San Francisco Chinatown to Gain New Park Space

St. Mary’s Square to Expand with a Rooftop Park

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department announced today a newly constructed park space in Chinatown is now scheduled to open early in October, 2017.  The 6,000 square-foot Rooftop Park, which is connected to St. Mary’s Square, contains planted areas, seating and an open plaza.  It was built as a condition of approval from San Francisco Planning Department for the development of 500 Pine Street and 350 Bush Street.  Accessible to the public through St. Mary’s Square, the new plaza is located at Quincy Street between California and Pine Streets.


“Rooftop Park is our latest effort to provide more open green spaces for our Chinatown residents,” said Mayor Edwin M. Lee. “As one of the densest neighborhoods in San Francisco, we need to ensure that Chinatown has places where children can play and exercise, families can congregate and communities can gather together. That is why we have invested more than $30 million in park projects in Chinatown in recent years and while we will continue to support projects that encourage safe, healthy activities.”


In 2003, San Francisco Rec and Park Commission approved the construction of park improvements and the transfer agreement of which the Park will be transferred to Rec and Park Department once construction is completed.  The Commission recommended the Board of Supervisors to approve and authorize the execution of the transfer, and accept the rooftop park, the expansion area parcel as a gift to the City and County of San Francisco.


“This expansion is something I have been working on with the community since my first term in office,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents District 3. “Chinatown, the densest neighborhood in the City, has long fought for a modicum of open space and recreational programming as development continues to increase around it. I’m delighted to see the community’s victory manifested in this public park expansion for all to enjoy.”


According to research conducted by Rec and Park Department’s Historian-in-Residence, Christopher Pollock, Mr. George D. Shadburne, an attorney for the Paulist Fathers, organized and presided the St. Mary’s Square Association, and in the year of 1898 began the effort to build a public square across from the Old St. Mary’s Church located at California Street.  Then in 1957, Landscape Architect Robert Royston took on the task to bring St. Mary’s Square into a fully designed park.  According to Cultural Landscape Foundation, the design includes rigid geometry imposed on ground plane with playful grid pattern in two tones of concrete for the pavement and separate the pedestrian spaces by using curved planting beds.  The Square has low seat walls with benches that define mowed lawn areas while raised planting beds support large trees, shrubs, and perennial plantings.  The Square has access to the street from a wide concrete staircase on one end and an at-grade entrance at the other.  The Square also has a playground, with row of trees as the background, and a sculpture of Mr. Sun Yat-Sen as the focal point for the space.


In March this year, in partnership with SF Public Works, the agencies planted a Ginkgo biloba at St. Mary’s Square in honor of Chinatown community leader Rose Pak, during the Public Works’ annual signature tree on Thursday, May 16 as part of the San Francisco Arbor Week 2017 celebrations.  The historic species awes with beautiful fan-shaped leaves that turn a stunning yellow color in autumn. Like Pak, the species is a native of China.


“The St. Mary’s Square Extension is the realization of a vision made in 2003 by then Recreation and Park Commissioner Gordon Chin and Supervisor Aaron Peskin during his first tenure.  After two real estate cycles, a confluence of efforts made this vision happen by the community advocacy of the late Rose Pak, Chinatown Community Development Center, and the Committee for Better Parks and Recreation in Chinatown, the capital investment by Lincoln Properties and Gemdale USA Properties, and the urban planning of Heller Manus Architects,” said Allan Low, SF Rec and Park Commission Vice President.  “Chinatown is a high-needs neighborhood with a scarcity of open space, and the St. Mary’s Park Extension is a creative solution not just to create an extension but to expand a sense of place.”


In recent years, the City has invested in improving and constructing park spaces in Chinatown.  In 2012, the Rec and Park Department 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.  And now Portsmouth Square is undergoing a master planning process jointly funded and managed by Rec and Park Department and Planning Department.


“The expansion of St. Mary’s Square is a wonderful addition to the open space and recreation resources serving Chinatown residents, workers in the Financial district, and visitors alike. It is also represents creative place making with an innovative partnership involving private development Chinatown, the City Planning Department and the Recreation and Parks Department,” said Gordon Chin, former SF Rec and Park Commissioner, and longtime Chinatown community advocate.


According to the City’s General Plan for Chinatown Area Plan, Chinatown has long been designated as a high-need neighborhood and has been granted acquisition funds for a new park in the Prop J. Open Space acquisition program.  As indicated in the Plan, both conventional and innovative means of assembling open space should be explored.  In addition to much needed new park, Chinatown has opportunities to use and develop alternative forms of open space including, school yards, alleyways, and sidewalks.  And in the case of St. Mary’s Square, an extended rooftop park became a crucial addition to meet Chinatown’s needs for open space.


“We are anxious for the Park to open as it will be a great new additional open space to Chinatown that is in need of more open space” said Phil Chin, Chair of Committee for Better Parks in Chinatown.  “We commend the developer that lived up their commitment, and Rec and Park Department for making it safer and more accessible for our community.  We are happy that the Park is finally going to open after 14 years in the making.”


“As the proud steward of our City’s park system, we are constantly working to improve our parks and create new park space whenever we can, however though, we are often facing the challenges of limited resources and land available for green space,” said Phil Ginsburg, SF Rec and Park Department’s General Manager.  “The expansion of St. Mary’s Square may only be 6,000 square-foot, but the endless opportunity for recreation that this space can provide is tremendously valuable to the diverse communities living and working in this neighborhood.”


Upon transfer of the Rooftop Park to Recreation and Park Department, the owners of 500 Pine Street and 350 Bush Streets will continue its ongoing partnership with the Department in maintaining the park space, and ensuring public access.


According to Michael Krupa, President of Gemdale USA, “we were delighted in April 2014 to debut in the United States with leading national developer Lincoln Property Company as well as leading architectural firm Heller Manus in the development of 500 Pine Street along with directly nearby 350 Bush Street.  Each of us are particularly pleased with the ability to help further positively transform the fabric of the neighborhood with the St. Mary’s Park 500 Pine Street rooftop park addition, which added 6,000 square feet and will provide Chinatown and overall City residents with additional beneficial public outdoor space.”


John Herr, Executive Vice President for Lincoln Property Company stated, ” The completion of the expansion of St. Mary’s Square is a key component in the development of 350 Bush and 500 Pine. While a relatively small area, the park is large factor in the overwhelming success of the design and construction. We are very appreciative of the cooperation from all of the public and private interests that were involved in the project and look forward to the opening of the park very soon.”


“Open space is a scarce but cherished resource in Chinatown,” said John Rahaim, Director of San Francisco Planning. “When we enhance our parks and other communal spaces, we are enhancing the quality of life for everyone. Rooftop parks are an innovative approach to meeting the increasing challenges of adding much needed open space to dense communities, and I commend the Recreation and Park Department and Committee for Better Parks in Chinatown for this exciting achievement.”


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