Francisco Reservoir on Russian Hill is set to reopen as a public park in early 2022


The Francisco Reservoir on Russian Hill has been unused and unloved for 80 years, but it took the threat of development for residents of the neighborhood to do something about it. When they finally took action, they shelled out $ 27.5 million to build Francisco Park, a rectangular oasis slated to open in early 2022.

At 4.5 acres, it will be the largest new public park to open in the urban core in 40 years and is expected to be an instant tourist destination as the Hyde Street cable car line passes right by.

Passengers will want to jump from the car downhill to stand on one of the park’s viewing platforms, which offer a panorama stretching across the marina to the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts, past the Golden Gate. Bridge, over the clock tower of Ghirardelli Square and the masts of the historic fleet of sailboats, and up to Alcatraz.

“You can build homes here and a few hundred people can enjoy the view,” said Leslie Alspach, president of Francisco Park Conservancy. “Build a park here and millions of people will be able to enjoy the view for decades to come. “

The Francisco Reservoir on Russian Hill has been unused and unloved for 80 years, but it took the threat of development for residents of the neighborhood to do something about it.

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

But it takes more than a view to raise that kind of money, given that many donors on Russian Hill have an equivalent view of the bay from their own floor-to-ceiling windows. To appeal to all constituencies, the Francisco Park Conservancy held meetings where polls were taken. As a result, the new park offers three attractions unavailable on this scale anywhere on Russian Hill or the northern waterfront: a children’s play area, a dog park fenced in with the artificial turf that some animals seem to prefer to grass, and a community garden.

“Many of the beautiful parks and facilities we enjoy in San Francisco simply wouldn’t exist without philanthropy,” said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of Parks and Recreation.

Although privately funded, the new park is a partnership between the Francisco Park Conservancy and the San Francisco Rec and Park Department, which paid $ 9.9 million for the property. Rec and Park did not have an additional $ 25 million for construction as the department is in the midst of a $ 230 million construction frenzy that encompasses projects across the city.

Among them: the complete reconstruction of the Angelo J. Rossi swimming pool, a 30-meter, six-lane indoor facility on the outskirts of the Richmond District, which is also slated to open in early 2022. This two-year project, budgeted at $ 15.2 million, will launch a 48-foot mural of underwater life on the bay created by artist Owen Smith.

The Portsmouth Square renovation is also underway, a $ 66 million project whose main attraction may not be what it adds to the Chinatown landscape, but what it takes away – a despised walkway and underused on Kearny Street. The expected completion date is 2025, the same year as India Basin Park, a 64-acre expanse on the southeastern waterfront. Budgeted at $ 140 million, it will be the most expensive project in the history of Rec and Park.

A combination of voter-approved park bonds and federal and state grants will fund these improvements. But while the Francisco Reservoir conversion was on the list of long-term investment projects, it would have taken nearly 100 years after its closure to reach the top. Rec and Park prioritizes equity areas like Bayview, Tenderloin, and Mission. Russian Hill could in no way be described as an equity zone. In order to speed up the construction of a municipal park at the reservoir level, the people who wanted it also had to be the ones who paid for it.

“Francisco Park is an incredibly meaningful example and for the neighbors it was a labor of love,” Ginsburg said. “They had a vision for what they wanted and they were tireless in their efforts to make it happen.”

This vision allows for major references to the park’s previous life as a giant underground storage tank.

The brick bottom of the tank and the east side wall with a protruding inlet pipe were incorporated into the design to remind visitors that the spot where they sunbathed on the central lawn was once under 12 feet of water.

The brick bottom of the tank and the east side wall with a protruding inlet pipe were incorporated into the design to remind visitors that the spot where they sunbathed on the central lawn was once under 12 feet of water.

The brick bottom of the tank and the east side wall with a protruding inlet pipe were incorporated into the design to remind visitors that the spot where they sunbathed on the central lawn was once under 12 feet of water.

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

There will also be interpretive signage to tell the story of the site, which was built in 1859 as the city’s first large reservoir. It was in use until 1940, when the Lombard Reservoir was built in a better location on top of a hill in Hyde and Greenwich Streets.

This reservoir is covered by George Sterling Park and Alice Tennis Marble Courts. No good use has ever been found for the redundant Francisco tank. It had a tar and gravel roof and was uninviting, though raccoons liked it as a shortcut between Hyde’s trash cans and Larkin’s trash cans. Coyotes also used the birthing options in the bramble thickets.

“It was barbed wire and an eyesore,” Alspach said.

This likely would have remained that way had the San Francisco Utilities Commission not started discussions to build housing, including affordable housing, on the site 10 years ago. There would have been an element of parkland in this shot, but not enough to appeal to the neighbors. They leaned on Rec and Park, which acquired the commission’s property through the Open Space Acquisition Fund, in 2014.

The Francisco Park Conservancy formed as a non-profit organization and, after setting a goal of $ 25 million, managed to raise an additional $ 2.5 million to provide a cushion for the park maintenance. Alspach said the gifts, one of which was large enough to impose naming rights for the Maria Manetti Shrem Community Garden, came mostly from individuals. This is an area that will be used a lot. It receives the most direct sunlight of any location on the acreage, and 600 residents applied for the 33 individual plots. A lottery was needed to award them.

In 2018, the Parks and Recreation Commission approved the plan and construction began in the summer of 2019, overseen by project manager Kelli Rudnick.

Francisco Reservoir was on the list of long-term capital projects, but it would have taken almost 100 years after it closed before reaching the top.

Francisco Reservoir was on the list of long-term capital projects, but it would have taken almost 100 years after it closed before reaching the top.

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

Alspach, who is 71 years old, is proud to point out that the entire hillside is accessible to people with reduced mobility. A 10-foot-wide elevated boardwalk begins at the entrance to Bay Street and winds through the park. At the best vantage points, the promenade stretches out with what Alspach describes in his English accent as “lookouts”. These are people who want to stop and take in the view and do not block traffic on the promenade.

“It will be a very busy place during Fleet Week,” Alspach said. But the view from some of the benches and the central lawn is blocked by a mature Monterey cypress. This tree is only around 200 years old, and Alspach has a long-term view.

“It’s going to fall on its own,” he said.

Sam Whiting is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @samwhitingsf

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