Southside’s Public Spaces

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Most Dogpatch and Potrero Hill green spaces don’t offer the facilities frequently found in parks elsewhere, such as restrooms, barbeque pits, or picnic tables.  Instead, expansive views, muffled freeway noise, and a certain eccentricity mark these public areas.  That may be because almost all of the Hill’s community places were manifested by volunteers, who pulled together what was available to them, creating a compelling array of half-hidden mini-havens.

Jackson Park – nestled between the 280 and 101 highways and encompassing the square made by Mariposa, 17th, Arkansas and Carolina streets – is one of the Hill’s larger public spaces, offering a two-tiered sand-floor playground, baseball fields and basketball court. The park has a winding wall that features mosaics created by community artist Josh Sarantitis and neighborhood children.  Plans to renovate the park, including its clubhouse, are being developed.

Mariposa Park, part of Mission Bay Parks, sits across the street from the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.  Scheduled to open this month after a lengthy delay, the park features a plaza with picnic tables covered by a large trellis, shading the area. Originally a railroad car turnaround, the plot now offers a playground, several seating areas, and a generally pleasant space to spend time in.

Starr King Open Space was created in 1984, when an area that’d been occupied by World War II-era barracks was cleared for housing.  The space, a knoll at the top of Carolina Street covered in hay and Serpentine grass, features beautiful views.  The tops of houses – many being renovated – hover nearby, seemingly level with the park.  Visitors, leashed dogs in tow, can stroll along sprawling trails, with occasional glimpses of Golden Gate Bridge. Over the years SKOS volunteers planted native vegetation and eliminated invasive species.  A recent plan to remove the Coral Road concrete loop and the sidewalks has stalled due to a lack of funding.

Newly created Tunnel Top Park sits at the freeway entrance to 280-South on Pennsylvania Avenue and 25th Street, on land leased by CalTrain.  It’s a small sloped area, with paths that wind through carefully tended flowers.  Under the fiscal guidance of San Francisco Parks Alliance, volunteers are working to upgrade the pathways, create murals on the adjacent CalTrain tunnel walls, and install more seating areas.

Located next to Vermont Street, San Francisco’s first or second crookedest street, McKinley Square offers a playground suitable for babies to eight year-olds, a large lawn space, barbeque pits, picnic tables, and access to adjacent trails.  The Potrero Hill Community Garden is nearby, where 51 plots are organically cultivated. Overhanging Cypress trees keep the space shady and partially protected from Highway 101 noise.

The sign posted at the entrance of Fallen Bridge aptly describes this public space as a “Mini-Park.” The small slightly sloped area can be taken in without the turn of a head. A single trail, weaving under a Highway 101 pedestrian overpass circling above the park, leads to a sole bench that, on a clear day, offers westward views.   An open area with a dirt floor and half-walls with mosaics is large enough to accommodate a small gathering. Designed to be multi-functional and accessible, the court is sufficiently spacious to play bocce ball, practice tai chi, or enjoy a mini game of bowling. Maintained by the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks and through bi-monthly volunteer workdays, the park emerged from what’d been a dangerous, decrepit area to become a blooming cornerstone of Utah Street.

The Benches sit on the other side of the Highway 101 pedestrian overpass from Fallen Bridge Park.  As suggested by the space’s name, benches facing San Bruno Avenue and 18th Street fan out from the end of the overpass into a small paved area, framed by bushes, succulents, and flowers.

A haven in a former industrial area increasingly littered with office buildings and residential complexes, Esprit Park provides a space for office workers, dog lovers, and families. Originally gifted by the Esprit Corporation, whose offices were located a block away, the park has a large lawn, BBQ pits, picnic benches, exercise area, and a trail that winds through the space.  Under a plan developed by the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, the park would be divided into a natural play area, with trees, grass and vegetation; an off-leash dog space; a picnic spot; and several different spots separated by trails and featuring various plant arrangements.

Woods Yard, at 22nd Street, between Indiana and Minnesota streets, is a small half-paved, half-grassy area. It features semi-functional art in the form of colorful columns, a tiny playground, and seating.  Artist Dave Warnke’s “Blockheads” offer a dose of Dogpatch eclecticness.

Progress Park is aptly named for the efforts and wishes of the volunteers who created it. Nestled between Indiana Street and Interstate 280 ramps, it features colorful sculptures, strange and discrete paths, scattered seating, lone swings, and a bocce ball court.

A small strip of Tennessee Street, between 22nd and Tubbs streets, has been recently transformed from a dim and sketchy pass-through for bicyclists and pedestrians to a lush walkway:  Angel Alley.

Minnesota Grove, bordering Minnesota Street between 24th and 25th streets, offers a green, lit, pedestrian path, bordered by trees and shrubs interspersed with flower beds.  The space, part of the Green Benefit District’s Jumpstart plan, reflects ongoing efforts to maintain and improve community spaces.

The Potrero Hill Recreation Center, at 23rd and Arkansas streets, is the Hill’s largest green space, with a baseball diamond, playground, indoor basketball courts, tennis courts, recreation center and a lawn. Views from the park extend to Downtown, the East Bay, and San Bruno Mountain.