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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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.

Read more »

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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Alta Plaza Park readies for a makeover

Alta-Plaza-Master-Plan

LOCALS AGREE there are problems with Alta Plaza Park, situated atop a former rock quarry and bounded by Scott, Clay, Steiner and Jackson Streets. Among them: decayed columns, stairs, walls and pathways; haphazard and incongruous plantings; outdated and ineffective lighting; and drainage and irrigation issues. So far, the fixes have been piecemeal — and ineffective, particularly the new no-mow grass and attempts to stop leakage onto surrounding sidewalks.

In February, the community group Friends of Alta Plaza Park enlisted landscape architect Jeffrey Miller — whose firm designed the new playground that was part of the recent renovation of the neighborhood’s Lafayette Park — to help formulate a master plan for an integrated overhaul of Alta Plaza’s infrastructure and aesthetics.

Miller solicited community feedback as he developed his plans, and at a final public meeting in November he unveiled the latest iteration of his proposals.

Among other things, the master plan, published above, features reworked entryways and plantings along the park’s perimeter. It adds a picnic area and creates a central plaza with a seating area overlooking the view of the city to the south. It also adds a new pathway and additional seating at the top of the park.

The plans, which will be presented to the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission for approval in February, were considerably revised and scaled back from earlier proposals, which included a large central amphitheatre, an oculus with a view locator and relocated tennis and multi-purpose courts. The overwhelming public outcry was for less construction and fewer bells and whistles, with refurbishments that would make the park more functional while maintaining its formal elegance.

The first phase of the project, slated for completion next year, will be confined to the north side of the park, with $3 million of the expected cost already available from various sources. The park’s south side still suffers water issues that need to be resolved, even after a redo of its irrigation system last year. The Friends of Alta Plaza hope to raise money for the rest of the project through grants and fundraising.

Local parks being renovated

A new irrigation system is being installed on the south side terraces at Alta Plaza Park.

IT’S SUMMERTIME, and the living is not so easy for those in the neighborhood who take their dogs — or themselves — for a walk in the park.

Both of the neighborhood’s four-block hilltop greens — Lafayette Park and Alta Plaza Park — are mostly brown this summer. Both are undergoing renovation.

At Alta Plaza, what’s billed as a “water conservation project” includes a new irrigation system on the south side terraces, which are dug up and fenced off, except for the grand staircase at Pierce Street. The northern half of the park remains open, including the playground and tennis courts. The project is on track to be completed in September.

Lafayette Park is getting a full-blown makeover, thanks to $10 million from a bond measure passed in 2008 and additional funds raised by Friends of Lafayette Park for a deluxe new playground. About three-quarters of the park was fenced off when construction began in June. But then a neighbor’s complaint brought the work to a halt.

Shannon Gallagher, who lives across from Lafayette Park, appealed one of the permits for the project. Her detailed written objections are due by August 9 and will be heard by the Board of Appeals on August 22.

Gallagher was pilloried as a prime example of the “tyranny of the few” by Chronicle columnist C. W. Nevius, too common in what he called “the city that can’t say yes.”

Gallagher was a no-show at an August 1 community meeting on the Lafayette Park renovation.

Dogs are now welcome only in a small area on the north side of Lafayette Park.

At the meeting, project manager Mary Hobson said work had resumed under permits that were not appealed. Hobson and other staffers from the city’s Recreation & Parks Department said they were confident the appeal was without merit and would be rejected, and that the project could be completed in 10 months as planned.

Some in the audience of approximately 100 residents questioned why Gallagher had not raised her objections during public planning sessions for the project, and why she wasn’t at the meeting.

“She had to go out of town because people were threatening her,” responded Pat Lovelock, who described herself as a friend of Gallagher’s and said she shared her concerns about proper permitting, dust and disabled access.

Others at the meeting questioned the removal of trees, and whether trees, plants and birds are being properly cared for during construction. Revised plans call for the removal of 44 trees, with 58 new trees to be planted.

EARLIER: Lafayette Park renovation gets green light

Lafayette Park or Peyton Place?

ORNITHOLOGY | Monte Travis

From my ninth floor office near Lafayette Park, I’ve been watching a pair of red-tailed hawks engage in aerial courtship flights since early this year.

In late March I saw the hawks carrying sticks to a large nest high in a eucalyptus tree in the park, undertaking a little remodeling. A few days later, I observed one of the hawks poking its head above the rim of the nest. This suggested at least one egg and probably more had been laid in the nest. If all goes well, we should have chicks in about a month.

As I was photographing the female hawk on the nest, I was alerted by the screams of about 20 red-masked parakeets — the famous parrots of Telegraph Hill — who suddenly bolted into the air from the treetops directly overhead. I looked up, and there came the male redtail swooping in from the west. When the male arrived at the nest, the female, who is larger, rose up, and for a short time both stood on the nest (above). Then the female took off and the male settled in for his shift.

Redtails are monogamous and generally mate for life. But later that same day, I witnessed a mystery: three adult birds on the nest (below). For 45 minutes, all three alternately flew to and from the nest. A menage a trois, perhaps? Or maybe redtails, like certain other species, sometimes employ one of their young from the prior year as a helper. This will bear watching in the coming days.

It’s a domestic ornithological mystery. But it seems appropriate for San Francisco: an alternative avian family.

Lafayette Park renovation gets green light

Ambitious plans for a $10.2 million renovation of Lafayette Park have received enthusiastic support from neighbors and a unanimous thumbs-up from the Recreation and Park Commission.

In addition, a fund-raising mechanism has been put into place to allow park supporters to solicit contributions to supplement available bond funding to create a more elaborate 13,000 sq. ft. playground. It may include vibrantly colored play areas for children of various ages, along with boulder climbing, a tunnel slide, a creek, a tower and what landscape architect Jeffrey Miller called “the world’s longest monkey bar.”

“We think it’s going to be full of fantasy and fun,” Miller said.

The conceptual plan for the park makeover was developed by city staffers working closely with the Friends of Lafayette Park and other local residents. Many of the people who participated in the planning sessions appeared before the Rec and Park Commission December 16 to praise the process and support the plans for what several called “the crown jewel of the park department.”

But some concerns were raised.
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