Renovations begin at Dolores Park
by Paul Dardzinski
Dolores Park, long a popular hangout for gay men and others that sits on the edge of the Castro, is set to get a multimillion-dollar makeover that will see portions of the area closed during construction.
Park officials, who noted that the park has been "loved to death" over the years, held a ceremonial groundbreaking March 1, which signaled the long-awaited start to infrastructure improvements. The ceremony brought together local officials and others to celebrate the culmination of prolonged renovation planning.
During the ceremony, park activists and community leaders gave Dolores Park high marks for its significance in the city of San Francisco, while highlighting the importance of parks in all cities.
San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu spoke about the significance the park has had to him. Chiu shared his hopes for raising his own children and spoke of memories yet to be made in what will be the renovated Dolores Park.
Recreation and Park Department staff were also on hand.
"This park is going to be built to last," announced Phil Ginsburg, Rec and Park general manager.
With better pathways and improved Americans with Disability Act access, Dolores Park's new layout will make facilities, like the renovated public bathrooms, more accessible to all of its visitors. Amenities include new bike racks, a new multiuse court, renovated tennis and basketball courts, an improved irrigation system, and a new overlook at the southeast corner.
Of interest to the many city residents with dogs, off-leash dog play areas are to be designated on both north and south sides of the park.
Ginsburg later added, "If Golden Gate Park is the lungs of our city, then Dolores Park is its heart and soul."
Gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who has long lived within the vicinity of the park, reminisced on the park's transition period during the mid-1990s, and said that the "gay beach" area was always a gathering place for him and friends.
Throughout the course of his speech, Wiener commended the community for the positive influence it had during the park's metamorphosis.
"The community came in and took the park back," he said.
With its importance and service to different communities throughout decades, Mission Dolores Park, as it's formally known, has been a significant place for Sam Mogannam, a Bi-Rite Market owner.
"This park has a special place in my heart and it's been a part of my life since I can remember," he said.
Looking back on the park's transition period, Mogannam made light of an unfortunate situation stating, "The first time I got mugged was in Dolores Park."
In 2008, San Francisco voters approved the $185 million Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond, which assigned approximately $13.2 million to improve Dolores Park. From that time on, during a lengthy community design process, park and recreation advocates elaborated on the plan. After various delays in the approval process, which had to be worked around the diversity of the park's visitors and accommodated to their variant needs, the Rec and Park Department decided on a final plan.
During the first phase of construction, which will begin on March 13, the northern section of the park will be closed until fall. Upon the completion of the northern side, the second phase, which will focus on the southern plot of the park, will begin.
Helen Diller Playground is planned to remain open throughout the two phases of construction. The entire construction process is estimated to last 14 months, with the reopening of the park in summer of 2015.
The crowd applauded and cheered as the ceremony ended when community advocates broke ground with eight golden shovels.
(Photo: Rick Gerharter)