Restoring a Historic Vision of San Francisco

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An image of a walking path in the midst of a tiered garden.

Facing the sunrise on a terraced hillside behind the General’s Residence at Fort Mason, Black Point Historic Gardens looks out on San Francisco’s Aquatic Park and the San Francisco Bay. This historic piece of land is just under one acre but manages to connect and open up the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) to the city. 

To enter this quiet space is to time travel through at least seven eras, from pre-colonial Ohlone, Spanish, Mexican and American military eras, to the Gold Rush, the early days of San Francisco, and into the 1970s with the establishment of the GGNRA. The hillside grew wild for decades, fenced off until 2017 when, with the help of the Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, and a robust team of volunteers, the process of restoring the gardens and its walkways, stairs, and terraces began.  

Tended to by the same team that maintains and cares for the historic Alcatraz Gardens, Black Point’s restoration represents an opportunity to honor the history of the land while creating new opportunities for community stewardship, connection, and science. Over the years, Parks Conservancy team members and volunteers have pulled back overgrowth and cleared weeds to reveal surviving native and ornamental plants, like Chasmanthe floribunda, Eucalyptus globulus, and the Rosa hybrid, a miniature rose. Shelagh Fritz and Natalie Korengold, Garden Program Managers, continue to identify and monitor these plants, designing plans for gardens on the hillside that are both beautiful and useful for local and visiting walkers and pollinators alike. 

Now, in the coming months and through the years when the seeds germinate and the hillside begins to bloom, the team will have the opportunity to study the different types of insects and wildlife that are able to thrive in an urban environment. 

Sheltered from the wind and with access to the waterfront, it’s easy to see why early San Francisco residents chose to develop gardens and pathways on this hillside in the 1850s. From the northernmost part of Van Ness Avenue, near Aquatic Park Pier, you can climb the main staircase and make your way up the original, restored pathways, crisscrossing from the mid-hillside up to the perimeter walkway or up a separate set of stairs on the north side of the terrace. Pause and peer across the water at striking views of the city and the Bay and wonder at all the other people who have passed through this very spot—and the ones who will pass through after you. There’s history underfoot in the gardens: come make your way.

Beatrice Kilat

Beatrice Kilat is the Media & Communications Specialist for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy's Marketing and Communications Team.

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