This one-acre public park located in the South End Historic District is the oldest park in San Francisco. Conceived in 1852 by English-born sugar and iron magnate George Gordon, the park was designed in the Picturesque tradition of John Nash’s Park Crescent in London. Flat and free of sand, the site was selected to serve as the centerpiece for an exclusive residential development of the same name, the first planned community in the city. English architect George Goddard carried out Gordon’s vision beginning in 1854. The central, oval-shaped park was bounded by the city’s first paved streets and sidewalks and encircled by two-story, Regency-style row houses. Enclosed by an ornate, cast-iron railing, the oval, some 550 feet long on its major axis, was planted with hundreds of young trees, shrubs, and flowers. A Dutch-style windmill located at the center of the garden pumped water from a well. Following the creation of Second Street, which opened Rincon Hill and South Park to less affluent residents, the city acquired the park in 1897, removing the railing and windmill and opening it to the public. Although heavily used by the surrounding community, no major design interventions occurred for approximatley a century.
The full redesign of the park by Fletcher Studio in 2017 replaced two earlier play areas. The new design interpreted the park’s stylistic origin, with a wide, meandering path composed of oblong concrete pavers winding the length of the grassy lawn, bordered by a series of curved concrete seat walls. The path varies in width as it curves from one side of the park to another, creating a series of five separate lawns. The park’s most prominent feature is a large, sculptural play structure. Renovations included the replanting of the original perimeter ring of shade trees and the addition of native and drought-tolerant plantings.