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At home in Lafayette Square

In 1919, looking west into Lafayette Square from the intersection of Gough and Clay Streets, the St. Regis apartment building is on the left and a long-gone single-family residence on the right. Through the trees at the crest of the hill is Samuel Wirt Holladay’s compound he called Holladay Heights. OpenSFHistory photograph.

LOCAL HISTORY | CHRISTOPHER POLLOCK

Of the 220 public spaces the city’s Recreation and Park Department administers in San Francisco, Lafayette Park is unique: It has a privately owned six-story apartment building cut right into its municipal landscape on the side bordering Gough Street.

In the city’s early days, several parks had issues over real estate title, including Alamo Square, Holly Park, Jackson Park and Lafayette Square, as the park was originally known. The city usually won its legal actions to wrest public properties from squatters, some of whom were shrewd and persistent through years of litigation.

Spaces for 11 city parks were designated by the Van Ness Ordinance of 1855-56 and confirmed by the state legislature in 1858. Like Lafayette Square, many of the spaces reserved for public use consisted of foursquare blocks. Some of the parks were patriotically named for past presidents or others important in the country’s creation — in this case the Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman who fought for the U.S. during the American revolution.

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Alta Plaza Park reopens

Photograph of the new lawns at Alta Plaza Park by Dickie Spritzer

AFTER MONTHS of being surrounded by chain link fencing while its irrigation system was overhauled, the top side of Alta Plaza Park has reopened to the public.

The lawns have been replanted and new drains installed to capture water runoff. Some areas of the park are still fenced off as final details, including a new entry at Jackson and Pierce, are completed. New plantings at the entrances are to be installed later this year.

Zen garden back on again

Renowned gardeners Shigeru Namba (right) and Isao Ogura are to create the Zen garden.

Renowned gardeners Shigeru Namba (right) and Isao Ogura are to create the Zen garden.

THE ON-AGAIN, off-again plan to create a memorial Zen garden at the foot of Cottage Row — once a Japanese enclave — is back on again.

On October 19, the Recreation & Park Commission approved the garden, a memorial to the founders of Japantown.

But approval on the commission’s consent calendar came only after another attempt to derail the project by the husband-and-wife team of Bush Street residents who have doggedly opposed the garden. Mary King and Marvin Lambert both argued again that honoring only the Japanese founders leaves out many others who have lived near Cottage Row.

So far they have managed to delay the garden, which was to be created last year in honor of the 110th anniversary of the founding of Japantown after the 1906 earthquake. At the October 19 hearing, Lambert repeatedly demanded that the issue be removed from the commission’s consent calendar. He said he has created his own memorial that would include all who have lived in the neighborhood.

But commission chair Mark Buell said the issue had already been discussed in a lengthy committee hearing and that only commission members could remove an item from the consent calendar. No one did. The garden passed unanimously.

EARLIER: “Cottage Row Zen garden sparks a fight

Alta Plaza makeover scaled back

Alta-Plaza-Master-Plan

The 2016 master plan for Alta Plaza Park.

GRAND PLANS to renovate Alta Plaza Park have been scaled back due to a lack of funding, but more limited measures to conserve water are proceeding.

The Recreation & Park Commission has awarded a construction contract to replace the sod and irrigation system on the north side of the park and to install perimeter drainage intended to address longstanding water seepage onto the sidewalks surrounding the park. Construction is expected to start during the winter, but the schedule has not yet been announced.

In addition, the project includes a “donor recognition circle” near the playground, which was renovated a decade ago, and a concrete driveway at Scott and Washington leading up to the donor site.

If funding permits, some new benches may also be added.

“Please bear in mind the reduced nature of this project,” wrote Janet Gamble and Anita Denz for Friends of Alta Plaza Park in an update to neighbors. “The entire north side will be excavated to replace the antiquated irrigation system and new sod will be planted. Some of the existing plants and shrubs will have to be removed and there is no funding for replacements now. The beds will be filled with mulch.”

A master plan for Alta Plaza approved by the Rec & Park Commission last year called for new pathways, furnishings and plantings. Those have been deferred.

No Zen on Cottage Row

A PLAN TO build a Zen-style Japanese rock garden at the foot of Cottage Row has been derailed, at least for now.

In June, a committee of the Recreation and Park Commission approved the garden, which would honor the Issei generation of Japanese-Americans who founded Japantown 110 years ago after the 1906 earthquake.

But Bush Street resident Marvin Lambert, who has vehemently opposed the garden in a series of public hearings, threw a monkey wrench into the works by appealing the Planning Department’s finding that the garden would be an appropriate addition to the Cottage Row Mini Park.

Lambert’s challenge was to be heard by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission on July 19. But the sponsors of the garden pulled their project from the agenda as the meeting began.

Lambert spoke nonetheless.

“I hope we can now close the books on the proposed Cottage Row Zen Garden,” he said. “This proposal was based largely on lies, logical fallacies and other nonsense.”

Cottage Row was almost entirely occupied by residents of Japanese ancestry before they were interned during World War II. But Lambert said only the blocks east of Webster Street were historically part of Japantown. He said “faulty reasoning” was used in city documents that say otherwise.

“It’s not over,” said Paul Osaki, executive director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center, who has spearheaded the project. “The garden proposal is not dead. It’s just in suspension.”

