Gilman Playground’s WPA Past

gilman playground wpa construction sf public library

By Ryan Kelly

May 6th marked the 81st anniversary of the enactment of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), one of the most successful public works programs in our nation’s history. Its main purpose was to put Americans back to work by boosting infrastructure while also promoting scientific and artistic projects. In San Francisco, the Recreation and Park Department was one of the biggest benefactors as many parks were either improved upon or built from scratch. One example is Gilman Playground, which is currently undergoing renovation and is slated to reopen on June 3rd with a community celebration.

Initial construction on Gilman Playground began in 1933. However, in 1935 the WPA would finish the work for a standardized playground in the northeast corner of the park. It would cost $3,170 to complete. It eventually became a part of the larger Gillman and Griffith Streets Project by the WPA, which cost $54,689 or close to $1 million today. Improvements to Gilman included the planting of 5,000 trees and shrubs, grading of 9,000 cubic yards, and installing 5,000 lineal feet of fencing. In addition, the park at the time was located on the coastline of the San Francisco Bay and featured a beach area. The WPA constructed a boat house, pier, and convenience station along with placing 5,000 cubic feet of rip-rap, or rubble, to armor the shoreline.

gilman playground play structure

Since its enhancement by the WPA, the park and surrounding community have undergone numerous changes including the addition of landfill after World War II. It turned Gilman’s ocean side beach into a lake in the 1950s. Eventually, the waterfront would be completely replaced by the construction of Candlestick Park in 1958. Gilman would miss its unique recreational opportunity of providing a beachside park, but many generations of San Francisco youth have been inspired playing baseball on Gilman’s diamond in the shadow of Candlestick, dreaming of playing under the stadium’s lights and swirling winds.

Both Candlestick and the beach are gone today, but Gilman is still providing tremendous recreational opportunities in a beautiful park setting. Its most recent improvements include the addition of picnic tables, outdoor workout equipment donated by Greenfields Outdoor Fitness, and brand new playground structures whose features include a zip line and net spinner. The pour-in-place rubber surface for the playground depicts a shoreline setting that pays homage to its former ocean side view. The park’s WPA roots are dug deep, helping to preserve Gilman for over 80 years and with this new renovation, will help it remain a cherished resource for the Bayview/Hunters Point community for years to come.

gilman playground

Other parks with WPA roots:

38th & Fulton Recreation Center (GGP Senior Center)

Aptos Playground

Balboa Park

Bayview Park

Beach Chalet

Buena Vista Park

Chinese Playground

Coit Tower

Corona Heights Park

Crocker Amazon Recreation Center

Dolores Park

Excelsior Playground

Funston Playground (Moscone)

Golden Gate Park

Helen Willis Playground

Ingleside Recreation Center

Jackson Park

James Rolph Playground

Jefferson Square

Julius Kahn Playground

Kezar Pavillion and Stadium

Lafayette Square

Lincoln Park Clubhouse

Lombard Park

McLaren Park

Mt. Davidson

Mt. Lake Park

Ocean View Playground

Portola Playground (Palega)

Potrero Hill Playground

Rossi Playground

San Francisco Zoo

Sharp Park

Sigmund Stern Playground

St. Mary’s Playground

Sunset Park

Sutro Heights Park

Visitation Valley Playground