on the left and right are not decorative topography—those accommodate the huge, circular chambers that house the museum’s planetarium and indoor rainforest.

97. The Conservatory of Flowers, which opened in 1879, was the first “formal structure” in Golden Gate Park.

98. The conservatory’s Victorian design deferred to London’s Kew Gardens as inspiration.

99. A storm with 100 mile-per-hour winds shattered 40 percent of the conservatory’s glass in 1995. It took until 2003 to restore the building.

100. If you’ve ever wondered why there’s a dahlia garden in Golden Gate Park, that’s because dahlias are San Francisco’s official flower, by an unanimous Board of Supervisors vote in 1926.

101. If Golden Gate Park had an official flower it would likely be rhododendrons, McLaren’s favorite. Hence the park’s Rhododendron Dell, with over 850 rhododendron varieties.

102. Among the park’s bygone installations: A pair of enterprising brothers opened a Casino near the conservatory in 1882. It turned into a rowdy roadhouse that annoyed Victorian San Francisco’s sensibilities so much that after it closed in 1890.

103. An observatory once stood tall near Stow Lake, but after the 1906 quake it was damaged and never rebuilt. Only a very small clue still exists to mark where once it stood.

104. The original Kezar Stadium, dedicated in 1925, was much larger and more ambitious than the current venue, seating up to 50,000 people. The modern stadium is a rebuild after the city demolished the original in 1989. The new one is only one-fifth of its original size.

105. The park has 10 lakes in all: Stow Lake, Spreckels Lake, Mallard Lake, Metson Lake, Lloyd Lake, Elk Glen Lake, Alvord Lake, and the three lakes that make up the Chain of Lakes.

106. Park management singles out Elk Glen Lake as one of the least visited water bodies in the park.

107. Mallard Lake is the only natural lake in the park.

108. The city created the Chain of Lakes out of existing natural marshland.

109. The looming columns on the the shores of Lloyd Lake are all that remain of the Nob Hill mansion of 19th century railroad tycoon Alban Towne. The 1906 earthquake destroyed everything but this entryway, which was hauled to Golden Gate Park to serve as a memorial.

110. Lloyd Lake was previously known as Mirror Lake. The newer name commemorates Park Commissioner Reuben Hedley Lloyd.

111. The city doesn’t count Lily Pond (a former quarry near the AIDS memorial), as one of the park’s designated lakes, even though it’s actually bigger than a few of them. There’s no difference between a lake and a pond except nomenclature, so this seems to be a semantic distinction.

112. In the last decade, Lily Pond suffered an invasion by the African clawed frog, a voracious amphibian that overran the entire place and ate pretty much anything in sight. Driving them out took years, and eventually the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department resorted to poisoning the pond with chlorine until the troublesome amphibians died off.

Golden Gate - Not Just a Park Photo by John S Lander/LightRocket via Getty Images

113. There are two waterfalls in the park, Huntington Falls near Stow Lake, and Rainbow Falls, near John F. Kennedy Drive and Crossover Drive. Both are manmade (like nearly everything else in the park) and can be turned off for cleaning.

114. McLaren decided to create waterfalls for his park after hiking in the Sierras with John Muir.

115. The Rainbow Falls are named for the colored lights originally installed at its 1930 dedication, which sadly are no longer there.

116. The dark underbelly of Alvord Lake Bridge is decorated with artificial stalactites, although many have worn away over the years.

117. Alvord Bridge was the first reinforced concrete bridge built in America.

118. Created by an act of Congress in 1996, the AIDS Memorial Grove was the first of its kind in the country. This area was known as the de Laveaga Dell, a name that’s still used from time to time.

119. Though the park is public, the memorial relies mostly on volunteers and private donations for upkeep. It was founded by volunteers in 1991, five years before its designation by the federal government. Those who want to pitch in these days can volunteer for monthly clean-ups (currently suspended in light of shelter-in-place orders).

120. The memorial’s Circle of Friends includes the names of 2,518 people “touched by AIDS”—some of them patients, some friends and family, and some donors to the memorial itself. New names are added every December on World AIDS Day.

121. Is treasure buried in Golden Gate Park? In 1982, writer Byron Preiss buried a dozen ceramic vases encased in plexiglas in parks across North America. Each one contains a key that could be redeemed for one of twelve jewels (estimated to be worth $1,000) Preiss kept in a safe deposit box in New York. Treasure hunters believe there’s still one in Golden Gate Park, but thus far nobody has puzzled out where. This is the kind of thing people had to do to pass time before the internet.

122. Golden Gate Park is, arguably, the birthplace of tweeting. In 2000, shortly after Jack Dorsey wrote some code that let him have an e-mail reposted to as many people as he wanted, he walked through the park and entered the e-mail addresses of several friends into the software, telling them, “I’m at the Bison Paddock watching the bison.” This project eventually developed into Twitter.

123. The tiny, hobbit house-like “fairy door” in this fallen log is the work of SF artist Tony Powell and his son, who respond to the fan mail that locals leave for the fairies on their site.

124. That fairy door isn’t the first. In 2013, SF Recreation and Parks removed a similar installation on a living tree, for fear that it would harm the trunk. The fairies dutifully moved elsewhere.

