SF Chinatown’s Iconic Park to Be Re-envisioned

Portsmouth Square to go through 21st century master planning process

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department announced today that Portsmouth Square, an historic park in Chinatown, will undergo a master planning process with the Chinatown community with the goal of re-envisioning the space. Beginning this weekend, the design team will conduct surveys in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese in order to better understand park users’ desires for the space.

“Families in densely populated neighborhoods such as Chinatown need open spaces where they can congregate with one another, take part in community activities and stretch out their legs and exercise,” said Mayor Edwin M. Lee. “We have proudly invested more than $30 million in park projects in Chinatown, and we look forward to maintaining our open space commitments with this latest effort to improve Portsmouth Square.”

In-person surveys will be at Portsmouth Square from Friday, April 28th from 8AM to 2PM and to Saturday, April 29th from 11AM to 5PM. All survey materials will be offered in English and Traditional Chinese characters, and there will be both Cantonese and Mandarin translators on-site working the with surveyors who will wear badges that include the Rec and Park logo and the interviewers first name.

“The community fought for this funding, and their engagement throughout this process will ensure its success,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents Chinatown. “Chinatown Community Development Center, Committee for Better Parks & Recreation in Chinatown, the API Council and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce are just some of the longtime advocates who recognize that Portsmouth Square is Chinatown’s living room, and I’m delighted to see them partnering with Rec and Park to prioritize equity, access and cultural preservation throughout this design process.”

“SF Rec and Park has been working with the Chinatown community to improve parks and recreation facilities that would meet the unique needs of this vibrant neighborhood,” said Phil Ginsburg, SF Rec and Park General Manager. “Now we want to work with the Chinatown community to re-envision Portsmouth Square in a way that honors its history, and provide modern amenities to better serve the Chinatown community for generations to come.”

In 2012, SF Rec and Park opened Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center after its $21 million renovation; in 2015 the Department re-opened the Portsmouth Square Restroom after a $2 million renovation; and in 2016 the Department allocated $10 million to renovate Willie Woo Woo Playground and Clubhouse — construction is expected to begin at the end of 2017.

The most recent capital improvement at Portsmouth Square was the $2 million restroom renovation funded by the 2008 Parks Bond.  The new design for the Portsmouth Square Restroom is a modern interpretation of traditional Chinese architecture.  It is designed to take advantage of natural ventilation and sunlight, durability and ease of maintenance. The sloping roof line with wire-treatment along the edges is designed for pigeon-proofing. A combination of a roof overhang and obscure glass limits sightlines into the restroom building from nearby taller buildings. The renovation also increased the capacity in the men’s room from 4 to 5 stalls, and in the women’s room from 2 to 6 stalls. In addition, a separate “family room” is now available for intergenerational, mix-gender use for children and their families.

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the San Francisco Planning Department are the sponsors of this project. The joint venture of SWA/MEI Architects have been awarded the contract to be the design team for the Planning and Concept Design phase. The master planning design process will consist of the renovation and/or reconfiguration of all existing park features including plazas, children’s play areas, buildings, pedestrian bridge, landscaping, adjacent streetscape and associated site work. The parking garage is not included in the scope of work. The design team will be leading a comprehensive community and stakeholder outreach process which will ultimately determine the extent of the final program and scope. The park design is expected to be reflective of the cultural significance of the neighborhood, and address programmatic challenges unique to Chinatown.

“The goal for Portsmouth Square, also known as the ‘Heart of Chinatown,’ is to create an enhanced public space and a dynamic streetscape that is reflective of local culture and honors its extensive history,” said John Rahaim, Director of San Francisco Planning. “These investments will ensure that one of the City’s most significant civic places, and the community in which it thrives, will continue to flourish for decades to come.”

The City is also working to implement key safety improvements on the roadways surrounding Portsmouth Square. Therefore, the design team will coordinate closely with the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and other relevant city agencies over the course of the project to ensure any possible opportunities to enhance the public realm are incorporated into the final concept design.

Portsmouth Square is located in the Chinatown neighborhood at 745 Kearny Street, between Clay Street and Washington Street, and is one of San Francisco’s most significant historic, cultural, and civic spaces. Originally a civic plaza for the Yerba Buena settlement, the square was renamed after the USS Portsmouth in 1846.

Portsmouth Square has served as a backdrop to some of the most important moments in San Francisco and California history: the site of the first City Hall and California’s first public school; the rise and fall of the Gold Rush; a staging ground and place of refuge after the 1906 earthquake; and countless festivals, parades, and other affirmations of civic pride. The terraced site includes several hardscape plazas, two children’s play areas, a new restroom building, clubhouse, underground parking structure, various historical markers, and a pedestrian bridge extending over Kearny Street.

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