Empty lot becomes an orchard

Rendering of the orchard of apple, pear and fig trees growing at Divisadero and Geary.

Rendering of the orchard of apple, pear and fig trees growing at Divisadero and Geary.

“LET A thousand flowers blossom,” Chairman Mao supposedly said.

Kaiser Permanente has taken a similar approach with the block-long empty lot at Divisadero and Geary it fought — and paid dearly — to clear for a new medical building, now delayed.

Just beginning to bear first fruit in the summer sun is a new orchard with four kinds of apple trees, three varieties of plum trees, plus a few figs, all chosen for this microclimate. They’re planted in four huge stone planters and surrounded by hundreds of other plants and vines growing along an estate-quality fence. [View the landscape plans.]

“We needed a solution that everyone, including the city, was going to be happy with,” says Randy Wittorp, a spokesman for Kaiser.

The orchard grew out of a collaboration between Kaiser and Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), urged on by a community task force. Kaiser bought the property years ago with an eye to future expansion. It reportedly paid more than six figures each to get longtime tenants out of a deteriorating 21-unit pink apartment building and, with a group of local ministers, built 21 replacement apartments across O’Farrell Street.

“Kaiser came up with a lot of money — a lot of money,” says Bush Street resident Jan Bolaffi, a member of the task force. “By the time all that was done, the demographics of the city had changed.”

Kaiser decided its new medical building should be in Mission Bay and put off plans to expand at Geary and Divisadero. But what to do with the empty lot?

“We’d heard that FUF was going to be planting these urban orchards,” says Jay Murphy, manager of capital projects for Kaiser, who served on FUF’s board of directors for three years. “We thought, what if instead of traditional landscaping we gave the community an orchard?”

The trees will likely be moved at some point when construction proceeds.

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