Although Sunnyside Playground is a favorite destination for families, little known to even locals is our other park, Dorothy Erskine Park, located at the top of Baden Street. Poised on the edge of a rocky outcropping, the small park affords great views of the southeast of San Francisco, from among a grove of eucalyptus trees—though without even the amenity of a bench from which to enjoy the vista.
The land was privately owned until efforts by the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, Glen Park Association, and other neighbors helped push the City in 1978 to purchase the lots, using the Open Space Fund approved by voters in 1974.
It was this fund that also enabled the City to buy the land where Sunnyside Conservatory stands. Although the Conservatory had been previously been declared a city landmark, it was actually threatened with demolition before that purchase was made. [Read more about the early history of the Sunnyside Conservatory.]
Dorothy Erskine Park was dedicated in February 1979, attended by Dorothy Erskine herself, along with Mayor Dianne Feinstein. Local realtor Ken Hoegger, active then in the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, was master of ceremonies.
Right: Ribbon from dedication. Courtesy of a private collector.
The land was originally part of the Crocker Estate Tract, divided into private property lots in the early 1900s, but because it posed such a daunting geography on which to build, it remained undeveloped through the 1960s.
Who was Dorothy Erskine?
Although never a resident of any of the surrounding neighborhoods, Dorothy W. Erskine (1896-1982) was a prominent Bay Area environmentalist and conservationist in the 1960s and 1970s, and a staunch advocate of retaining open space in the quickly developing Bay Area cities.
In 1958 she founded the Greenbelt Alliance, which promoted what is now call livable neighborhoods—walkable places to live, with shops, parks, and homes that have good access to transit. Protecting open space was a key part of the movement, and we have those efforts, coupled with local activism, to thank for the retention of unbuilt land and park space such as this bit of wildness on top of Martha Hill at the most northern part of Sunnyside. Read more about Greenbelt Alliance here. Erskine was also a founder of SPUR, San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. More about SPUR here.
According to this brief profile by Rebecca Montgomery, Erskine also “aided in the creation of the Save the Bay organization during the early years of San Francisco’s landfill efforts and played a role in establishing the San Francisco Asian Art Museum.”
In an oral history recorded in 1971, she describes how she was instrumental in the development of city planning for San Francisco and the Bay Area, something that didn’t exist when she initially became involved with the issue of slum housing in the 1930s. She worked with many people over decades in the movement to create rational approaches to livable urban development.
She surely deserves a bigger and more prominent monument to her life’s work, but for now, Sunnysiders and others can enjoy this beautiful spot of nature as a respite from our urban lives.
Post script. Is the park officially in Sunnyside? According to the Planning Dept of San Francisco, this is the northern boundary of the neighborhood of Sunnyside.
To view SF Planning neighborhood maps: http://propertymap.sfplanning.org/?name=sffind (select neighborhood ‘Sunnyside’ in drop-down menu)
- Read a story about a local resident who in 1913 prevented the death of a would-be suicide at this remote location: ‘A Savior on a Rocky Knoll’
- Dorothy Erskine by Janet B. Thiessen [biography] https://www.amazon.com/Dorothy-Erskine-Janet-B-Thiessen/dp/0984350004
- San Francisco Recreation and Park Dept page for Dorothy Erskine Park. http://sfrecpark.org/destination/dorothy-erskine-park/