125. Hallucinogenic mushrooms grow naturally in Golden Gate Park. Note that eating wild fungi is dangerous and can kill you. Don’t get any ideas.

126. Bordered by the Haight on one side, the park was a natural hangout for hippies and street kids during the Summer of Love, starting with the “Human Be-In,” a mass gathering on the polo field in January of 1967. To the amazement of many, up to 30,000 people attended, and left almost no mess behind.

127. People have many theories about why Hippie Hill became the focal point of SF counterculture in the 1960s—it might even be as simple as the fact that it’s easily accessible from Haight Street—but nothing cemented its legend more firmly than the day in 1967 when Beatles guitarist George Harrison borrowed a local strummer’s guitar and played an impromptu one-man concert on the hillside.

Timothy Leary addresses a crowd of hippies at the “Human Be-In” that he helped organize in Golden Gate Parkin 1967.
Photo by AP Photo/Bob Klein

128. No landmark commemorates Harrison’s performance, but Janis Joplin’s Hippie Hill strumming was so instrumental to the forging of the Summer of Love legend that the Janis Joplin Tree, where she supposedly sat as she sang, is one of the most recognizable spots in the park despite having no official designation.

129. The park’s prehistoric-seeming Australian fern dell dates to the 1880s, when McLaren imported the first of the huge fern specimens. In the 1960s it earned its more common nickname, Mescaline Grove, apparently a reference to the surreal qualities of the landscape.

130. The park’s Shakespeare Garden (circa 1928) features quotations by the celebrated playwright and a bust of the scribe. But the real attraction is that it’s planted with flowers featured prominently in Shakespeare verses.

131. Among the plants and plays featured in the garden: poppies (Othello, act three, scene three), violets (Love’s Labors Lost, act five, scene two), and lilies (Henry VIII, act three, scene one, and this is probably the only time anyone has ever had need to quote Henry VIII).

132. The Shakespeare bust featured in the garden is an artifact, a rare copy of the one that rests in the Church of the Holy Trinity at Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare himself is buried. This is why it’s only rarely on display, usually locked in its cupboard, as park management frets that it’s too valuable to leave unattended.

133. A brief and short look at what some of the park’s points of interest are named after: Stow Lake bears the moniker of California assembly speaker (and raging anti-Semite) William W. Stow, who financed much of its construction.

134. Spreckels Lake is named for sugar magnate and park commissioner Adolph B. Spreckels—not to be confused with Spreckels Temple of Music namesake Claus Spreckels.

135. The de Young Museum bears the name of newspaper magnate and World’s Fair architect MH de Young, whose zeal for publicity and desire for a legacy as a great benefactor pushed him to preserve much of the construction from that affair.

136. Previously, Sharon Meadow was named for William Sharon, banker and U.S. senator who was a noted benefactor of the park. The nearby Sharon Building still carries his name.

137. Sharon lost his name claim to the meadow in 2017 in favor of late comedian and Oscar-winner Robin Williams. The renaming commemorates Williams’ decades-long support of the SF Comedy Festival, staged in the meadow annually.

138. Kezar Stadium is named for Mary Kezar, an SF philanthropist who left $100,000 to the stadium project in her will in 1922, roughly one-third of its total cost. The terms were that the city build a memorial of unspecified type in the park in honor of Kezar and her family, and she ended up with a stadium.

139. Marx Meadow is named not for the Communist economist but for Napa resident Johanna Marx, who also died in 1922 and willed money to the park, $5,000 in her case.

140. The FC Egan Stables are named after Fred Egan, a longtime horse trainer for SFPD.

141. Everyone recognizes the namesake of Martin Luther King Drive, but prior to the 20th century name change, this roadway was simply “South Drive.”

142. John F Kennedy Drive was once known as Main Drive.

143. And Nancy Pelosi Drive was formerly known as Middle Drive.

Eduardo Vernier wears a mask while sitting under the Francis Scott Key monument at Golden Gate Park. A new 150-foot ferris wheel sits behind him.
Photo by AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

144. Hellman Hollow is named after Hardly Strictly Bluegrass founder Warren Hellman.

145. Park Commission President William Alvord funded much of the creation of Alvord Lake, hence that name.

146. Metson Lake is named after commissioner William H. Metson.

147. The Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden commemorates the longest-reigning Dutch monarch of all time, Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria.

148. Railroad baron Collis P. Huntington donated $25,000 to McLaren’s waterfall project and got commemorated with Huntington Falls.

149. Half the day on Saturdays and all Sundays, JFK Drive is closed to cars from Stanyan to Park Presidio, much to the delight of bikers, pedestrians, and skaters.

150. Among the city’s plans for the park’s big birthday this year was a 150-foot ferris wheel, in the spirit of the old world’s fair, which featured a smaller wheel of its own. Sadly that’s no longer in the cards, but perhaps the big wheel will keep on turning at some point in the future.


83 facts about the Golden Gate Bridge for its 83rd birthday

San Francisco Parks

Mimicking Brooklyn, four SF parks adopt social distancing circles

San Francisco Parks

A brief history of South Park, SF’s oldest—and most underrated—public park

View all stories in San Francisco Parks