Osaki dismissed Lambert’s appeal as “an abuse of the system and taxpayers’ dollars.” He said supporters were returning to the Planning Department to figure out how to proceed.

“We’re going to continue on,” he said.

According to the latest count from the Rec and Park Commission, 100 nearby neighbors favor the garden; 10 oppose it.

EARLIER: “Cottage Row garden sparks a fight

A bonsai tree as old as Japantown

David Thompson and the century-old bonsai.

David Thompson and his century-old bonsai.

WHEN NEIGHBORHOOD RESIDENT David Thompson read about plans for a Zen rock garden at the southern end of Cottage Row to commemorate the 110th anniversary of Japantown, he had an idea: That might be the perfect place for his century-old bonsai tree.

The tree has been in the same family since it was brought from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition and planted in their garden designed by legendary gardener Makoto Hagiwara, who also created the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.

Thompson, now its guardian, has been searching for the right home for the tree’s second century. He has been connected with the Japanese landscape designers planning the Cottage Row Zen garden.

Cottage Row Zen garden sparks a fight

Issei

By THOMAS R. REYNOLDS

In celebration of its 110th anniversary this year, Japantown leaders proposed a gift to the neighborhood: a simple Zen rock garden at the foot of Cottage Row to honor the first generation of Japanese-Americans, the Issei, who established the community here after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

To create the garden, they enlisted the renowned landscape designers Shigeru Namba, who oversees Oracle boss Larry Ellison’s extensive Japanese garden, and Isao Ogura. Together the two have already created memorial gardens at San Francisco State and at Tanforan mall, the first stop for residents of Japantown evacuated and interned during World War II.

The gardeners would donate their services and all costs would be paid by private donations. Organizers hoped to complete the garden before the end of the anniversary year.

Then they ran into Bush Street resident Marvin Lambert.

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Master plan for Alta Plaza: ‘Go lightly’

Improvements at Alta Plaza Park can proceed now that a plan has been adopted.

Improvements at Alta Plaza Park can proceed now that a master plan has been adopted.

A MASTER PLAN for Alta Plaza Park was approved by the Recreation and Park Commission on April 21, clearing the way for long-awaited improvements.

The plan would repair crumbling asphalt pathways, replace aging furnishings and replant, with new drought-resistant landscaping, the entrances to the hilltop park created more than a century ago by John McLaren, the visionary who also guided the creation of Golden Gate Park.

“Go lightly,” said landscape architect Jeffrey Miller, who developed the plan at the behest of the Friends of Alta Plaza Park, a neighborhood group founded in 2004. “This was the message: Maintain the park as it is. Maintain the beauty and simplicity of this park.”

A decade ago, the Friends raised the money to renovate the playground and tennis courts atop the park. Then, to conserve water and stop leakage onto the sidewalks, the city installed a new irrigation system and replanted the terraces on the south side of the park.

“It became apparent there has to be a sequence of things,” said Judith Maxwell, who lives near the park. “We learned that when the no-mow grass was put in but the leaks weren’t fixed.”

Commission president Mark Buell recused himself from the hearing “because I live within about five feet of the park.” Buell and his wife Susie Tompkins Buell live in the penthouse of the 2500 Steiner Street tower on the northeast corner of the park.

Others lauded the Friends for their extraordinary public outreach during the last decade while the plan was being developed.

“You set a new standard,” said commissioner Meagan Levitan, a real estate agent who is active in the neighborhood.

“It’s been a long road for the Friends of Alta Plaza Park,” said Phil Ginsburg, director of the Recreation and Park Department. “It is not lost on us how much you care about this piece of open space.”

VIEW THE MASTER PLAN

A Mime Troupe arrest in Lafayette Park

Mime Troupe Meadow in the renovated Lafayette Park honors the historic occasion.

Mime Troupe Meadow in the renovated Lafayette Park honors the historic occasion.

By GARY KAMIYA
San Francisco Chronicle

Fifty years ago this weekend, police prevented the San Francisco Mime Troupe from performing a play in Lafayette Park, arresting the company’s founder as 1,000 people jeered. The dramatic encounter expanded the frontiers of artistic freedom in San Francisco and indirectly launched the career of legendary rock promoter Bill Graham.

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KALW: “For the Mime Troupe, the show goes on

Benevolent spinsters’ home now Allyne Park

Remnants of the Allyne house and gardens remain in Allyne Park.

Remnants of the Allyne house and gardens remain in what is now Allyne Park.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

A llyne Park, at the corner of Green and Gough Streets, is a San Francisco gem for which I have a strong affection. It’s across the street from our home. The park, adjacent to the historic Octagon House, is a little plot of green that is a daily gathering place for neighborhood dogs and their human friends. While there is no playground, the park is a favorite hide-and-seek haunt for local kids, who mostly manage to co-exist with the dogs.

Named for the longtime owners of this large lot, the park includes the remnants of a garden landscape that once surrounded a grand Victorian-era house built sometime before 1886. A 1905 map of the property shows a large house with a rambling footprint and several small greenhouses.

At one point, the Allyne family owned all of the lots stretching from Green to Union along the west side of Gough Street, and several parcels along Green Street as well.

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