How new is the popularity of Dolores Parks

San Francisco
Mission Dolores Park

It stands all in gold on the corner of 20th / Church Street - anything but inconspicuous, actually - and yet the golden hydrant of San Francisco is often overlooked: the “Mission Dolores Park” opposite steals the show from the landmark. From there, the panoramic view over the roofs of the city to the Bay of San Francisco is too beautiful.

By Julia Deshkin

Some claim that the sun shines more often over Dolores Park than in other parts of the city. Whether just felt or true, the fact is that the park has enjoyed increasing popularity since its reopening after major renovations in 2012. In times of travel blogs and trip advisors, insider tips are actually no longer secret in metropolises like San Francisco. But somehow, as a visitor, you still have the impression of having escaped the crowd of tourists at Fisherman's Wharf. It's four arduous miles up the hill from there to the green oasis in the heart of the Mission District. Most of them still make it to the “Painted Ladies” who are about halfway, take their pictures there and then turn around. It is worth doing the rest of the way to Dolores Park - and not just for the view. Here you also get an impression of the life of the people in this historic district.
 

A game of tennis? In Mission Dolores Park you can let off steam on six courts. | © Julia Deshkin


Citizens meet here to play tennis on one of the six courts, to throw a few baskets with friends or to play football on the soccer field. Families organize children's birthdays on the large adventure playground or spread out picnic blankets. Even dogs are expressly welcome. Those who prefer to take it easy can retreat to a shady corner under the mighty palm trees to read a book or work outdoors.
 

Citizens meet here to play tennis on one of the six courts, to throw a few baskets with friends or to play football on the soccer field.

It is probably precisely this versatility that sets Dolores Park apart and attracts all age groups. You are right in the middle of the action and - even as a tourist - you immediately feel part of it.

Today nobody suspects that the park served a completely different purpose more than 100 years ago. In the middle of the 18th century, urban planners never dreamed of “wasting” valuable building land on parks. What is now Dolores Park used to be a Jewish cemetery. As land within the city became more and more expensive, the city leaders decided to move the cemeteries outside the city.

In 1894 the cemetery was officially closed, and the question arose, “What will happen to the land?” Selling it for real estate construction was obvious, but the Mission Park Association had other plans. Three years after the cemetery was closed, the association started a campaign: The 6.5 hectare area was to be converted into a park with an "international character". But the proposal met with headwinds from the authorities. The mayor considered the project unnecessary and too high a burden for taxpayers. The city recently built Golden Gate Park for recreational purposes. That was the last word - for now. In 1903 the association started a second attempt.
 
Children's birthdays and picnics are part of the park image. | © Julia Deshkin
With the support of around 1,000 property owners, bonds were issued to help the city financially with the purchase. With the support of the Mission Park Association, those responsible finally agreed.

From the owner of the cemetery, the Jewish community "Congregation Sherith Israel", the administration made the promise that the area "will always remain a place of beauty".

However, the start of construction on the park was not a good star. It fell exactly at the time of the strongest earthquake in the city's history. On April 18, 1906, "The Big One" shook the city with a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale. Thousands of people were made homeless overnight on that April morning - around 3,000 lost their lives. Out of necessity, a camp for 1,600 families was built on the park area. It was not until two years later that the area was cleared and the original plans resumed.
 
The Helen Diller Playground in the heart of the park only opened five years ago and is very popular with younger visitors. | © Julia Deshkin

Today you can say with a clear conscience that the city has kept the promise it made to the Jewish community: The "Mission Dolores Park" is one of the most beautiful in San Francisco. This is not least thanks to the non-profit organization “Dolores Park Works”. The members ensure that the facility remains attractive, safe and, above all, clean. For almost eight years the association has been organizing work assignments with volunteers, organizing campaigns and collecting donations.
 

Today you can say with a clear conscience that the city has kept the promise it made to the Jewish community: The "Mission Dolores Park" is one of the most beautiful in San Francisco.

 
The silent hero of the Mission District: the golden hydrant. | © Julia Deshkin
But there is another, silent hero to whom the park, actually the whole district, owes its existence today: the golden hydrant. A brass plaque right next to the water dispenser is reminiscent of "The Big One". When several fires broke out in the city after the earthquake and the water supply almost completely collapsed, the hydrant at the highest point in the park was the only one still intact far and wide. “Without him,” people in San Francisco still tell themselves today, “the neighborhood would have fallen victim to the flames.” That is why the hydrant is given a new layer of gold on every anniversary in April - applied by the fire chief himself.